Considering that the Lincoln MKX was unveiled for the 2007 model year and is already receiving wholesale changes to its styling, interior, entertainment/convenience system and engine, it would be tempting to assume that this gussied-up version of the Ford Edge was a sales flop for the Lincoln division. That assumption would be dead wrong.
That's because the company is very happy with its mid-size crossover's sales in its first four years on the market, even though it expects even more success when the 2011 version being introduced in Detroit this week arrives in showrooms this summer. More than 90,000 of the current MKX have been sold in the past 3-1/2 years; it was the only crossover in the brand's lineup until the seven-seat MKT (think Flex sibling) arrived late last year.
But what really makes the MKX important for the company, said Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, is that it's also "one of our highest conquest vehicles," meaning it pulls in new buyers to the Ford/Lincoln family, which is tougher than easing up current owners to a newer model.
These sales to new customers were good news for the folks building the vehicles in Ford's Oakville, Ont., assembly plant, as it has kept them busy and with minimal layoffs during a time when record-high fuel prices, a credit crisis and then a global recession crippled or closed local plants of its domestic rivals nearby. Sure, there was that somewhat embarrassing announcement a couple years ago about adding 500 workers at the Oakville plant that had to be rescinded soon after, before a further 500 folks were laid off months later.
But it has been relatively good times in Oakville since the Edge and MKX arrived, especially compared with the roughly 1,500 Ford workers in St. Thomas, Ont., who were told last year that the plant would officially close in 2010. The Lincoln Town Car hadn't been redesigned since 2003, and even now is still running on the large car Panther platform that dates from 1982. No such starvation of engineering resources for the MKX.
Lincoln officials are calling the 2010 changes a dramatic refresh, but when you look at all the changes, you'd be hard-pressed to tell it wasn't a full redesign. The new-age split-bow Lincoln grille common to other recent Lincoln products now adorns the front end, in a more charismatic, less intimidating way than the monster grille treatment on the MKT.
The fenders have been re-sculpted, and the rear does away with the full-width LED taillight treatment, said MKX design director Murray Callum, with more diffused, less sharp LEDs.
Under the hood will be a more powerful 3.7-litre V-6 making 305 hp, compared with the current 3.5-litre's 265 hp, although there's still no EcoBoost engine announced for it.
A six-speed transmission will continue to be standard, but new fuel-saving engines technologies such as an aggressive deceleration fuel shutoff and a "smart-charging" alternator that only saps power and fuel economy when accessory use demands it. Ford says this engine will get highway mileage of 25 mpg, or about 9.4 L/100 km, which is a little worse than the smaller engine currently, but on the plus side, it still uses regular fuel.
But the most radical changes to the MKX are inside. It will be the first product to include the MyLincoln Touch system, which will come standard on every new Lincoln from here on in, company execs say. It's a slightly more refined version of the MyFord Touch system unveiled last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, promising to extend mobile entertainment and communications even more seamlessly into the driver's seat.
The system's hardware includes an eight-inch, touch-sensitive screen in the dashboard and a central mounted speedometer flanked by two smaller LCD screens that show you the plethora of adjustments available by the two cellphone-like thumb controls (left, right, up, down and push functions) mounted on the steering wheel.
The display left of the speedo normally gives you a digitally rendered tachometer, but it's also the home of all vehicle control functions, so the tach will become a "tachograph" line or disappear entirely if there's a warning message about the car (dead battery, say).
To the right of the speedo is the more interesting screen, housing info for entertainment, navigation, phone and climate control functions.
All of these functions are also available on the large eight-inch touch screen, but Ford designers wanted to set up a system where you could glance down and adjust any of these features quickly, and with the least amount of distraction and hands-off-the-wheel time.
So the company also added more and simpler voice controls for many of these features as well, meaning you can choose whether to talk, thumb or screen tap your Lincoln to get it to do your bidding. And you will be able to ask your 2011 MKX to do some pretty amazing things.
This includes giving your passengers Internet access while on the move if you have the proper Internet stick, or if not, the driver can always find a hotspot, put the car into park and use the MKX's built-in browser to surf the web.
With a more advanced version of Sync onboard, as well as being able to read you your text messages, it can also now read you your RSS feeds, while the music on your Bluetooth-enabled phone or iPod can be transferred from your pocket, purse, or briefcase to the car's speakers.
The two USB data ports and new SD card slot will allow you to move all your settings (station presets, seat position, home screen, etc.) from one MyFord/Lincoln-equipped vehicle to another, which promises to be a nice perk for couples who normally switch cars on a regular basis.
Plus there is potential for even more capabilities later on. Ford is opening up much of its Sync software to the open-source community, an unheard-of move for the traditionally insular auto manufacturers, that will allow any Bluetooth device to connect to the vehicle.
Lincoln has expelled any hard buttons on the inside of this MKX, with integrated touch buttons on the dash where they're mandated by law and an optical slider with a light that follows your finger across to control stereo volume.
It's all very high-tech, until you spot some clues of leftover engineering, such as the old-fashioned key-code buttons tacked onto the outside door, instead of nicely integrated into the bodywork or pillar as in the Flex or MKT.
We didn't have a chance to actually try any of these systems at a Ford background session before the Detroit show. But if these technologies work to the point where you don't need a computer science degree to use them, there will be plenty of reason for more optimism in Oakville.