- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

The luxury midsize 2009 Lincoln MKX crossover SUV is positioned slightly upscale from its corporate cousin, the popular Ford Edge. It competes with models such as the Acura MDX and the Lexus RX. High-end crossover vehicles like these are part station wagon, part SUV.

They’re designed to combine some of the room and ruggedness of an SUV with the car-like drivability of a station wagon. Both crossovers and SUVs are commonly equipped with all-wheel drive, though few are called upon to venture off-road. That’s doubly true of upscale models.

Rare is the owner who can bring himself, or herself, to scratch up the paint of a premium model on a backwoods trail. So, while all-wheel drive is popular for crossover and sport utility buyers, it’s for different reasons. Where an SUV owner might use that added grip to scrabble up a mountain road, the average crossover driver is more likely to use AWD as a weather equalizer, to combat the effects of winter ice and snow.

The Lincoln MKX is available in front- or all-wheel-drive configurations. I drove the MKX with AWD starting at $39,185, and with a typical load of optional equipment, my test driver stickered for $45,210.

Lincoln’s intelligent all-wheel-drive system adds confidence when road conditions deteriorate. When combined with available traction control, the AWD system automatically distributes engine torque from front to rear wheels and side to side as needed, to maintain optimum traction.

On dry pavement, the independent suspension underpinning of the Lincoln provides a smooth ride and a solid feel going down the road. A new piece of available technology: adaptive headlights, which move in concert with the steering wheel.

One powertrain is offered for the 2009 MKX. A 3.5-liter V-6 engine is paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. The combination works well. The transmission gearing effectively distributes the motor’s 265 horsepower. Fuel economy is class competitive, if not compelling. The EPA estimates 15 miles per gallon city and 22 mpg highway for AWD models.

Front-wheel-drive versions fare slightly better at the gas pumps at 17/24 mpg. I averaged 16 mpg in a week of mixed city/country driving. The 4,400-pound MKX can be equipped to tow as much as 3,500 pounds.

The Lincoln seats five passengers very comfortably. Front seats are 10-way power adjustable, with lumbar support. A standard memory function allows the driver to lock in the seat settings once adjusted. Front seats are both heated and cooled, with rear-seat heaters available.

Cargo capacity ranges from 32.3 cubic feet to 68.6 cubic feet, depending on how the rear seats are configured. You must negotiate a moderately high liftover in back to access the cargo bay. However, a power liftgate is standard, and the key fob controls make it easy to put something in back when you’ve got your arms full. Rear seatbacks can be dropped by accessing a lever in the cargo bay, though they don’t quite fold to a completely flat load floor.

Up front, real wood trim provides an upscale touch on the dashboard. The center console can be configured to hold large items such as a laptop or purse, as well as smaller carry-ons, such as CDs. A six-speaker, AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system is standard and includes an auxiliary audio input jack. The dash-mounted player holds six discs, and a six-month subscription to Sirius satellite radio is included.

SYNC — Ford’s communications and entertainment system — is available optionally. It allows voice-activated, hand’s-free control of select features. New capabilities added to the SYNC system include 911 Assist, which allows direct contact with local emergency personnel. The system uses your mobile phone, and since the call doesn’t go through a call center, you don’t pay a monthly fee. A DVD-based navigation system is offered along with Sirius radio’s Travel Link service, which provides coast-to-coast, real-time traffic coverage and weather reports.

A reverse sensing system is standard on the MKX, though surprisingly, a rearview camera system is not available. Vista Roof is a combination tilt-and-slide sunroof up front and fixed glass panel in back. Since the sunroof cuts into available headroom, taller buyers will need to try a test sit to make sure they fit. Among the other interesting options is a 12-channel, 12-speaker, 600-watt surround-sound system.

All told, the 2009 Lincoln MKX is a nicely executed crossover. Classy and capable, it offers room and comfort in a well-dressed, all-weather package.

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