BOSTON, Mass. -- A crossover utility vehicle (CUV), constructed with the rigid unibody structure of a car rather than the typical SUV's body-on-frame platform of a truck, is the next big idea for automobiles.
In the luxury line of Lincoln, a sleek new mid-size CUV emerges with the alphabetic nameplate of MKX. Packing a V6 powertrain and the five-place passenger compartment adorned with luxurious appointments, the unibody-based MKX becomes Lincoln's successor wagon to the late Aviator SUV.
The basic front-wheel-drive (FWD) structure for MKX also works for Lincoln's MKZ sedan. We're in the driver's bucket of a FWD version of MKX in Boyleston Street as it runs beside the Boston Common, a greenbelt park in the heart of the Massachusetts capital.
The slick lines of MKX, hunkering in a sporty stance with a chrome-plated prow and low arching canopy, apparently draw the attention of pedestrians in the park because we observe that heads turn and fingers point to the vehicle as we roll in traffic along Boyleston.
It is a striking design -- so smooth with uncluttered slab sides and a graceful sweep of bowed front and rear pillars which defy the erect stance and squared corners of a typical two-box SUV.
MKX doesn't ride and drive like a truckish SUV either. On dry pavement, all of the engine's power goes to the front wheels which also steer. Having the front wheels both turn and steer -- when combined with a stiff unitized structure and lively suspension -- makes the MKX uncommonly nimble when driven through a set of curves.
A generous wheelbase length of 111 inches and the wide wheel track of 65 inches set up a long and broad platform which brings stability when turning. And MKX carries fully independent suspension components -- MacPherson struts and an isolated subframe up front and a four-link design in back also with isolating subframe and monotube shocks for precise suspension tuning -- to deliver car-like smooth ride sensations.
In effect, MKX manages to combine the ideal aspects of a car and a SUV. The easy-to-handle driving traits and a low seat position for easy entry to the cabin mimic a conventional four-door sedan, but the five-door cabin configuration functions like a sport-utility wagon.
Brakes on MKX consist of a disc at every wheel and linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS). And there are significant safety systems aboard. MKX's rigid monocoque structure serves as the first line of defense for passengers, surrounded by a safety cage rigged with force-deflecting energy management zones fore and aft plus reinforced side panels and doors.
Riders in the front buckets have dual two-stage frontal air bags, plus seat-mounted side air bags and seatbelts with load-limiting retractors and pretensioners. Then there are curtain-style air bags stretching for the length of the cabin above outboard seats front and rear, and the AdvanceTrac anti-skid device with Roll Stability Control (RSC) is on the list of standard equipment.
Power for MKX is derived from a thrifty new dual-cam 3.5-liter V6 tied to an electronically controlled six-speed automatic transaxle with standard front-wheel-drive (FWD) or optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
The V6 adds a kick to MKX's accelerator. It generates 265 hp at 6250 rpm plus torque of 250 lb-ft at 4500 rpm. The six-speed shifter operates smoothly.
MKX's optional AWD equipment -- the Control Trac system -- also relates to safety, as the mechanism has an automatic mode that monitors grip for all wheels and can selectively distribute traction front-to-rear as well as side-to-side even before wheel slippage occurs in order to maintain a constant tire bite on wet and slippery pavement.
MXK also has an adaptive lighting system (ALS) where a pair of swivel headlamps -- keyed to the angle of the steering wheel -- rotates during turning maneuvers to keep a light shining on the vehicle's forward trajectory.
Within the cabin, MKX seems generous in scale with reasonable room for riders -- including best-in-class legroom for rear seats. Decor for the cabin in MKX is understated in a retro-Lincoln theme with luxurious materials in satin aluminum, soft leathers and real wood plus occasional bright glints of chrome.
And there's heavy content in luxury goods. The layout pitches a pair of bucket seats up front divided by a multi-function console and followed by a bench for three that's split 60/40 and folds on the seatback to expand the rear cargo area.
Front buckets can be heated and cooled, while the rear seats offer heat elements. The rear seatback sections recline at angles of up to 15 degrees for comfort, or the sections fold down manually via a single-hand release lever or an electro-mechanical remote tab positioned in the cargo bay.
Cargo capacity adds up to 32 cubic feet of space with rear seatbacks raised, or 69 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded down. The optional glass Vista Roof brings open-air motoring to a CUV. The rig consists of a tilt-and-slide front roof panel followed by a fixed rear glass panel measuring 27 by 29 inches, plus power-operated cloth shades over both portals to block glare.
Other options include a DVD-based navigation system tied to the Sirius satellite radio service and a DVD entertainment kit with 8-inch drop-down video screen and two pairs of wireless headphones for backseat riders. MKX also offers a blow-the-doors-off THX II deluxe audio kit. The surround-sound system uses 14 audio speakers, including two subwoofers with 600 watts of power.
Two optional trim packages -- Elite and Ultimate -- cluster more popular gear. Expect the MSRP for MKX to tally to $34,120 for a FWD version and $35,770 with AWD.