WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A stunningly sleek five-door crossover utility vehicle flashing edgy arched fenders and a massive split-wing grille glides smoothly through compound chicanes on Beach Drive, which winds through the leafy canyon of Rock Creek Park in the heart of Washington, D.C.
Actually, this redesigned CUV romps through the park, a new six-pack engine lighting a fire on the humongous 245/50R20 tires mounted on chrome-coated alloy wheels.
The big tires dance independently over Rock Creek Park rippled pavement as the vehicle's unibody chassis, forged with an extra wide 65-inch track and wheelbase length of 111 inches, maintains a flat stance through so many bends in the two-lane park road.
And in the cockpit one driver strapped securely to a contoured bucket seat maintains a firm grip on the leather-wrapped steering wheel while plying a shift-it-yourself automatic transmission.
We're encased in a luxurious five-seat mobile environment, all leather and metal and high-tech electronic gizmos to help us move safety along the parkway pavement as well as keep in touch with the outside world via voice-activated controls over in-car phones, media players and the on-board navigation system.
This Rock Creek Park excursion occurs in Lincoln's 2011 MKX, a mid-size CUV revamped with new powertrain, revised chassis and suspension, fresh sheetmetal styling outside and a reworked cabin that drips luxury goods and way-cool electronic hardware.
The original MKX popped up in Lincoln's 2007 line. Initially, it offered one thrifty-fuel V6 engine tied to a six-speed automatic transaxle with standard front-wheel-drive (FWD) or optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
A deluxe Limited Edition package showed up on 2009 MKX models, along with Lincoln Sync which brought voice-activated control over in-vehicle phones, media players and USB storage devices.
For 2011, however, the MKX scores a makeover inside and out with that bold body sculpting, reworked suspension and stronger brakes, forceful new engine with sophisticated valvetrain technology, and the five-seat passenger compartment redesigned and fitted with improved materials wrought with fine craftsmanship.
Lincoln still offers the option of FWD or AWD traction.
Each version of MKX uses a monocoque structure which unites chassis and body into one cohesive unit that remains extremely rigid when set to motion.
The fully independent suspension -- 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 -- produces car-like smooth ride sensations as well as excellent behavior in a curve set.
Our dynamic driving tests indicate that the MKX can take a hard line through chicanes and hold it, with little concession from a tall body to lateral forces of physics.
Brakes on MKX consist of a disc at every wheel with linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) plus the AdvanceTrac electronic stability control device with Roll Stability Control (RSC), which measures vehicle motion on both the yaw and roll axes.
New brake-related features on 2011 MKX issues include Hill Start Assist (HSA) to check rollback on inclines, Trailer Sway Control (TSC) to help stabilize a tow rig, and Hydraulic Brake Assist (HBA) to apply more braking force during emergency stops.
And Lincoln packs aboard a load of safety gear.
The strong unibody structure serves as a 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.
Front riders have dual two-stage frontal air bags plus seatbelts with load-limiting retractors and buckle pretensioners, while in the rear there are anchors to tether a child's safety seat. Side-impact air bags mounted on outboard front seats and curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows front/back are also on tap.
Other safety tools extend to integrated blind spot mirrors and the MyKey programmable vehicle key to encourage safer vehicle operation from teenaged drivers by limiting the top speed to 80 mph, preventing deactivation of the vehicle's traction control system and capping the volume level on the audio system.
The 2011 MKX draws a new high-performance V6 engine with vastly more power.
The aluminum six-pack displaces 3.7 liters and has DOHC (dual overhead cams) and performance-enhancing Ti-VVT (twin independent variable camshaft timing) technology to deliver 305 hp at 6500 rpm and torque of 280 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
A six-speed electronic automatic transmission with SelectShift manual controls works with the new V6.
This powertrain achieves EPA fuel economy scores of 19 mpg for city driving and 26 mpg on the highway for FWD versions and 18/23 mpg (city/highway) with AWD.
MKX's optional AWD equipment -- the Control Trac system from Ford paired with a traction control system (TCS) -- 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.
In the spacious cabin are new leather-trimmed seats with standard tuxedo stripe and aluminum streaks on doors and center console. Optional wood trim -- Olive Ash or Walnut Swirl -- apply to steering wheel, dash and doors.
New equipment packages dress up the MKX for 2011.
* The Premium package brings 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlamps, power tilting/telescoping steering column, a rear-view camera, rain-sensing wipers, premium leather on seats with contrast piping, heated second-row seats and illuminated scuff plates.
* The Elite package installs 20-inch chrome wheels, Panoramic Vista Roof, voice-activated navigation system, Sirius Travel Link and a 14-speaker premium audio system.
* The Limited Edition package nets 20-inch polished wheels, aluminum interior trim and bronze metallic leather seats with black and charcoal trim.
MyLincoln Touch, a new optional electronic control that enhances Lincoln Sync, adds two five-way thumb switches on the steering wheel, two LED screens in the instrument cluster and a larger LED panel at the center dash, all to run climate and audio systems, plus phone and navigation gear.
MSRP figures for the 2011 Lincoln MKX begin at $39,415.