x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Road test: Lincoln goes out of Town to lead the new Ford line

The Lincoln marque is doing away with its flagship brand, the Town Car, and with the MKX leading the way it is aiming to capture younger buyers.

The MKX is one of the first in a new wave of Lincolns. Sammy Dallal / The National
The MKX is one of the first in a new wave of Lincolns. Sammy Dallal / The National

This is a big moment for Lincoln, the last man standing in Ford Motor Group's once-crowded but now deserted premium product segment.

A decade ago, Ford spent a fortune acquiring upmarket foreign brands to add to its portfolio, only to sell off Aston Martin, then Jaguar and Land Rover and finally Volvo when the global economy turned sour.

Those sales left the home-grown pair of Mercury and Lincoln as Ford's remaining upmarket marques, although the former has now also been considered surplus to requirements. Ford confirmed earlier this year that it had shut Mercury's factory gates for good.

That news should have left Lincoln in a decent place to capitalise - having previously fought Mercury for market share - but the brand is hamstrung by a chronic image problem created largely, and ironically, by the Town Car, its most enduring product.

Lincoln's flagship may be the limousine of choice at airports all over the world - passengers like its unintentionally retro exterior styling and appreciate its generous legroom as they stretch out in the back seats on the short hop from terminal to hotel - but they don't identify it as a driver's car. Indeed, although sales of the Town Car have remained respectable throughout its 20-year life cycle, the rest of the range has probably suffered by association. Prospective buyers tend to look to Japan and Germany for their upmarket kicks and their dynamic drives.

Now though, Ford is fighting back by promising up to seven new or significantly remodelled Lincoln offerings in the next three years. It is also quietly retiring the Town Car and teasing younger buyers with small, sporty concept cars like the fabulous C, a four-door city car aimed squarely at the Mini and its multiple imitators.

The MKX, a mid-size luxury crossover based on the Ford Edge, is one of the advance party of that promised rollout. This model has, of course, been around for a while, but now benefits from the brand's split-wing chrome grille up front, as well as a raft of cosmetic and technical improvements inside.

That new nose, described as Lincoln's "signature DNA", hides the car's more humble genes very well - front on it's hard to spot too much of the Edge, only in profile does the car betray its origins - but will probably split buyer opinions, too. It is imposing and eye-catching, but is it pretty? Not to these eyes. It overpowers the relatively unfussy design of the model on which it is based and sits uneasily with the rest of the car's uncluttered lines. In their defence, the designers have added some nice exterior finishing touches elsewhere, including new rear-light clusters and chrome detailing.

Inside the car benefits from a thorough reworking and, with the notable exception of a GPS navigation system, is equipped with a range of features in keeping with the expectations of upmarket buyers: a THX II Certified Audio System, rear DVD units mounted in the front head restraints, powered liftgate, the obligatory leather seats and a fully retracting panoramic moon roof.

The central feature of the cabin is MyLincoln Touch, an integrated entertainment, phone and climate controlling eight-inch LCD touch screen. Lincoln has high hopes for this piece of technology. It will, according to Derrick Kuzak, a senior member of staff in the brand's global development department, "change the way customers interact with their vehicles".

Mr Kuzak may not be wrong. MyTouch is an infuriating all-in-one system that, I suspect, would take weeks to get comfortable with. For functionality, give me the much- maligned BMW iDrive any day.

Not everything is quite so complex. One of the MKX's standout safety features is a blind spot information system that appears to have been lifted straight from its former stablemate, the Volvo XC60 - maybe all that research and development money was worth it after all. The system flashes a small orange dot in the car's wing- and rear-view mirrors when another vehicle is in a danger zone. It's a simple and effective feature that becomes hard to live without.

On the road, the car feels very poised. The MKX uses a 3.7L V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Power is delivered smoothly even when driven aggressively and it is wonderfully flat and reliable when cornering.

In short, it's a joy to drive and for a North American car - designed in the US, built in Canada - it's passably economical, too. The official figures suggest you'll only use 12.4L per 100km on a long drive and not much more than that (13.8L) around town.

Mind you, the MKX doesn't come cheap. As tested, the car retails for Dh175,000, which puts what could described uncharitably as a better-equipped but uglier version of the Ford Edge into competition with the Cadillac SRX, the Lexus RX and the aforementioned XC60.

And for that money, honestly, I'd rather have the Volvo, even if residual values remain an issue with the Swedish marque in this part of the world.