Like Hogan versus Savage, Smarties versus M&Ms, and Tiger versus his ex wielding a nine iron, this will surely be a battle for the ages. Cue the monster truck announcer voice because here it comes: “Lincoln MKX versus Lexus RX. Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!” Err, or whatever day it is you’re reading this…
Since it originally launched in 1998, the Lexus RX has steady built an enviable reputation as one of Canada’s most-loved midsize luxury crossovers. A pioneer in the segment, it found that just right mix of motoring comfort, luxury accoutrements and usable technology. Now in its third generation – debuted in 2009 – more RX 350s drive off Lexus Canada lots than any other model in the Japanese brand’s lineup.
Then there’s Lincoln. Back in 2006, it launched the first MKX, a competent midsize premium crossover that put the Blue Oval’s luxury arm into this ballooning segment. The rub here though, was that the five-seater was essentially a gussied-up, more expensive, version of Ford’s Edge. A solid right hook to be sure, but handicaps like a ho-hum powertrain and just okay interior quality meant the Lexus was still champ.
Wait now – we need to cue-up the cheesy training montage from an ’80s-era action flick here – late last year the second generation of the MKX bowed in as a much more convincing, rightly premium entry, packed full of newsworthy infotainment features and refinements. The Lexus surely awoke in a cold sweat, its place atop the posh crossover pyramid challenged anew…
Adding to all this drama of course, is the fact that both of these crossovers are bolted together right here in the land of moose, maple syrup and Margaret Atwood. The Lexus rolls out of Toyota Motor Co.‘s Cambridge, Ontario operation, while the Lincoln comes to life an hour’s drive away in Oakville, ON.
Top it all of with the fact that the MKX rings in at $46,500 and RX at just $550 dollars more, and ladies and gentleman, we have the makings of one epic, Canadian-made showdown.
Second Place – Lincoln MKX
Let me start by saying, I’ve been in the auto writing racket for nearly a decade and, believe it or not, this was one of the closest comparos I’ve yet experienced, despite our two relatively mainstream vehicles. The Lincoln should not be classified as “the loser” here. Think of it as a student with an 80 percent average – still honour roll material, just further down the list than its Asian peer.
High on our list of priorities, the MKX thumps the RX in driving delight. It’s no surprise, really: if you trace the roots of its chassis, it all began with the playful Mazda6. The Lexus’ platform, on the other hand, comes from, yawn, the Camry. The Lincoln’s four-wheel independent suspension has taught manners for this genus of vehicle, the braking is confidence-inspiring and the rack-and-pinion steering is surprisingly weighty. A Canadian-made American machine that exudes on-road confidence.
Too bad the Lincoln’s engine falters. The 3.7-litre V6 under the AWDer’s hood is still fresh to the Ford family and actually bests the RX’s motor with 305 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, all transferred to tires by a six-speed SelectShift automatic gearbox. The rub is, with all that muscle comes a lot of racket from behind that double-winged grille. If it was an amiable engine note, all could be forgiven, but this is well, Justin Bieber versus Nat King Cole to the ears. The Lincoln’s also about 200 pounds tubbier than its Cambridge-built rival, contributing to its slightly worse fuel economy of 12.2 L/100 km in the city and 8.8 highway.
Back on the positive, if the numbers don’t lie, the MKX has more than double the cargo capacity of the Lexus with the rear seats up (915 L vs. 447 L) and still bests it when the second row’s tumbled. Rear rides don’t suffer for the capacity advantage either, offered slightly more legroom versus the RX plus reclining, heated chairs. This brings up perhaps the Lincoln’s strengthiest strength: its value. Already less loonies than the Lexus, it comes standard with (takes a deep breath), a heated tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 10-way heated and cooled front leather seats, HID headlamps, rain sensing wipers, stability control, a power liftgate and a rearview camera. The long list of options – many of which are not offered on the Lexus – range from a panoramic moonroof to blind-spot monitoring.
There are, however, two important areas where the Lincoln went pear-shaped. First, that old chestnut doth return: The Ford Edge is still essentially the same vehicle, arguably better-looking and even loaded-up, it costs thousands less. So what then should compel me to saunter to the Lincoln dealer next door?
Our second raspberry is a biggie: MyLincoln Touch. It’s the touch-sensative mainscreen and two LCDs flanking the analog speedometre that control nearly all the vehicle’s functions – from climate control to your bluetooth phone. On the plus side, it looks swell and is a thoroughly modern piece of tech from a brand trying to shake a reputation as Ethel’s choice ride. On the negative, it’s not overly intuitive, takes more ‘clicks’ to do anything than old school buttons would have and has the infuriatingly slow reaction time of a sloth. Did we mention the finger-tip sliders to adjust the radio and fan speed don’t work with gloves on and one of the LCD went blinky after a subzero-start? If the tech had been expertly executed, we could maybe have overlooked the Lincoln’s just slightly worse refinement versus the Lexus. Sadly, we cannot make it so. Dear Dearborn, please wiki ‘iPad.’
First Place – 2011 Lexus RX 350
So the veteran crossover beats out its more avante-garde, high-tech rival. How? Well, let me put it like this: mom said, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. The RX delivers the Princeton commencement speech – in Dolby Surround. Like all Lexus product, it perpetually oozes a refined air rivals like Lincoln have’t yet achieved.
Admittedly, the RX was docked points out of the gate by the Russian judge for its drivability. It’s just so… mellow, dude. Steering, braking and handling from the fully independent suspension all exude a tedious cushiness as compared to the sharper, dare we say, Euro-minded, MKX. That said, the RX does feel faster booting it up to highway speeds or passing a slow-moving minivan spilling over with soccer kids. It’s a neat trick really, when you consider the Lexus makes less power at 275 horsepower and 257 lb-ft of torque.
Chalk it up to lighter weight, a smartly tuned six-speed automatic gearbox and a staple in the Lexus lineup: an engine that remains resolutely silky smooth up to redline. It’s a CUV that’s quick to launch, but quelled in corners. Cambridge’s creation is also more muted on the motorway than Oakville’s and returns slight better fuel economy at 11.6 L/100 km city and 8.2 highway.
We are infinitely curious to sample an RX wearing the optional “sport-tuned” steering and suspension to see if the all-wheel drive athletics come up to Lincoln levels. That actually brings up a truly frustrating issue with the RX’s options list. Let’s not sugar coat this: because the automaker is trying to milk the most currency from its well-healed clientele, its add-ons are only offered in massive, expensive packages. The cheapest is $3,450 over the base price (for items like heated and cooled seats that the Lincoln offers as standard) and the most expensive is a heady $15,800 – you could by a Corolla for the cost of adding the so called “Ultra Premium Package 2” to your Lexus. How about letting Canadians add just a moonroof if that’s all they want? Lincoln will.
The RX’s interior takes a more traditional approach to luxury than the MKX’s, sticking with tried-and-true leather and wood trim and unobtrusive tech feature (though fabric seats are standard – what the heck, Lexus Canada?). Even the main eight-inch LCD display is manipulated by a controller no more difficult to use than a computer mouse. While its standard features may not be as extensive as the Lincoln’s, the Lexus still comes with notables like power tilt & telescopic steering, rain sensing wipers, push button start, Stability Control, sliding rear seats and a space under the centre console handy for stowing a purse, err, I mean a manly man’s European carry all. It’s a quiet, relaxing and exceedingly comfortably place to spend time: rule number one in premium car construction last time I checked.
The overiding feeling that you’re motoring about in a luxury vehicle in which engineers really, truly sweated the details is ultimately what gives the Lexus the win in this head-to-head. Here’s a prime example: peer inside each of these crossovers and check out how the hinge which tilts the seats is integrated into the outboard side of the front buckets (see pics). In the Lincoln there’s all kinds of open space and nasty metals exposed. In the Lexus it’s buttoned up tight under a colour correct, quality plastic shield. If the designers paid that much attention to this tiny corner of their midsize CUV, what other small, but ultimately important touches did they fret over?
And so our comparison of two Canadian crossovers ended the only way it should: with heated discussion over Tim Hortons double-doubles and a box of old fashioned glazed. Ultimately, we concluded that Lincoln’s done an admirable job of improving its five-seater MKX. The styling, ride, handling, features and value are all ratcheted way up. That said, it does feel like the brand is hoping high-tech toys like MyLincoln Touch will mask any downfalls in driveability and refinement. Alas, that’s not the case. The Lexus RX was handed the trophy – despite its over-stuffed ride and lack of right-now features – because of a fanatical focus on a top-bar refinement and materials in every important area.
The people bolting these together in Cambridge, Ontario should be proud.