Road test: 2016 Lincoln MKX

“The stereo is amazing.” So says the rather helpful young man who delivers this Lincoln to my office. I promise him I will try it out a bit later, and proceed to spend the next half an hour trying to find somewhere to park in Dubai Media City. I fail, give up, and instead head for home.

The crawl back through Dubai Marina allows me to familiarise myself with a car that’s unfamiliar to almost everyone out there. Lincoln is a brand with a rich heritage in the United States, but it kind of lost its way in recent years, and nobody really knows what it stands for anymore. But its parent company, Ford, has a plan, and if it all works out, ­Lincoln will soon be as familiar to motorists here as ­Cadillac.

On the evidence of the MKX, ­Lincoln deserves to return to the limelight. It’s based on the Ford Edge’s platform, although you would never know it, and the vibe is definitely crossover rather than full-on SUV. Very smart it is, too, with a rear end that could pass at first glance for a Porsche Macan, and a nose that’s certainly distinctive and unique, with its “wing” profile. It’s a clean, fuss-free appearance that offers respite from some of the origami designs emerging from some of Japan’s premium brands at the moment.

It’s when you’re inside the MKX, however, that Lincoln’s design flair really hits you. Granted, the car I’m experiencing has had practically every available option (sending the price dangerously close to Volvo’s exceedingly good new XC90 and other premium models from Europe), but there’s no denying the visual splendour. The lines are flowing, the curves graceful and the surfaces beautifully trimmed. Its centre display stack contains a bank of buttons on its left side for selecting gears, leaving the “pass through” centre console design entirely uninterrupted. And then there’s the 19-speaker Revel sound system. I can’t think of any car interior in recent times that has impressed me so much.

Two engine options are available: a 3.7L V6, and the one that’s powering all four wheels in this car – a turbocharged Ecoboost 2.7L V6 that produces significantly more horsepower and twist than the larger unit. Silent in almost all circumstances, at standstill, I have to check the rev counter to see whether it’s running at all. On the move, there’s an abundance of performance at the behest of my right foot, and that prodigious torque on tap is highly addictive, making for truly effortless, speedy progress.

There’s no shortage of interior space, for five occupants and/or luggage, with fold-flat rear seats liberating enough room to meet the needs of most modern families. It’s a safe car, too, loaded with driver aids that tell you off for even the slightest transgression, and the glovebox contains an airbag that inflates to protect the knees of the front passenger in the event of a frontal collision.

Now, at this point, you might be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing at all wrong with this Lincoln. There isn’t anything that stands out as glaringly ­obvious – it does everything you ask of it with comfort, quiet, speed and style. But still there’s something about it that leaves me ambivalent – I don’t feel any pangs of desire to actually own one, and I can’t quite put my finger on why that is.

Perhaps it’s to do with the fact that the MKX doesn’t really have much of a voice – it’s quietly competent and inoffensive, simply getting on with doing its stuff with no fuss or discernible character. Perhaps, if its powerful, remarkably efficient six-cylinder engine made more appropriately muscular noises that would help clinch the deal, but there’s something a bit insipid about the MKX – it feels as anonymous as its name sounds.

For Lincoln to get into our collective subconscious, it needs to try a bit harder at giving the market something special. And that’s especially apparent when you look to what its rivals would be should you go a bit crazy with the options list. BMW’s X5, ­Porsche’s Cayenne, Audi’s Q7, Lexus’s RX and Mercedes’s GLE – they’re all within touching distance of this Lincoln, and each enjoys tremendous amounts of brand loyalty. If you’re in the market for a big car with gravitas, why would you head for a Lincoln dealership in the first place?

To be fair, Lincoln knows it has an uphill struggle on its hands, which is why the company is hard at work overhauling the dealership networks and distancing itself from Ford. Its designs, based on recent motor-­show concepts, are about to become much bolder, and some rather famous model names will be brought back into the range. Who knows? Perhaps after it’s properly re-established itself, the MKX might become a sales success. After all, there’s nothing at all wrong with it.

Oh, and that sound system? The man was right – it’s sensational. One of the best I have ever heard in any car at any price.

motoring@thenational.ae

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