2008 Lincoln MKX

The MKX is no rocket ship -- a 4,420-pound curb weight (in AWD trim) sees to that -- but it will run up to highway speeds in less than eight seconds and cruise effortlessly there while returning 20-plus mpg fuel economy. (Lincoln)

The Lincoln MKX is the upscale version of the Ford Edge crossover, Dearborn's tidy people mover with a 3.5-liter V6, six-speed transmission and available all-wheel drive.


So, naturally, it makes me think of John Keats.

One of the unluckiest sods ever to pick up a quill, Keats once wrote that "poetry should surprise by fine excess and not by Singularity." Well, there's nothing singular about the MKX. Under the bling, the Lincoln is virtually identical to the Ford, churned out in dizzying numbers from the factory in Oakville, Canada. This is badge engineering, chapter and verse.

As for fine excess, the MKX has that covered. For $44,270, our AWD-equipped test car was positively jammed with tech toys (adaptive headlamps, reverse sensing system), comforts (heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats) and conveniences (remote fold-flat release for the second-row seats, power rear hatch). Among the MKX's signature amenities is the THX-II certified surround-sound system, an astonishing bit of audio equipment that's loud enough to pulverize kidney stones while you drive.

So does that mean the MKX is poetry? Ah, no, not really. But it's the liveliest lyric that's come from Lincoln in a while and a pretty tempting vehicle for the money, particularly as you factor in whatever spiffs your local Lincoln dealer may be offering. Even at retail, our MKX undercuts the comparably equipped Lexus RX350 by several thousand dollars.

I know that even making the Lexus versus Lincoln comparison is enough to get one drummed out of the Westside area code, but hear me out. For starters, the Lincoln looks terrific, a fact I really didn't appreciate until I spent the week with one. Well drawn and tightly proportioned, with an athletic stance (wide, with pronounced wheel aches and short front and rear overhangs), and an aggressively raked windshield, the MKX cuts a pretty dashing figure on the street. It also represents the most successful application of Lincoln's retro-themed egg-crate grille.

The Navigator, on the other hand, looks like a chrome-dipped swamp cooler.

The MKX is a pretty decent drive, as well. Starting with the uni-body bones of the Edge, the MKX feels taut and well constructed. Our test car was free of twitters or squeaks (which is more than one could say about Keats). Despite having more relaxed suspension settings than the Edge, the MKX is surprisingly eager to maneuver on its 18-inch chrome rims. It has significant lateral grip for a crossover -- more like the Infiniti FX35 than the Lexus -- and body pitch and roll are well managed by the front-strut, rear multilink suspension. The steering has good feedback and pleasant heft without a lot of vibration.

The brakes? There are brakes.

Lincoln-izing the MKX required giving the vehicle a double dose of noise-dampening materials. Ambient cabin noise is turned down compared with the Edge. The corporate V6 (265 hp and 250 pound-feet of torque) is socked in even tighter so that, at full rap, you can hardly feel any engine vibration. Unfortunately, when you mat the throttle to pass, induction noises still howl from under the hood. The effect is like a loud, rude noise at a fancy dinner party. Awkward.

The MKX is no rocket ship -- a 4,420-pound curb weight (in AWD trim) sees to that -- but it will run up to highway speeds in less than eight seconds and cruise effortlessly there while returning 20-plus mpg fuel economy. The new six-speed automatic shifts with gliding precision; however, it doesn't provide a manual (+ and -) shift gate.

The MKX, in short, is a very decent offering. It's easy to look at, easy to park. It's got comfortable seats, lots of room for second-row passengers, and enough surprise and delight to keep you pressing buttons and throwing switches for weeks.

What it lacks is the fine-grain luxury detail that Lexus, BMW and Mercedes render so well. The cabin aesthetics of the MKX -- featuring the so-called "satin-nickel" finish on the dash and central console -- are just this side of awful, a sugary coating on Ford's stock panels and switches seen in everything from Focus to F-150. The DVD-based navigation system is below par. The retro-modern instruments look economized. The interior design tries very hard to be luxe -- our test car had a kind of Scandinavian blond wood trim and ivory leather seats -- but the overall effect is less Ian Schrager than Donald Trump.

The MKX, in other words, doesn't have the rewarding look and luxury satisfaction it should have. You might never notice unless you had spent time in a competitive product -- the Lexus, or even the Cadillac SRX. But that's not how car buying works, is it? Why would anyone pay a luxury brand premium for what is essentially an extravagantly equipped Ford Edge?

Excess it's got. It's the fine part that needs work.

dan.neil@latimes.com