For the past few decades, Ford has had a problem on its hands, and it’s named after our 16th president. Once the crown jewel of the American luxury market, Lincoln began its slow, sad decline sometime around the introduction of the Versailles (a rebadged Ford Grenada) in 1977, and bottomed out somewhere in the late ’90s — sales success of the first-generation Navigator notwithstanding. Like rival Cadillac, Ford’s premium brand had spent its capital building cars for its traditional audience (read: retirees) while luxury cars from Europe and Japan just got better and better.
By the turn of the 21st century, Cadillac and Lincoln were shadows of their former selves. But then General Motors began to sink billions of dollars into transforming Cadillac into a true luxury automaker again, and while it isn’t selling as many cars as Mercedes-Benz, its cars are good enough to compete.
Ford wasn’t as quick on the jump. In fact, when the company shuttered its mid-range Mercury brand in 2010, it had plans in place to do the same with Lincoln. Instead, the company decided to “expand and enhance” the brand, focusing on moving it upmarket (rebranding it as “The Lincoln Motor Company,” pushing the brand in China, and investing $5 billion to prove that it means business.
Comparatively speaking, Lincoln is where Cadillac was in about 2003; a lot of potential, but not much to show for it yet. The all-new Continental has potential, the 2017 MKZ looks good, and the Navigator concept seen at the New York Auto Show was the best-looking design for the nameplate’s history. But none of those models are at dealerships yet, and many of the ones that are tend to overlap with the Ford models they’re based on. What’s more, Ford’s lineup is arguably better than it’s ever been, and customers tend to agree: They gave the company its best Q1 performance in its 113-year history.
So for this week’s “Buy This, Not That,” we’ll be looking at the Ford Edge Sport and its cousin in a tuxedo, the Lincoln MKX. Which would you rather have, the top-spec version of a popular family car, or the most competitive model from a fixer-upper brand with a lot of potential?
Tale of the tape
The Lincoln is all-new for 2016, and comes out swinging haymakers while striving to live up to the brand’s new “quiet luxury” mantra. Sleek and thoroughly modern inside and out, in the words of Car and Driver, it’s “priced as if the past 25 years never happened.” Starting reasonably enough at $38,260, it fits in comfortably with contenders like the Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X5, and Lexus RX, but like its better-established competitors, can top out dangerously close to $70K. Plenty of people are willing to shell out that kind of money for a Mercedes; not as many would do the same for a Lincoln.
However, MKX fits into the crowded compact luxury SUV segment well. With Lincoln’s new 22-way adjustable massaging front seats, acres of leather, soft touch materials, and one of the quietest cabins on the market, think of it as more of a civilized alternative to the Lexus RX than a big-boned corner-carver like the Jaguar F-Pace. That said, the standard 3.7 liter V6 puts out a respectable 303 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, the optional 2.7 turbocharged EcoBoost V6 cranks an impressive 335 horses and 380 pound-feet, moving the 4,600 pound SUV with purpose.
Unlike the previous-generation model, the current MKX keeps obvious borrowing from the Ford parts bin to a minimum, and feels like its own vehicle, not just another Ford with a little extra chrome and leather. And that makes comparing it to its platform mate the Edge a little more difficult — that’s a good thing for Lincoln.
But the Edge is no slouch. New for 2015, Ford’s two-row offering doesn’t occupy the same rarefied air as the MKX – think more Jeep Grand Cherokee than Audi Q5. The base SE model starts a shade under $30K, but in range-topping Sport trim, the entrance fee is just over $40,000. For that price, you get the same 2.7 liter V6 in the MKX, but it’s been detuned by 20 horsepower and 30 pound-feet. That said, it’s a little lighter (4,400 versus 4,600 pounds), and a little quicker (5.6 seconds from zero to 60 versus 6.0) than the Lincoln.
Unfortunately, the Sport is the only Edge model with this powerplant standard, but it offers all of the goodies (Ford Sync3 infotainment system, leather seats, and a host of safety and convenience festures) as the luxury-focused Titanium model. But like the Lincoln, options can add up quick, and at the end of the day, you could be looking at a $50K Edge Sport once you factor in all the taxes and dealership fees, and that’s a lot of money for a Ford.
At the end of the day, if money were no object, we’d be left with with the same question we started with: Would you rather have, the top-spec version of a popular family car, or the most competitive model from a fixer-upper brand with a lot of potential? If you didn’t give a damn about the badge, save a few grand and go for the Ford. But from the instant we auto scribes got our hands on the MKX, the response has been near universal: “Hey, this is pretty good, and it’s a Lincoln.” That’s quite a feat for a brand long thought to be past its prime, especially in such a competitive segment.
Remember, people aren’t buying the X5 because it handles in the corners better than the GLC, and they aren’t buying an RX because its leather and sound system is better than the Q5. Customers buy luxury SUVs for the comfort, but that badge up front also has a lot to do with it. If you want sporty, go with the spurned Ford brand and buy a Jaguar F-Pace (you won’t regret it). But if you’re in the market for a quiet, comfortable Lexus, but want to stand out from the mess that litters every well-to-do suburb in the country, get the Lincoln. Your friends at the country club will either see you as an old-school traditionalist, or (depending on how well Lincoln’s rebranding goes), an early adopter. Neither are a bad thing.
The Edge Sport is a very good modern SUV, but for the first time in decades, there’s some real daylight between the high-spec Ford and the entry-level Lincoln; when you compare the two, the best Blue Oval still falls short against the luxury-focused Crosshairs. That means the automotive universe is one step closer to being in alignment, and could mean very good things for Dearborn’s premium brand in the future. Over a high-end Edge Sport, we’d take a mid-level Lincoln and channel our inner Frank Sinatra, JFK, or — God help us — Matthew McConaughey.