Mid-size luxury crossover vehicles like the Lincoln MKX and Lexus RX have developed multiple roles in the market. On one hand, they’re the shape of convenience and elegance—especially to empty-nester types, who have turned to them instead of big luxury sedans. And on the other hand, they’re the image of success for professionals who balance family duty with demanding careers.
As such, the needs of these buyers may cover an exceedingly wide swath of duties, too, ranging from all-wheel-drive security for all-weather commuting and snowy winter driveways, to the kind of seating flexibility needed for weekend shopping trips, and the comfort for double-date dinners out.
These two models have both been reconceived as stronger, more refined, and more flamboyant this time around. They have so much in common in terms of their comfort, seating space, overall size, and even their silhouettes. Yet people are likely to see them in quite different light because of the disparate reputations of their respective brands.
The brands, too, are both in the midst of change. Lexus is throwing more design inspiration and driving excitement into its vehicles—under direct mandate from Akio Toyoda, the president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation. Meanwhile, the Lincoln brand, which is part of Ford Motor Company, is currently remaking itself as more of a mainstream luxury brand to target Lexus and Audi, among others.
So while we see these two vehicles heading along similar paths, both with dramatic new looks, these two vehicles couldn’t be any farther apart in design. The more daring, expressive exterior design of the 2016 Lexus RX, with its sharp, creased sheet metal, mated to an arched roofline and accentuated by blacked-out rear pillars, roams far from the soft, jellybean profiles of previous RX models. The MKX, on the other hand, has a look that shines in its subtlety and grace; it’s an understated look, yet one that stands apart from other luxury crossovers its size—in a completely different way than the RX.
Inside, the differences are a little less pronounced. The Lincoln’s cabin is unified by big, pared-down dash shapes; the console sits high, but there’s no shift lever, and it’s perhaps most distinguished by its warm fashion-forward materials—which almost allows you overlook some of the carry-over Ford switchgear and door panels. The RX cabin treatment is somewhat normalizing next to the aggressive exterior; it’s driver-focused and purposeful, and definitely less cluttered than some other Lexus efforts of recent years.
In performance and powertrain matters, these two models have quite close credentials in their standard guise. Yet with Lexus offering an RX 450h hybrid model and Lincoln offering an MKX turbo-V-6 option, you have some very different choices between the two. The MKX is powered by a 303-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 and a 6-speed automatic, while the Lexus RX has a 295-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and an 8-speed automatic. Both provide confident, rather brisk acceleration. But on the Lincoln, for $2,000, you can add a 2.7-liter turbocharged V-6 that makes 335 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque and can blast to 60 mph in about 6 seconds. The counter to that is the Lexus RX 450h, which instead subs in a special Atkinson-cycle V-6 and a planetary hybrid-drive system—plus supplemental all-electric rear drive in AWD 450h models—to return up to 30 mpg combined.
As for ride and roadholding, the Lexus RX is much improved versus previous versions of this model. The Lexus has a rather firm yet compliant ride, and it’s surprisingly quiet. On the other hand, it’s the MKX that impresses with its well-weighted steering and taut body structure; an available variable-ratio steering rack in the MKX really helps make the most of it.
The Lincoln MKX falls short of rivals when it comes to back-seat accommodations. While the MKX has plenty of sprawl-out space and supportive seats in front, its back seat is less supportive and sculpted than adult passengers would like; and the seatbacks fold forward but not completely flat. The Lexus RX models, on the other hand, offer a back seat that adults will find reasonably comfortable, although the top of some passengers’ heads will be close to the moonroof enclosure in models so-equipped. The RX also has a cabin that’s very well thought out and equipped with covered bins, cupholders, and other cubbies.
Both of these models are high achievers in safety. The 2016 Lexus RX has already earned a place on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list, and Lexus has packaged some of the top active-safety options, like automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control, as an option group that’s priced lower than before. Outward visibility is also a bit better in the new Lexus RX than in the outgoing model. The Lincoln MKX doesn’t do quite as well in crash-test ratings, although it does offer a comparable set of active-safety items, plus a great surround-view camera system. And there’s one thing you won’t find in the RX: a rear-seat inflatable seatbelt airbag system.
One of the most maligned features in the MKX, its MyLincoln Touch interface, is due to be replaced by the much cleaner, more intuitive Sync 3 system mid-way through the model year. We’re not fans of the Remote Touch system in the Lexus RX either, as its trackpad-like controller requires screen-watching and distracting coordination—yet the big, wide infotainment screen is now right up atop the instrument panel, in the line of sight while the MKX’s screen requires more of a downward glance.
Some standout options in the MKX include a cold weather package with heated rear seats and heated steering wheel, and a 19-speaker Revel Ultima audio system with Harman Clari-Fi sound. RX feature highlights include a new head-up display, a rear entertainment system with dual 11.6-inch screens, and an 835-watt Mark Levinson sound system.
The current generation of the Lincoln MKX is more of a true luxury entry than this model has ever been; and with its unique yet softly-styled exterior, refined powertrains, and great handling, it’s easy to see why some people will choose it. But with the availability of a hybrid system, a better-designed interior, and the superior resale value and brand recognition of Lexus, we think the RX family wins this one handily—and meets a much wider range of upscale wants and needs.