2016 Lexus RX 350 vs Lincoln MKX

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The Lincoln MKX is proof that the American luxury automaker has been taking notes from its competitors, but to see if it’s up to par with its rivals, we put it head-to-head with the best in the business.

The Lexus RX has been recently updated and is on pace to crack 100,000 sales in the U.S. again. Luxury crossover buyers have consistently turned to the Japanese automaker, and it’s easy to see why: the RX is affordable, promises good reliability and quality while boasting an effortless driving experience. It’s a luxury SUV through and through.

The RX Problem

But the RX didn’t innovate in some areas, while radically changing in others. For starters, the 3.5-liter V6 found under the hood is practically the same as it was in the past generation, packing less than 300 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. There were some technical updates to the engine in the form of an all-new cylinder head design, variable valve timing and the ability to switch the engine into a more Atkinson-cycle mode from the traditional otto-cycle, but nothing radical. The engine is paired to a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission.

2016 Lexus RX 350ext 2

This is all well and good, and the changes definitely make the vehicle more efficient, but it’s hardly sexy or gamechanging. On the road, the Lexus’ powertrain has one hardly noticeable advantage: it’s smooth. Although a smooth engine isn’t a trait that elicits hoots and hollers, it is something that luxury car buyers are looking for, and the Lexus delivers exactly that.

Exterior

2016 Lincoln MKZ vs Lexus RX 350 hero 1

On the other hand, the new look for the RX is a polarizing change. With more crazy angles than a Michael Bay movie, the Lexus transformed from a snoozefest into a sci-fi movie’s most impossible spacecraft. And while we usually stray from discussing exterior design since it’s always subjective, there’s something we can all agree on: that the Lexus RX can never be called boring looking again.

For those looking for a more conservative design, the Lincoln is a better choice. Lincoln is still experimenting with a new design language, so the MKX sports the old split-wing grille up front and a long light bar at the back. Unlike the Lexus, the Lincoln doesn’t hide its traditional shape or design with any mind-altering angles. The only design cues that pop out with the Lincoln are the big wheels and the LED elements on the front bumper that blend nicely with the chrome trim.

Interior

2016 Lincoln MKZ Interior

The two vehicles carry their respective themes into the cabin, where the Lincoln is again conservatively styled, and the Lexus is more otherworldly. I think the RX 350’s red leather interior looks good, which is rare for me. Somehow, the color doesn’t look ostentatious, possibly because it suits the bizarre layout of the Lexus. Like the exterior, there are angles everywhere, and a number of different accents and trim materials. The Lincoln isn’t bad in comparison, but it just doesn’t wow you in the same way. Notably, there are a few plastic panels that seem out of place in a luxury car. Flimsy and cheap feeling, it contrasts the Lexus in an obvious way.

At least the Lincoln is easy to use. While the MKX uses the last-generation MyLincoln Touch infotainment system, it is still easier to use than Lexus’ Remote Touch system, which feels like it requires too much attention to do things accurately on the screen while you’re driving. Using a mouse-like joystick while the Lincoln uses a touchscreen, it feels like the Lexus is never on the same page as me. The Lincoln also features a solid Revel audio system, which is at the same level as Lexus’ Mark Levinson setup.

Seats and Safety

2016 Lexus RX exterior 2

The seats are another highlight in the Lincoln. Upholstered in a soft, smooth cowhide from the Bridge of Weir Leather company, the buckets are power adjustable 22 ways. They also feature a massage function. Lincoln says this feature was designed in part with orthopedic surgeons, and uses a continuous motion in the seat to mitigate back pain. Speaking from experience, this feature is extremely beneficial on long trips and while stuck in traffic.

Both cars come with a number of safety systems and driver aids. Notably, they come with features like adaptive cruise control, but the other available systems like lane keep assist, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring and the rear-view camera are extremely helpful while piloting vehicles of this size. The Lincoln gets bonus points for its 360-degree camera and parking technology, while the Lexus is available with a color head-up display.

Turbo Engine

Under the hood, Lincoln makes a bigger splash than its Japanese rival. A twin-turbo V6 engine puts out 335 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. It’s far more impressive than what’s in the Lexus in terms of performance, and makes the Lincoln feel faster and more confident on the road. There’s a tiny bit of turbo lag and the engine peaks a bit before redline. If you want a sportier drive, the Lincoln MKX will do the trick.

Road Manners

2016 Lexus RX 350 exterior 1

As expected, the pairing of this force-fed engine and its six-speed automatic are no match for the fuel economy-focused Lexus. The Lincoln nets about 19 mpg combined in all-wheel drive guise, while the Lexus is good to get about 21 mpg. It’s important to note that Lexus’ eight-speed transmission, like the engine, is smooth in every way possible. Each shift is smooth and well timed, while the MKX can shift a bit harshly.

Once on the road, all those vast differences between the engines and styling are moot. The Lexus drives like a luxury car, while the Lincoln just doesn’t meet those standards yet. Where the RX always feels like it’s floating over everything, the MKX plonks and thuds on the road. Adjusting the Lincoln’s damping system helps make the car bounce a bit over imperfections and hills in the road, turning the car into a bit of a boat, rocking forwards and backwards. The suspension setup in the Lexus is more composed, refined and settled, giving a luxurious ride without making it feel overly disconnected or causing sea sickness.

Compare Specs

2016 Lexus RX 350
vs
2016 Lincoln MKX
Vehicle 2016 Lexus RX 350 Advantage 2016 Lincoln MKX
Engine 3.5L - Twin Turbo 2.7L
Transmission 8 Speed Auto - 6 Speed Auto
Horsepower 295 MKX335
Torque (lb-ft) 267 MKX 380
Fuel Economy (MPG) 19 City, 26 Highway, 22 Combined RX 350 17 City, 24 Highway, 19 Combined
Cargo Space (trunk/overall)18.4/56.3 cu.-ft. MKX 37.2 cu. ft, 68.8 cu. ft.
Rear Seat Head Room39.1 RX 350 37.6
Rear Seat Leg Room38.0 MKX 39.6
Starting Price $42,850 MKX $39,185
As Tested Price $57,835 RX 350 $61,095

One is Spacious, the Other Looks Like a Space Craft

The Lincoln is extremely quiet inside, but as equipped with the moonroof, it features less headroom in the front and rear of the vehicle than the Lexus. There’s more rear-seat leg room in the MKX and, overall, much more cargo room. The Lincoln features 37.2 cubic feet compared to 18.4 in the Lexus, and when you fold the rear seats, the MKX has 68.8 cubes of storage, compared to 56.3 in the RX 350.

Pricing

The Lincoln will also be the more affordable option at the base level. The American crossover starts at $39,185 including destination for a front-wheel-drive model with the 3.7-liter V6. The Lexus starts at $42,850 for a base RX 350. But then the Lincoln jumps to $61,095 when equipped with all-wheel drive and the EcoBoost 2.7L V6, and the other options we had on our tester, including the 22-way adjustable seats, safety and driver aids along with the upgraded sound system. The Lexus topped out at $57,835 as-tested with the AWD F-Sport package along with all the bells and whistles.

2016 Lincoln MKZ vs Lexus RX 350 hero 3

The Verdict: 2016 Lexus RX 350 vs Lincoln MKX

On paper, the two cars seem to be miles apart on a number of subjects. The Lincoln is more powerful and spacious, the Lexus more stylish and smooth. On the road, the Lexus exudes confidence, and it not only feels like a true luxury car, but like one at the top of its segment. The Lincoln isn’t yet at that level, but offers a number of redeeming features, including more power. Solid technology and a number of available features also give the Lincoln solid value. But if you’re looking for the best luxury crossover, get the Lexus. It’s eye-catching, comfortable, more fuel efficient, and a breeze to drive.