On The Road Review: Lincoln MKS

The Lincoln MKS is the next alpha-labeled model from Ford’s luxury car division. Replacing the departed LS sedan, Lincoln is positioning this front- or all-wheel-drive model as its flagship premium full-size sedan. The MKS might also become the future alternative for the aging Town Car platform as well.

The Lincoln MKS is the next alpha-labeled model from Ford’s luxury car division. Replacing the departed LS sedan, Lincoln is positioning this front- or all-wheel-drive model as its flagship premium full-size sedan. The MKS might also become the future alternative for the aging Town Car platform as well.

In reality, the new MKS is a Taurus/Sable sedan derivative that has full-size dimensions outside, but only a large midsize feel inside.

One of the more pleasing sedan designs to exit the Ford styling studio in quite some time, the new MKS’s stance reflects hints of some Acura styling, a little bit of Infiniti, plus a dab of Audi. All of these brands have models competing against the Lincoln — including Cadillac, Lexus, Buick, Toyota, and now Hyundai. A stiff list of rivals for sure, and a significant challenge for Lincoln to rise to this level as Ford’s domestically based premium brand has not enjoyed much recent success against these industry stalwarts.

While the domestic auto industry focused on the more profitable truck and SUV segment for too many years, Lincoln’s product mix became stale. Foreign rivals with various names created vastly superior luxury sedans and even Ford’s Volvo Division got more resources and newer, fresher product.

Today, Lincoln counts only three sedans in its portfolio — the midsize MKZ, this week’s full-size MKS, and the vaunted Town Car. Lincoln has decided to make the Town Car only available for special orders and livery service clients so most Lincoln dealers don’t even stock the brand’s signature vehicle any more. Even with two luxury SUVs added to the mix, Lincoln has sadly become an also-ran in a segment that it used to dominant with archrival Cadillac. Now, Infiniti, Acura and Lexus have joined BMW and Mercedes to jump way ahead of Lincoln in the showroom wars. Only Audi trails total Lincoln sales in the luxury class now.

To counter the slow slide of Lincoln’s relevance in the premium segment, the MKS comes with several new features that will entertain and inform. Ford’s Microsoft-based Sync system — with cell phone and MP3 player voice controls — is standard, as is satellite radio, rear obstacle detection and auto climate controls. Dual sunroofs, front and rear, (with separate power shades) plus voice-activated navigation, adaptive cruise control, steering-linked adaptive xenon headlamps and a high-end THX sound system are available in various option packages.

Outfitted with supportive leather and Alcantara upholstery and adorned with 19-inch chrome wheels under a deep navy-blue paint, the MKS makes a nice visual statement. The car’s lines are graceful yet expressive with a typical Lincoln-esqe vertical grille. A high rear boot complicates the design; the trunk opening is a narrow slit, while the trunk itself is quite voluminous. A small rear window, a tall rear valance inside, plus wide ‘C’ pillars effectively dim your rearward visibility over this enlarged rear-end.

Inside, the layout works very well. There is a standard power tilt/telescoping steering column, 12-way heated and cooled power front seats, plus the usual array of power controls. The Lincoln offers good passenger space front and rear, yet the MKS was not as quiet going down the road as some rivals, with more tire and wind noise finding its way into the cabin than is welcome.

Some of the offensive noise comes from the engine room, as the MKS’s 3.7-liter V-6 sounds coarse as you exercise the throttle. Subdued for the most part, the engine needs to work hard for any significant acceleration due to the car’s 4,300-pound weight and the engine’s low torque rating. With a full load of passengers, this is readily noticeable.

With a lighter load, the MKS offers ample acceleration for everyday driving with a six-speed transmission that shifts with little fanfare. However, fuel economy results in my all-wheel-drive sedan were disappointingly low. EPA estimates are 16/23-mpg on recommended premium fuel, barely above some recent pickup trucks. I averaged no better than 22.5 mpg with a soft right foot. Ford promises a revised Eco-boost turbocharged engine for 2010 versions that will deliver better fuel economy and more power.

The new Lincoln makes no apologies for its ride and handling, as the sedan must claim these virtues as paramount to its appeal. The chassis effectively absorbs road imperfections and handles like buyers in this class expect — with a modicum of responsiveness while not punishing occupants. Steering feel is a bit light for my taste but comparable to other entries in this segment.

Rear seat space is comfortable for two, compromising for three adults. The bench seat has ample space for adult-sized legs, hips and heads plus the rear sunroof increases the airy feeling of the cabin. As mentioned, the trunk swallows up to 18.4 cubic feet of cargo, only slightly less than the huge boot in the Town Car and ahead of most rivals. The small trunk opening, however, will force you to make judicious selections on your style of travel containers.

Ford needs to do more to market this platform as several variants demonstrate that the cars produced off of the Taurus/Sable template are capable, American-sized automobiles that are priced for the masses. The restyled Taurus, this MKS, plus the Ford Flex are all sharing various components. Each of these cars drives very well, yet buyers are not gravitating to them with their checkbooks open.

The Lincoln MKS is a solid offering. It isn’t the best sedan in this class, yet it has enough visual appeal and an attractive enough price that it should become more than a niche luxury sedan. Let’s hope it isn’t too little, too late for this venerable American marquee.

Just the Facts: Lincoln MKS

Lincoln calls the MKS a large premium car. It measures 204.1 inches long on a 112.9-inch wheelbase. Trunk volume is 18.4 cubic feet while the MKS weighs 4,300 pounds in AWD trim. Compare to Buick Lucerne, Cadillac STS, Hyundai Genesis and Toyota Avalon.

MKS comes with a 3.7-liter V-6 making 275 hp and 276 pound/feet of peak torque. EPA mileage estimates are 17/24-mpg for front-drive models, 16/23-mpg for AWD versions.

Standard features include: traction control and anti-skid system, rear-obstacle detection system, dual zone auto-climate system, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, heated/cooled 12-way power seats with memory, heated rear seat, trunk pass-through, auto-dimming mirrors, Sync system, and xenon headlamps. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard with 19- and 20-inch tire and chrome wheel options.

Pricing starts at $37,665 plus $800 destination fee for front-drive models. AWD lists for $39,555-plus.

Next week: Jaguar XK


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