MKS brings Lincoln back to competitive luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

While Cadillac successfully reinvented itself over the past half dozen years into a world-class luxury segment player, its long-time American rival Lincoln has languished. Just a couple years ago it was alarmingly close to the endangered species list

Parent Ford Motor Company over the past couple of decades has let its once vaunted luxury brand slowly sink into obscurity with a paucity of new and desirable products.

Makes us long for the old days when it was Cadillac vs. Lincoln battling every year for the U.S. luxury car crown. Of course that was before Lexus, Infiniti and Acura were invented. And before Mercedes and BMW were more than just a sales footnote. And before Cadillac and Lincoln became little more than gussied up Chevrolets and Fords.

Cadillac set out to make things right at the turn of the century. If only Lincoln had followed suit.

Things may finally be changing in Dearborn, however.

The Lincoln MKX crossover, introduced in 2006 as a 2007 model, put a spark of life back into the brand with nearly 38,000 sales in '07 giving Lincoln its first real shot in the arm in several years. Now add to the short list the all-new full-sized flagship MKS sedan that really lights a fire for Lincoln.

Perhaps not a home run because of its somewhat conservative styling, the MKS nevertheless is a job well done with its all-wheel drive availability, an upscale interior that features supple leather and real wood trim and cutting edge technology that vaults Lincoln to the front of the modern doodad pack.

Although the MKS is based on Ford's so-called D-platform, which is also the basis for the Ford Taurus as well as several Volvo models including the high-end S80, it has been substantially modified for the Lincoln with increased rigidity and decreased noise, vibration and harshness. The MKS is not a Ford with options. It's an unapologetic Lincoln. It compares favorably in interior solitude and interior design and execution with such competitors as the Lexus GS 350, Infiniti M35, BMW 5-Series and Cadillac STS. And its a good size and comfortable.

While the exterior styling is subdued — this car will not turn heads — it's conservatively handsome, offering a luxury car presence. A "double wing" grille, said to be inspired by the 1941 Lincoln Continental and the MKR showcar is the new defining look for Lincoln. Flanked by standard jeweled HID headlights the new front end makes a statement and gives the new Lincoln character. The big sedan from all angles has a well balanced look and is set off nicely by optional 19-inch or 20-inch wheels. Eighteen-inchers are standard.

Likewise, the interior is perhaps a bit understated as interiors go these days. But it is well designed and real wood and high-quality materials, including leather from the Scottish company Bridge of Weir, adorn the cabin. If your tastes don't include wood, the interior can be ordered with textured aluminum trim panels.

The big Lincoln is powered very adequately by a 3.7-liter version of Ford's Duratec V6 churning out 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Mated to Ford's six-speed automatic, the MKS offers rewarding if not overwhelming performance.

The engine features some new technology. It uses an electronic throttle control sensor to interpret the driver's intentions. For example, if you press the accelerator aggressively, it responds quickly. If you just feather the accelerator, the throttle eases up on the gas. Lincoln also uses a system called Aggressive Deceleration Fuel Shut Off to turn fuel flow off when your foot is removed from the accelerator and the transmission is in fifth or sixth gear providing for increased fuel economy.

If you desire more performance wait until next spring or summer when the MKS will be the first of two Ford products to get the all-new EcoBoost engine as optional equipment. EcoBoost uses twin turbochargers and direct injection to give four-cylinder engines V6 performance and V6 engines V8 performance without a loss of gas mileage. The EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 coming to the MKS will raise horsepower to 340 and torque to 340 pound-feet with perhaps increased gas mileage.

Lincoln says if you purchase the all-wheel drive package and EcoBoost you will have the most powerful all-wheel drive sedan sold in the U.S.

The Lincoln's size — 204 inches in length with a curb weight of nearly 4,300 pounds — may be a sticking point because of high gas prices. The new car is rated at 17 city/23 highway in front-wheel drive and 16/23 with all-wheel on regular gas. But we see a continued market for a big, modern luxury sedan that will hold four adults in quiet comfort and easily carry their luggage in its 18-cubic-foot trunk.

The MKS is loaded with the latest in technology. Some examples:
• Standard Microsoft-designed Sync connectivity system that allows for hands-free operation of just about any music device including the iPod and the Zoon and hands-free operation of cell-phones.

• Sirius satellite radio that comes with such unique features as fuel-price guidance. Sirius provides area fuel prices and when you find a nearby station that suits your pocketbook, punch a button and the navigation system will guide you to the pump.

• Lincoln found its customers like the long-used door-mounted keypad that unlocks the car using a combination. But designers proclaimed it too ugly for this sleek sedan and designed a heat-sensitive pad embedded in the door that stays invisible until lighting up when touched.

• The conventional gas cap has been replaced by a flap that seals tight as soon as you withdraw the nozzle reducing spills and preventing lost gas caps.

The MKS comes well equipped in just two models, front-wheel drive starting at $38,415 including destination charge and all-wheel drive beginning at $39,855.

There are some desirable options available. Our all-wheel-drive test car included the Ultimate Package that for $5,715 provided Lincoln's new and outstanding navigation system, the high-quality THX audio package, dual-panel moonroof, rearview camera, 19-inch wheels and rain-sensing wipers. All these items can be purchased as stand-alone options.

Two other noteworthy options worth considering are 20-inch wheels for $1,195 and adaptive cruise control for $995.

The MKS is clear evidence Lincoln is back as a serious competitor in the full-sized luxury sedan market. It's not ostentatious — although it has what could be considered some ostentatious cutting-edge features — but conservative and classy.


Base price: $38,415; as driven, $45,570
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6

Horsepower: 273 @ 6,250 rpm

Torque:  270 foot-pounds @ 4,350 rpm

Drive: all-wheel

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Seating: 2/3

Wheelbase: 112.9 inches

Length: 204.1 inches

Curb weight: 4,276 pounds
Turning circle: 39.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 18.4 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 19 gallons (regular)

EPA rating: 23 MPG highway, 16 city

0-60: 7.5 seconds (estimated)

Also consider: Lexus GS 350, Infiniti M35, Cadillac STS

The Good

• Numerous high-tech features

• Good fit and finish with quality interior materials
• Solid performance with all-wheel drive available

The Bad

• Ride may be too harsh for intended customers with the optional larger wheels

The Ugly

• Gas mileage is far from stellar