Thumbs Up: V8 power, V6 fuel economy; great interior
Thumbs Down: Front end styling is an acquired taste
Buy This Car If: You want a domestic luxury sedan with V8 power and V6 fuel economy
Ford’s on a roll these days, and it seem like each new product they launch is somehow better than their other recent introductions. For any manufacturer, that’s a good problem to have, and Ford has racked up their share of product awards over the past few years. There’s been some confusion with the blue oval brand as well, since they’ve decided to kill off mid-range brand Mercury to focus on products from Ford and Lincoln. Lincoln, however, has a demographic similar to Buick; when it comes time to shop for a car or SUV, Lincoln dealers aren’t exactly pulling in the “under 40” crowd.
There are plans in the works to change all that, including hiring a new design head away from Cadillac. Lincoln wants to reinvent themselves as a legitimate luxury brand, much the same way as Toyota has Lexus and Nissan has Infiniti. Certainly their products have improved dramatically over the past few years, but have they improved enough to attract the younger luxury buyer? Do they offer the same bells and whistles as the competition, and most importantly, will the automotive consumer shop the brand against competitors from Germany?
If the 2011 Lincoln MKS is any indication of what we can expect from Lincoln in the near future, the answer to most of the above questions is “yes”. Controversial front-end styling aside, this is a nice car by any measure. The interior is one of my favorites from an American manufacturer, and it includes such amenities as heated rear seats and a THX certified sound system. If technology is your thing, the MKS has that too, offering Ford’s automatic park assist, adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance, motion compensating headlights and the Lincoln version of Ford’s “Synch” voice command system. Even the exterior styling tends to grow on you after a while; like the Cadillac CTS, it’s definitely polarizing, but more likely to appeal to a broader array of customers.
The current Lincoln MKS was introduced in 2009, and it shares a platform with it’s Ford sibling, the Taurus. That’s good news for several reasons, since it means an interior large enough to carry five adults in relative comfort and a variety of available drivetrains. The base model MKS comes in front wheel drive with a 3.7 liter V6; you can also get this engine in an AWD version, but the car you really want is the EcoBoost V6, which only comes with AWD. The Ecoboost is a great engine (more on that later), and really does drive like a V8. On the plus side, it doesn’t gulp down gas like a V8, even if you’re heavy with your right foot.
Inside, the MKS has one of the best interiors you’ll find in an American car. My tester had two-toned leather seating, done up in brown and black. It was an odd color combination for a red car, but the quality of materials and the overall comfort was outstanding. The seats are bolstered enough to keep you in place while cornering, but soft enough to be comfortable for long hours behind the wheel. The front seats are 12-way power adjustable, and both driver and passenger get inflatable lumbar support. As you’d expect from a luxury car in this price point, the front seats are both heated and cooled.
The back seat gets the same two-toned leather as the front and the rear seats are also heated (but not cooled). Rear seat passengers get their own 12v power supply and HVAC ducts, so long trips with rear seat passengers shouldn’t cause any serious drama.
The steering wheel is leather wrapped and includes buttons for the cruise control, infotainment system and Bluetooth phone. The dash is a a blend of leather-look, stitched vinyl (on the top surfaces), soft touch vinyl and aluminum colored trim. My tester included Lincoln’s textured metal dash trim, which resembles woven steel mesh. I’m not a big fan of wood (which has been done to death) or faux carbon fiber (especially in a luxury car), so the textured metal trim works for me, and I think it helps the MKS’ interior stand out. The top of the center stack is taken up by a touch screen nav and infotainment system, and there are redundant controls for audio and HVAC below. Ford opts to place their driver information display controls on the center console instead of the steering column or dash; this isn’t a big deal, but you’ll spend some time looking for them if you’re used to driving other brands.
Instruments are brightly lit and easy to read, and are trimmed with distinctive black chrome rings. A speedometer and vehicle information display sits front and center, and is flanked by the tachometer on the left and a combination fuel gauge, gear indicator and temp gauge on the right. The instruments are set back in a hooded pod, which ensures they remain easily seen in all lighting conditions.
Under the hood, my tester came with the 3.5 liter, twin turbo EcoBoost V6 mated to a six speed SelectShift automatic transmission, and I was suitably impressed with this engine and transmission combination. The EcoBoost V6 makes 355 horsepower and 350 ft pounds of torque, which is enough to give the MKS “more than adequate” acceleration, even if you let the car do the shifting for you (it also comes with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters). I didn’t time a zero to sixty run, but I’d be willing to bet it comes up in under seven seconds; despite this, the MKS returned nearly 18 MPG is around-town driving, better than the projected EPA estimate of 17 MPG. The EPA rates the EcoBoost equipped MKS at 25 MPG highway, and my own highway fuel economy confirmed this.
On the road, the MKS is more luxury sedan than sport sedan, but is much more capable than the full size Lincolns of old. A sudden avoidance maneuver at 45 miles per hour (courtesy of a cell-phone-impaired minivan driver) yielded zero drama and utterly predictable handling, which is exactly what I want in a luxury sedan. Steering feel is very good at all speeds, and the car communicated its intentions well enough despite a suspension tuned for comfort over handling. When pressed hard in corners, the MKS exhibited predictable understeer, with the car feeling more like a FWD sedan than an AWD sedan. In fact, there was a surprising amount of torque steer under heavy acceleration, something that caught me by surprise the first time I floored the gas. It’s not a big deal if you’re expecting it, but it’s likely to catch you off-guard the first time you experience it. Lincoln is building this car for a particular demographic, and that crowd won’t be autocrossing or strafing canyons on a Sunday afternoon. If your tastes run to handling over comfort, the MKS won’t be to your liking. On the other hand, there’s a lot to like about a car that parallel parks itself (when equipped with Active Park Assist) and gives you a functional, not paranoid, collision warning system and adaptive cruise control.
My 2011 Lincoln MKS EcoBoost AWD had a base price of $48,985, including a $825 destination charge. Options add up quickly, and my car came equipped with the $3,500 Rapid Spec 201A Package (Voice Activated Nav, THX Certified Audio with Dolby 5.1 Surround, Rear View Camera, Dual Panel Moonroof), the $495 Red Candy Metallic paint, the $2,995 EcoBoost Appearance Package (20” Polished Aluminum Wheels, Floor Mats, Interior Metallic Package, 245/45-20 Tires, Leather Steering Wheel), the $535 Active Park Assist and the $1,295 Adaptive Cruise Control / Collision Warning system. The options alone totaled $8,820, which pushed the price of my MKS tester to $57,805. By comparison, a similarly equipped BMW 550i xDrive would sticker at $72,400, a comparably equipped Audi A6 would sticker at $60,475 and a comparably equipped Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic would sticker at $72,825.
Some would argue that you can buy a loaded Buick LaCrosse for less money, but the Buick only comes with a V6 and you lose features like the Park Assist, collision warning and adaptive cruise control. A Cadillac CTS sedan, in AWD, would also sticker for less but doesn’t include V8 horsepower or the techno-gadgetry of the Lincoln. When it comes to that amount of horsepower and that amount of technology, the playing field narrows quickly until you’re left with very few choices, all of which are more expensive than the Lincoln. Unless you need a sedan that’s built in Germany, the Lincoln is certainly worth a test drive.