Lincoln MKS: Proud to be an American luxury automobile


by By TOM VOELK / Special to

Posted on March 19, 2009 at 12:56 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 23 at 3:06 PM

Video: Behind the wheel of the new Lincoln MKS

Look back over the last 30 years and it is clear that the mission of luxury cars has changed. 

Baby Boomers have shunned the soft riding land yachts their parents coveted for performance sedans with razor sharp handling.   When American buyers started embracing Autobahn-bred BMWs and Mercedes, the upscale domestic brands tepidly chased their styling and performance cues.  In the end, promises of "the ultimate driving machine" siphoned off the buyers Cadillac and Lincoln value most: younger, wealthy ones. 

The domestics have shed their landau roofs and are fighting back with real bullets.  If you haven't noticed, Cadillac started with the STS and has been impressing with the knife-edged CTS.  Which brings us to Topic A: The Lincoln MKS.   Lincoln's name conjures up towncar, not track time.  Ford's premium brand isn't exactly known for carving up canyon roads.  MKS is a departure from the livery service Lincolns but does not abandon its roots.  It's proud to be an American luxury automobile.

The new face of Lincoln

Let's start with the looks.  The car Lincoln has dropped into my driveway is an all-wheel drive edition.   It's dressed up in metallic tuxedo black paint that's as deep as a clear night sky. 

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MKS is the first Lincoln to get the new family face.  No mild European understatement here - the split-wing grille is very bold, very American.  On approach the wide sweeping front end is grounded and confident.  In contrast, the back of the car has smaller vertically oriented tail lamps, losing some of its visual assertiveness.  There's a good amount of chrome about the car but not too much.  Again, quite American.

A $5,995 ultimate package is the only option on this tester.  That bumps 18-inch wheels up to 19, adds a dual panel sunroof, nav system, keyless ignition and a THX II sound system that is among the best I've heard in years.  

There's also turnable HID headlamps with an auto highbeam setting, rain sensing wipers, a back-up camera and the Lincoln logo embroidered into the front headrests in an oh-so-tasteful manner.  That brings the retail price to $47,235.  The only other option of consequence is a $995 adaptive cruise control system.

Traveling a new road

Oh sure, there are nods to Europeans.  Classic Lincoln names like Continental are being replaced by three letters, hence the MKS moniker.  Some heritage could have been preserved by pronouncing it "Mark S" but perhaps the Ford folks feel MKS is more like cool kids Acura and Cadillac.  

Forget about Lincolns of yesteryear, the suspension has been taught some new tricks. Will MKS go toe to toe with BMW 5 Series, Acura TL, and Audi A6 in the cornering department?  If your daily commute includes slalom courses, the answer is no. 

Make no mistake, the Lincoln does not bob about like a waterbed.   Those days are gone.  My tester is alert and float free.  Slam on the anti-lock brakes and the nose dives a bit during the average stopping distance, but quickly regains composure.  In Lincoln tradition the suspension is calibrated more toward comfort than slicing curvy canyon roads.  It's a good real world set up for those who spend most of their time commuting on the interstate.  And really, how many of us zig-zag through orange cones on the way to the mall, huh?

A brisk performer

Expecting a V8 under the hood?  Nope.  It's a 3.7-liter V6 that pumps out 275 horsepower and a minimum of 270 ft.-lb or torque when using premium fuel.   This engine looses two horses when running on regular.  Kudos if you can tell the difference.  Smooth accurate shifts are courtesy of a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual control on the center console mounted lever.  Those with patience and extra cash should know about Ford's new generation of engines call EcoBoost.  This new 3.5 liter twin-turbo V6 will be available soon, and rumored to make 355 horsepower and 350 ft.-lb or torque.

For now the torquey 3.7 engine moves MKS off the line briskly. 0-60 happens in 7.8 seconds according to my Dynolicious equipped iPhone (this app is apparently a very accurate measurement tool).  Inside, the engine sound is not as refined as one might expect from a luxury car.  Perhaps EcoBoost will change that. 

Front drive is standard.  I can't tell you if there's steering wheel tugging torque steer since this one's all-wheel drive.  A quiet highway cruiser, MKS provides all day comfort.    Order stylish 20-inch wheels with low profile tires and sharp bumps are more easily felt.  I'm seeing a 19 mile per gallon average, not puttering about like a grandparent.

The inside story

Keep the transponder key in pocket or purse, a touch of the elegant pillar-mounted keypad unlocks the car.  The bottom edge of the doors extends down and reaches inward, covering the sill to keep it and your pants leg clean.  It also moves the rocker panel in closer to the seats for easier entry. 

With a good amount of wood and chrome, MKS' cabin is modern Americana.  The instrument panel gets a hand stitched leather covering and aluminum vent accents.  It looks great though the lower center stack in black plastic appears a little plain.  Supportive seats aren't just heated, they can blow a chilled breeze up your Dockers as well. Gauge graphics are clean with a font style that matches up to the LCD screen for a cohesive feel.  Controls and tech interface are remarkably easy to use, something the competition could learn from.  True luxury doesn't complicate life; it simplifies.

Technology to set you free

Microsoft Sync makes cell phones and iPods handsfree and voice activated.  I paired my phone without even thinking of the manual.  It reads text messages and can send pre-written messages back such as "only a fool would text and drive".  Fill up a USB jump drive with MP3s and Sync will treat it similar to an iPod.  Again, it's easy to use.

Rock on

The world is full of great automotive music systems, the THX II Certified 5.1 Surround Sound system just become my favorite.  With a 12-channel, 600 watt "smart amp" it pumps crystal clear sound to 16 speakers. It plays CDs, DVD audio, Sirius satellite radio and tunes from an internal hard drive.   You've heard claims of concert hall sound?  Cranking up The Kills on the THX II system is like having them in the car breathing down your neck.  

Big enough for the drum set is the back seat.  MKS can handle three adults comfortably with good but not limo-like legroom.  A surprise, there are heated seats back here.  Another surprise, I don't see a DVD entertainment system on the options list.  No separate climate control in back either.  My work-ethic northern Minnesota upbringing finds these things unnecessary but to some, these things matter.   There's a ski pass-through to the trunk, but the seats don't split or fold.

That leads me into gripes.  Everything touched in a luxury car should be double-dipped in Teflon.  MKS doesn't always achieve that.  Sliding covers on the center console feel fine in a Taurus but here they're less than elegant.  An adjustable front armrest splits to accommodate both driver and passenger but it doesn't glide - it thunks into place.  What I thought was a rattle turned out to be my boy's iPod ear buds left in the rear armrest with its hard plastic compartment.   Storage is good, lined storage that keeps rattles at bay is better.  Trivial complaints?  Maybe.  But these days competition is fierce. 

Big trunk, small opening

The rear window reaches way back towards the deck lid.  That makes the trunk opening small.  Space saving scissor hinges help keep it as wide as possible but large boxes will be denied entry.  Still the space is large, an above average 8 pack score in the Costco Toilet Paper Test.  Watch the streaming video and it looks like a 9th bundle will wedge in.  No can do.  It's a casualty of the subwoofer placement.   

Other cool stuff includes rain sensitive windshield wipers, a dual-panel sunroom, rear power sunshade and auto highbeams to go with the HID headlamps that swivel when the steering wheel is turned.  $995 will get you adaptive cruise control that automatically matches speed when approaching slower traffic.  

Marketing vs. reality

MKS starts at 39 grand, this one retails for 47 large.  Enthusiasts may cringe when I state the MKS is a good car for a lot of people.  Sure a BMW 5-Series or Acura TL is more athletic on a handling course.  But these cars live in the real world, not on the track.   Cruising in the MKS- which is how many of us commute- reminds me that in this Type-A world we live in, sometimes it feels good to forget about lateral G force stats and just enjoy a good well balanced dynamic.  

As far dependability, Lincoln shatters some perceptions.  The brand rates #8 in J.D Powers 2009 Vehicle Dependability Study.  That's ahead of Cadillac (#9), BMW (#17), and Mercedes (#20) but behind Lexus (#3), Infiniti (#6) and Acura (#7).   By the way Buick, yes Buick is #1 this year.

We all have visions of racing through curvy roads.  It's fun but it's also a truck full of marketing.  Driving the busy streets of Seattle, I've never come close to approaching the limits of this car (and I'm more of an aggressive pilot).  Just something to chew on.  Lincoln MKS is an American luxury sedan that confidently travels its own road.