The Lincoln MKT is serious competition

Print
Email
|

by By TOM VOELK / Special to KING5.com

NWCN.com

Posted on October 8, 2009 at 12:47 PM

Updated Saturday, Oct 24 at 2:35 PM

Bias. You may not suffer from this human foible but I do. That's a tough admission. My job is to leave preconceived notions on the curb. Still, when the big Lincoln MKT rolled up for its seven day stay with me, all my brain could muster up was "Hmmm, my parents are visiting. They'll like this."

The press material states that Mr. T is competing for garage space with Mercedes R Class and Audi Q7. Frankly, the old subconscious considered the years of empty promises and mostly decided before laying eyes on the Lincoln, "No. No it does not."

After 10 minutes behind the wheel? "Yes. Yes it does."

MKT has whipsawed my opinion around faster than any vehicle I've driven in the past few years. Forget cushy, ponderous and numb. Nimble, crisp and athletic is more like it. The fact that I'm writing this about 1) a Lincoln and 2) a 3-row crossover compels me to grab the proximity key (a feature Audi doesn't offer) and triple check my own experience. 

What is it?

It's not a truck like Navigator or Escalade. MKT is a crossover riding on the same architecture as Taurus, Flex and Lincoln's MKS sedan. Longer than a minivan, the T looks smaller due in part to its low roofline. Wearing the current face of Lincoln - a big bold split wing grille - the back end gets a boat tail slope. Some folks love it, others … not so much. At the very least it's not boring. MKT doesn't photograph particularly well and it seems to look different every time I walk up to it.  View it in person before deciding.

Base models with front-wheel drive start 45 grand. Well equipped though not fully loaded, my AWD tester is 56K, around 10,000 less than a similarly powered and outfitted Audi Q7. The only 2 major features missing are a $1,999 dual screen DVD system and $595 Active Park System (similar but apparently much better than the one used by Lexus). No Bill Blass edition is planned but the landau roof crowd can hold out hope.       

The big news is a small engine

There are two power plants. A 3.7-liter V6 that produces 268 HP can be had with either front or all-wheel drive. My tester has the smaller 3.5-liter V6.  With twin turbos kicking power up to 355 horsepower, Ford's new EcoBoost engine is smooth, powerful and gets 16 city/22 highway (the same EPA fuel economy rating as the 3.7L).  It's paired with AWD.  EcoBoost is a marvel of power.  The only thing it lacks is the throaty V8 sound.  All MKTs have a 6-speed automatic transmissions, the EcoBoost adds steering wheel paddles for manual control. 

Floor the throttle and MKT bolts to 60 miles an hour in just over 6 seconds.  There's no front end lift when gathering up momentum giving MKT a very stable feel.  The transmission kicks down nicely when stabbing the throttle and the flat torque curve of the EcoBoost provides generous power at just about any speed (there's 350 ft-lb of torque on tap).  In manual mode the computer doesn't override your decisions.

Quiet and comfortable is expected. 

MKT nails the traditional luxury dynamics but it's also impressively composed in the curves.  Throwing it into a corner finds crispness and control. Steering weight is on the light side, road feel average, but the whole vehicle feels a size smaller when cornering with minimal body lean. It needs to be experienced to be believed. The T is not a sports car, it's just too big. Seems to have the desire though.

Using cut and stitched material on the instrument panel, the cabin is very inviting. Crisp clean white lighting is attractive, this MKT has optional woven metal trim in place of wood. Supple leather chairs are road trip rated, the first two rows are heated and cooled in my tester.  Do not buy this vehicle without the terrific THX sound system.

I complained that a few of the plastic panels in the MKS sedan have a less than luxury look. MKT has taken care of that though steering wheel controls and lock switches have a decidedly Ford corporate look.

Safety and tech toys

Ironically, many luxury cars these days have frustrating user interfaces. With familiar traditional controls and the Microsoft SYNC system, the Lincoln is simple and powerful.  BLIS, a blind spot warning system, uses radar sensors to detect cars loafing along side you and gives a warning on the appropriate side view mirror. The same sensors detect and warn about side traffic when backing out of a parking space. The backup cam helps too with its large bright screen.

Other safety includes the usual airbags and electronic stability control that we now take for granted.  Cruise control is radar adaptive and includes Collision Warning with Brake Support.  If the driver is coming up on traffic too fast, a bright red light bar flashes above the gauge cluster. The system then pre-charges the brakes to provide a quicker stop.

Remember the "self parking" Lexus?  Lincoln says their Active Park Assist is much better. It sizes up a spot when you drive past then steers the Lincoln while the driver operates the gas and brakes. My car does not have it. Supposedly it's quicker and works on uphill grades.

Lincoln includes theMyKey system on MKT.  It's a system designed for teen drivers that ensures safer behavior by programming limits into their key.  If they don't buckle up, the radio doesn't work (hmmm, isn't that constant chime enough?). Top speed can be restricted to 80 MPH, radio volume to 44 percent. This of course raises the question "Why give an inexperienced driver the keys to your powerful and expensive luxury vehicle?" My teen experience was being restricted to a beat up Ford F100 that couldn't hit 80 MPG and had no radio to turn down. 

Kids only in the way back

MKT seats up to seven. Mine is set up for six with a large console bisecting the middle row. An optional refrigerator between the bucket seats is not just a lame cooler. It works well, I've enjoyed chilled A&W all week. There's so much legroom Lincoln offers footrests and a net in case you want to set up a volleyball court (kidding about one of those). The mid-row seats slide fore and aft, recline, get hot and cold plus offer adjustable lumbar support. There's separate dual zone climate control back here too. Sorry, no mini mart or dry cleaner. The huge panoramic roof keeps the atmosphere light and airy.

Thinking of putting adults in the third row seats? They won't like you. My 12 year just fits. Leg room isn't a problem but in another year and he'll hit his head on the low roofline.  At least it's easy for kids to scamper back here since the second row has power folding seats. 

Other gripes? I'm concerned the thin lip of a bumper won't protect the lightweight magnesium liftgate when a big SUV parks by Braille. Its latch, on the top rim of the license plate surround, is practically designed to get dirt on your fingers. I'd say use the fob but hey, it's a proximity key system and the whole goal is to keep it in pocket or purse.

Got TP?  

A sloping rear window doesn't help out cargo space but with the third row up, five packs fit back here. That dynamic of the TP test holds the Audi Q7 to three. The way back seats on the Lincoln are especially easy to drop and raise manually (apparently power third row chairs will soon be available). That done, 12 warehouse sized bundles of bath tissue fit in the cargo hold, same as the Audi. 

So, back to bias and pre conceived ideas.  No doubt the domestic brands have earned their reputation and it will take time to shed them. That's starting to happen. Lately it's the American brands that are churning out some of the more well built, emotional and compelling products. Lincoln started a few years ago with a very good MKZ and MKX, then brought their game up to the next level with the MKS. They've now refined it further with the MKT. There are buyers on autopilot that will continue to stick to brand loyalty  These days, smart luxury vehicle shoppers, no, anyone buying a car, will look closer at the competition.    

Print
Email
|