The 2009 Lincoln MKS might just represent the future direction of Lincoln. Or maybe it doesn't. We frankly just don't know what to expect out of Lincoln anymore.
After all, Lincoln introduced the rear-wheel-drive LS sport sedan at the end of the last millennium to great fanfare and a fair amount of corporate chest-thumping. And then, well, nothing. When the company quietly euthanized the car recently, nobody shed a tear — or even noticed, really.
Lincoln has spent the last couple of years staring at its own belly button. It dredged up its most iconic design — the 1961-'69 Continental — and used it to inspire a seemingly endless series of retro concept cars. The only current evidence of this age of self-consciously retro design has been the return of dual-cowl dashboards and square gauges in production Lincolns. Also the historic Zephyr name made a one-year reappearance.
And now we're starting over again with the 2009 Lincoln MKS.
The Middle Road
If the 2009 MKS indicates anything about Lincoln, it could be that the middle road might be the place to begin a return to relevance. What Lincoln has produced is a very well-equipped, visually interesting Ford Taurus. Let our former mortal enemy, Cadillac, spend a boatload of cash developing new rear-wheel drive-platforms, Lincoln seems to be saying. Let them chase the customers who know what the Nürburgring is.
If it helps you draw a bead on the MKS, think of it as more Lexus ES than IS. Like the ES, the MKS is based on a populist sedan, then endowed with every possible option at the company's disposal.
What this means in the world of Ford is that the MKS is the newest product based on the big and primarily front-drive D3 platform. The D3 was initially designed by Volvo for its big sedan and has since sprouted various Ford Motor Company products including the Taurus, Taurus X, Mercury Sable and, most recently the big-box-on-wheels, the Ford Flex.
From the Taurus/Sable comes the 112.9-inch wheelbase. From the Flex comes a reconfigured rear suspension that allows the vehicle to comfortably accommodate the huge-diameter wheels that designers and marketers insist upon. The MKS shares its transverse, 24-valve Duratec V6, six-speed automatic and optional all-wheel drive with a whole pack of FoMoCo vehicles.
Befitting the luxury version of the platform, the MKS is motivated by a more powerful version of the Duratec motor. The basic architecture and technologies remain the same as the now-ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6, but it's been bored slightly to increase displacement to 3.7 liters. This pushes output to a maximum 275 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 276 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. That's 12 hp more and 27 lb-ft more than the output of the 3.5-liter V6 in the Taurus. Of course, it achieves those numbers using premium fuel. If you use 87 octane in the MKS, the peak power drops to 273 hp and torque totals 270 lb-ft.
It's a good thing that the motor gets a little bump because until the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 arrives next year with about 340 hp, the 3.7-liter is the only available engine for the MKS. And it's got a substantial 4,276 pounds of Lincoln to pull around. That's the kind of weight you get with an all-wheel-drive car that's as long as a minivan and loaded to the roof with various gadgets and doodads.
In addition to the power bump, Ford has also tightened up the six-speed automatic's torque converter to try to give this big boy some punchy throttle response. Of course, the MKS still feels a little flat-footed in passing maneuvers until the smooth-shifting six-speed drops a couple of gears and forces the V6 into the fat part of its power band. The transmission also allows for manual shifting with automatic rev-matching on downshifts. In SST mode, the tranny drops a gear automatically when you dip into the brakes and will hold gears longer under acceleration.
The EPA figures the standard front-drive MKS will return 17 mpg in the city and travel 24 miles on a gallon in highway driving. The all-wheel-drive version is estimated to return 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway. That's just a smidge better than the 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway that the Acura RL's 3.7-liter V6 delivers.
Nürburgring Lap Time Not Available
The suspension is closely related to that of the Flex, and it has been tuned for a middle-of-the-road compromise between ride and handling. It's a nice mix if you're not into scrubbing your tires bald on canyon roads. According to Vehicle Development Chief Engineer Jim Baumbick, the reconfigured multilink rear suspension allows for more accurate tuning than other D3 vehicles and allows the car to carry big, flashy (and optional) 20-inch polished wheels while maintaining a compliant ride.
And indeed, even with the 20s and low-profile tires, the ride quality remains quiet and smooth without the harshness sometimes associated with such a setup. The handling? Well, it's what you make of it. We drove some of Virginia's swaying rural two-lanes and found the MKS very easy to drive smoothly and accurately. The steering is nicely weighted at speed. The first few degrees of body roll are snubbed efficiently. So if you drive with some sensitivity, the big sedan flows along competently. Abrupt steering inputs and tighter corners aren't going to be all that much fun, though.
After so many fits and starts in Lincoln styling, we haven't a clue what a Lincoln is supposed to look like. Head Ford design man for these United States, Peter Horbury, reckons he does, and he's created a sort of salad bar approach to future Lincoln designs. Horbury has defined seven design cues inspired by vintage Lincolns, including the split or "bow-wave" grille that is supposed to call to mind the 1941 Continental. Others include clean, uncluttered flanks and horizontal, full-width taillamps.
The MKS is the first production Lincoln to be produced under this new design regime — or at least partly produced. The car was already well into development by the time Horbury defined the cues.
We're not wholly convinced that the MKS has real beauty, but it at least presents itself convincingly as a luxury car. It's a good sign that the first obvious evidence of the MKS's origins is that annoying bulge in the floor pan immediately in front of the front seats that all D3-based cars have. (It covers a structural crossmember.) When you're driving into the mid-$40,000 price range, the less customers see of this car's Taurus origins, the better.
Now With a Delicious Nougat Center
It's too bad Lincoln can't turn the MKS inside-out. The interior is the car's greatest strength. In contrast to the dual-pod retro-ism and cheap-looking nickel-color plastic of recent years, the MKS goes a thoroughly modern route that is, dare we say, elegant. The center stack that smoothly flows into a high center console is particularly nice, in a coupelike way. The interior team worked to reduce the number of obvious cut lines on the dash and console. The top edge of the glovebox, for example, nestles under the overhanging piece of chrome and wood veneer that stretches across the instrument panel. The leather upholstery is impressively supple.
As with the Flex, Ford/Lincoln has managed to block out most offensive noise from the cabin. The MKS gets acoustic laminated glass for the windshield and the front side windows. In steady-state cruising, the MKS rides around making a gentle hushing sound.
There's a ton of space inside the cabin. A 6-foot-2 rear-seat passenger can comfortably sit behind a person of the same height without ever brushing his knees on the seatback. Lincoln also claims a class-leading trunk volume. And even though we're not really sure what else directly competes with the MKS, we don't doubt that's true. Unfortunately, the trunk opening is absurdly small. So if you carry many, many small things but no really large things, then this is the setup for you.
The MKS comes standard with electronic stability control, HID headlamps, power-adjustable heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, leather upholstery and an eight-speaker audio system with Sync control.
The test car we drove added the all-wheel-drive system (a $1,870 increase in base price over the front-driver) and the grandly named Ultimate Package. As its name implies, it is the king of options packages, enveloping all the other packages into its ultimate-ness. With this $5,995 compendium you get (take a deep breath here): voice-activated navigation system, rearview camera, THX surround-sound audio system with a 10-gig hard drive, adaptive headlamps with automatic high-beams, rain-sensing wipers, front parking assist sensors, power rear-window sunshade, keyless ignition, dual-panel moonroof, 19-inch wheels and upgraded leather. The 20-inch wheels will cost you another $685 on top of the Ultimate Package price.
The Price of Greatness?
When we looked at the information sheet supplied with our 2009 Lincoln MKS test car, we inadvertently blurted, "Holy *&@%! This is a more-than-$46,000 car." The engineer riding in the backseat said flatly, "Yes. It is."
Be a little more judicious with the options sheet and you could get into an MKS in the low $40Ks. (The all-wheel-drive model starts at $40,355 including the $800 destination charge.)
The trouble is, there are a lot of fine vehicles on the market for $46,000 from premium makers that don't carry the baggage Lincoln has saddled itself with. Of course, they're not likely to be as large or carry as many gadgets.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.