Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
Lincoln versus Cadillac. It's one of the oldest rivalries in the car business and it's all but dead. The 2009 Lincoln MKS proves it.
Sure, the MKS is about the same price as a Cadillac CTS, but, well, that's where the similarities end. The CTS can legitimately claim various BMWs as rivals. The MKS? It's a luxury sedan and never a sport sedan, not even a little bit.
Which is fine. Dull can be good. Dull can work. Lexus has been doing dull for years. In fact, the Lexus ES 350, a close competitor to the MKS, is the brand's best-selling model.
So in an odd historical turn, the MKS could be thought of as Lincoln's attempt to build a better Lexus, except that it's no Lexus. It's no Acura TL either, or even a Hyundai Genesis.
No, the Lincoln MKS is just a little bit better than the Mercury Sable, which is a little bit better than the Ford Taurus. And never as good as a Cadillac.
Too Much Metal
The issues of the 2009 Lincoln MKS have little to do with the fact that it's still primarily a kind of front-wheel-drive sedan (despite this particular model's all-wheel-drive hardware). Cadillac might have made the switch to rear-wheel drive a long time ago, but the Lexus ES 350 that sells so well is also front-wheel drive, as is the recently redesigned 2009 Acura TL.
With the MKS, the real issue is too much weight. Our loaded test car with the optional all-wheel-drive system dented the scales at 4,349 pounds. To put this into perspective, the Lexus ES 350 could have a driver and three average-size adult passengers on board and still weigh less than an empty MKS. Even the all-wheel-drive Acura TL, no lightweight itself, is 363 pounds lighter than this Lincoln.
So much sheet metal is no excuse for limited agility, though. There are plenty of big, overstuffed luxury sedans that mask their weight with well-tuned suspensions. The MKS is not one of them. No, this car feels like a classic Lincoln, softly sprung and under-damped — perfect for smooth, straight highways and not much else. Sure, it'll soak up stray bumps, but hit a few in succession and the MKS feels wobbly and crude. Introduce a corner into the mix and it only gets worse.
With that in mind, the MKS's modest speed through our slalom test proved no surprise. At 60.8 mph, it was on par with the Lexus ES 350 and slightly slower than the Hyundai Genesis V6. The big 19-inch wheels and 255/45R19 tires that come standard on the all-wheel-drive MKS help, but there is still plenty of body roll and, more important, a general unease with changing direction quickly.
Since the all-wheel-drive system distributes the power between the front and rear wheels, there's very little tugging at the steering wheel under full power. Then again, there's rarely ever any feedback through the steering wheel. It's limp at highway speeds and yet strangely firm when you're lining up a parking space.
A Drivetrain Under Strain
So the 2009 Lincoln MKS is not much of a handler; no news there, really. But the story doesn't get any better when it comes to acceleration and braking. Again, moving all that weight around isn't easy.
The standard 3.7-liter V6 is essentially a larger version of the 3.5-liter engine used in the Ford Taurus, with which the MKS shares its platform. This V6 is capable of generating 275 horsepower and 276 pound-feet of torque when burning premium fuel, although these numbers drop to 273 hp and 270 lb-ft on regular gas.
With a tank full of premium, our MKS went from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds (7.2 seconds with a 1-foot rollout like on a drag strip), a respectable time that's about a half-second slower than the Lexus ES 350. The Hyundai Genesis V6 and Cadillac CTS go from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds.
Those disappointing acceleration numbers are matched by the sound of an engine that's running harder than it wants to. For a modern DOHC V6, this engine sounds strained at high rpm, which of course it is.
Getting the MKS back down from speed is another issue. The brake pedal is soft and has a long range of travel, and together these things make the task of getting this 4,349-pound car stopped on its Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires feel even less effective. At the track, it takes 130 feet to stop from 60 mph, an average performance. A Hyundai Genesis V6 will do the task in 117 feet.
The six-speed automatic transmission is the one notable bright spot in the drivetrain. Its programming is spot-on, delivering quick, sharp shifts right when you expect them. Sure, it will hesitate a little when the gas pedal is slapped down abruptly, but there are few automatics these days that don't. There's a manual shift gate, too, and it's properly oriented so you get downshifts when you push it forward and upshifts when you pull it back, not that you would think it appropriate to do so in this Lincoln luxury car.
Room to Spare
A world-class sport sedan the MKS is not. It does, however, provide a long list of features designed to make it as comfortable and luxurious as possible when pointed straight ahead.
Chief among them is a spacious interior. This is not really a feature in the typical sense, but worth noting given the overall size of the MKS's cabin. Compared to the Lexus ES 350 and Cadillac CTS, the 2009 Lincoln MKS is larger in nearly every interior dimension. That extra inch or two makes a difference, too, as the MKS swallows four adults quite comfortably.
The seats themselves are wide, flat and covered in top-quality leather. There are heaters at all four seating positions and cooled seats for the driver and front passenger. On a long trip you would ask for nothing more than a little extra toe room in back.
There's an extra-large trunk with 18.4 cubic feet of capacity as well, but the narrow opening, high liftover and two-tiered floor make it hard to use all the space.
Who Needs iDrive?
Lincoln is quite proud of all the audio and communications technology offered in the MKS. With a voice-activated navigation system, THX-certified audio system and Sync connectivity, all the good stuff is on the options list, not to mention rain-sensing wipers, proximity parking sensors and push-button ignition.
Other than Sync, none of this is really unique, but Lincoln deserves credit for offering so much technology without destroying the continuity of the interior. There's no central control knob, no pop-up anything: just simple controls that you can use at a glance. The navigation screen is especially bright and clear, rivaling anything available from Europe or Japan.
It would be all the more impressive if the rest of the interior were up to the same standard. But while none of the materials are particularly cheap-looking, they're not going to put Audi to shame, either. The gauges are particularly bland and most of the switchgear is just average. Build quality is generally good, although the handle on the door creaked every time we pulled it shut (not the best way to start each drive, we're sure you will agree).
Big Bottom Line
None of the Lincoln's shortcomings would be so glaring if it undercut its competitors on price. That's hardly the case, though, as the 2009 Lincoln MKS starts at $37,665 for the front-wheel-drive model and $39,555 for the all-wheel-drive model. Our test car with the Ultimate package topped out at $46,070.
A loaded Lexus ES 350 tops out around $44K and it handles better, has a more elegant interior and is a far more prestigious nameplate. The new Acura TL, which has been stretched to roughly match the size of the MKS, is expected to top out at $42K with all-wheel drive, a 305-hp V6 and a similar list of features. Then there's the new Hyundai Genesis V6. It matches the MKS for interior room, pummels the Lincoln in every performance category and would only run you $40K fully loaded.
Then again, if you must buy American, there's the Cadillac CTS. It'll cost you about the same as the 2009 Lincoln MKS, but it drives better in every way and has a distinctive style inside and out that's memorable if not always pretty.
If Lincoln wants to keep the rivalry going with Cadillac, it's going to have to try harder than the MKS.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Inside Line Editor in Chief Scott Oldham says: Lincoln has really done it. The MKS is a marvel. A real alternative to all the other $30,000 V6-powered sedans out there. You know, the Honda Accords, Toyota Camrys and Nissan Altimas of the world. Load those mainstreamers up with all the leather and electronics I enjoyed in this Lincoln and they also cost about $30 grand, sometimes more, so the Lincoln is a very nice contrarian choice for a buyer in that price range.
You also get the prestige of buying a Lincoln instead of a Toyota, Honda or Nissan, and for the first time in a long time Ford's luxury division has delivered a car that looks good, feels good and performs well. It's a car you would recommend to anybody looking for a well-equipped, well-built $30,000 sedan with upscale flair and feel.
What? What do you mean it costs $46,000? Can't be. Not possible. You must be mistaken. Even $36,000 would be a reach. This is a $30,000 car by any stretch of the imagination. Oh, wait, this one has all-wheel drive. OK then, $33,000 on its best day. There's no way it can cost more.
But you're right. There it is on the window sticker: $46,070. I take it all back. The Lincoln MKS is an embarrassment. This is the best Ford's got? It's slow, crude and questionably built. It's even a little awkward to look at. Forty-six grand? For what? The engine sounds like it was built by preschoolers...in Slovenia.
Get an Altima.
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