B. Grant Whitmore, Contributor
At the Lincoln LS long-lead press introduction in San Francisco, Lincoln's public-relation manager implored us not to use the word "boat" in our write-up of the venerable marque's latest vehicle. In Lincoln's opinion, the nautical references to the company's products have grown a bit stale in the past two decades. We told Lincoln that we couldn't make any promises until we had a chance to drive the LS. Well, now we've driven it, and we can promise that "boat" will not appear in our evaluation of the car. Damn, it's already appeared twice in the introduction. Since it's late and the deadline for this piece is looming, I'll just promise not to use the word "boat" again. Starting now.
The LS is Lincoln's first attempt at a true sport sedan in decades. For years, the Continental has been tasked with satisfying sporty-minded sedan buyers with a fun-to-drive set of wheels, a challenge that was too much to ask of a car with front-wheel drive, a soft suspension and numb steering. No, the Continental is about gobbling up pavement in the old-fashioned American style, not providing enthusiastic drivers with serious performance. Since the mid-80s, Lincoln has steadily lost sales to companies that could provide youthful and sporty cars. Therefore, marques like Acura, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti have swayed new luxury-car buyers toward their fun and friendly offerings.
Sure, Lincoln was slow to react to this onslaught of import invaders, but their response, unlike the one from cross-court rival Cadillac, is decidedly serious. The LS is a sport sedan in every sense. Crisp steering, a taut suspension, attractive 17-inch wheels, rear-wheel drive, a clean design, and powerful engine choices are things we've come to expect from players in the sport-sedan field. Lincoln brings all of this to the game with the new LS. Lincoln also offers a manual transmission on their sport sedan, something no other domestic luxury builder and only four import manufacturers can boast. In our opinion, the stout Getrag five-speed manual transmission available on the LS V6 says as much about Lincoln's commitment to fun-seeking drivers as the NSX does for the Acura division. In some ways, it is even more of a statement. Honda/Acura have been building fun-to-drive cars for quite some time; Lincolns haven't been fun since the early '60s.
The LS is available in V6 and V8 flavors. The 3.0-liter, aluminum, DOHC V6 motor puts out 210 horsepower @ 6500 rpm and 205 foot-pounds of torque @ 4750 rpm. Despite these high peak-output numbers, the engine makes a great deal of its power down low. This motivating force provides drivers with the grunt necessary to push this 3550-pound car forward quickly when accelerating or climbing hills. The V8 engine is also an all-aluminum, dual-overhead-cam unit. The difference in output, however, proves the maxim that there ain't no substitute for cubic inches (or liters, as in this case.) The V8's two additional cylinders bump the motor's displacement to 3.9 liters and gives the LS V8 a 42-horserpower boost and a 62 ft-lb. increase in twist action over the V6. This extra power makes the V8 model our LS of choice, even though the LS V8 can't be had with a manual transmission.
The LS buyer can choose one of three transmissions, depending on which engine is selected. Standard on the V6 and V8 models is a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic. Buyers of the V8 and V6 auto can also opt for a sports package that includes a SelectShift automanual transmission. SelectShift gives enthusiastic drivers the opportunity to shift their own gears without having to worry about overworking their left foot; the sequential gear engagement does not require a clutch to operate. When the road turns boring, or the traffic gets heavy, SelectShift drivers can put the LS in "drive" and pilot it as though it were equipped with a regular automatic slushbox.
A note on SelectShift: Typically, Edmund's editors don't endorse automanual transmissions, thinking that most automanuals don't offer enough excitement to warrant their added expense. SelectShift is different--the shifts are quick and the system doesn't think for the driver, two things that we don't like about the Porsche Tiptronic or Daimler-Chrysler AutoStick systems. This means that if a driver comes to a stop in third gear, the car won't shift into first for her. Likewise, if Junior wants to run dad's LS like a Ferrari, SelectShift will just keep bouncing him off the rev limiter. In the Porsche and Daimler-Chrysler systems, the automanual shifts for the driver when it thinks the driver is doing something stupid. But we like to think for ourselves; cars that think for us have a tendency to allow the driver to become uninvolved in the task of driving. We praise Lincoln for equipping their car with something that caters to the involved driver.
The final transmission choice requires the selection of the LS V6 manual model, an out-of-the-box sport sedan that should quell shoppers' concerns regarding the legitimacy of Lincoln's newfound interest in performance driving. Lincoln outfits all LS V6 manuals with a Getrag five-speed manual and includes all of the equipment found in the otherwise-optional sport package (17-inch wheels, P235/50VR17 tires with a full-size spare, engine oil cooler, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and body-colored bumpers.) This makes the V6 manual a veritable sport-sedan bargain with a sticker price just over $32,000.
Lincoln chose a rear-wheel-drive platform for the LS, one that is shared with the all-new Jaguar S-Type. This ultra-stiff chassis proves to be an ideal foundation upon which designers can successfully attach a sophisticated four-wheel independent suspension with anti-lift geometry. Lincoln's anti-lift suspension bears some explanation. By changing the angle of the rear suspension mounting points, Lincoln's engineers were able to dial in a considerable amount of negative lift. This keeps the LS from squatting and diving under hard acceleration or during emergency braking. In addition to providing passengers with a less turbulent ride, this suspension setup controls longitudinal body motions very well, providing balanced weight transfers as the car rapidly accelerates or decelerates.
Active and passive safety features abound in the LS. All models wear four-wheel antilock disc brakes that are ventilated at all four wheels. Our track experience showed that the brakes could be pounded lap after lap without hindering stopping distances or pedal feel. The LS V6 and V8 automatic models are available with an optional traction-control system. Called AdvanceTrac, the unit works via the antilock brakes by measuring wheel speed at each corner of the car. If one wheel is spinning faster than the other, AdvanceTrac will selectively employ the brakes to bring the car back in line. For those who like to have a wheel-spinning, tail-out good time, Lincoln has provided a handy AdvanceTrac defeat switch conveniently located on the center console. The LS is also equipped with standard front and side airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger and three-point seatbelts at all five seating positions in the event that the antilock brakes and AdvanceTrac are not enough to save the day.
During our brief visit with the LS, we decided that the car wears its sport-sedan mantle comfortably. We had the chance to drive the LS against stiff competition from Acura, Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes and at Thunderhill Raceway in Northern California, and came away thinking that the LS matches or beats the midsize luxury sport-sedan competition offered by the imports in every performance category. As a total package, it was the winner of the day. We were particularly impressed with the LS's motion control in corners and the car's outstanding steering precision. Likewise, the LS was the only car we drove at Thunderhill that didn't suffer brake fade after a few punishing laps. At the end of this exhilarating afternoon at the track, we walked away amazed that the LS came from the same company that makes the wallowy Town Car.
The LS performs equally well off the track, providing an athletic chassis and suspension that rewards enthusiastic drivers without punishing nervous passengers. The 17-inch wheels, which are part of the optional sport package, give a slightly stiffer ride than the 16-inchers found on the base models, but are worth it because of the additional grip they provide when the road gets twisty. Nevertheless, drivers who don't select the sport package will not be too disappointed because the suspension and braking setup is the same regardless of whether the sport package is selected or not.
We should note that there is more to the LS than a fun ride on the track or in the mountains. The company that builds the car is, after all, Lincoln. This means that the LS has an extensive standard-equipment list that includes things like fog lamps, heated outside mirrors, remote keyless entry, automatic climate controls, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, power everything, premium stereo and wood trim. Options are limited to such things as a convenience package that includes rain-sensing windshield wipers, power lumbar support, a multi-driver memory system, and electrochromic rearview mirror; heated seats; traction control; and the aforementioned sport package.
Lincoln is aiming this car at the affluent 35-45-year-old crowd--people that we would have called yuppies 10 years ago. We think they've hit the mark in terms of styling, performance and features. To top it off, our initial impression indicates that this is a great car that will reward owners mile after mile with a fashionable, sophisticated and entertaining driving experience. Do we recommend it? Heck yeah! It changed our minds about Lincoln, and we think it might do the same for you. When you walk into the dealership for a test drive, just scrunch your eyes closed as you pass the overweight and garish Town Car Cartiers and Continentals. When you bump into something that doesn't feel like the newest vessel for Princess Cruise Lines (Sorry, Lincoln, I couldn't resist.), open your eyes and behold a Lincoln built for you, the cool hipster that you are. Trust us. Until you drive the LS, you don't know jack about Lincolns.
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