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The all-new 2009 Lincoln MKS is something different for this proud luxury marquee: a full-size sedan with its sights set on the young (by Lincoln standards). As such, the MKS is a lavishly equipped full-size luxury sedan, both grand and, in its way, grandiose. It combines an elegant new look for Lincoln, combining elements of the marque's long, impressive history with technology that, by Lincoln's lights, points the way to the luxury-car future.
From the first glance, this MKS is nothing if not a serious entry. It has dignity and clout that is likely to win over Lincoln's traditional older clientele. Its muscular, long body is trimmed plenteously with gleaming chrome highlights, giving it the flash of a thoroughbred American sedan.
The MKS interior seconds the motion; this is a sedan with class-leading roominess in the rear compartment. The styling and materials throughout, typified by elegant standard-equipment leather upholstery, confirm that this is an automobile for those accustomed to fine surroundings.
But it is in technology, more specifically, in comprehensive connectivity, that the MKS will make its bid. The MKS offers unprecedented real-time, real-world onboard communications. Lincoln marketing executives said time is the ultimate luxury and therefore the electronics systems in the MKS were designed to save the owner time. Following on Ford's successful Sync voice-activated audio systems, the MKS goes one long step further. Its Next-Generation Navigation System with Sirius Travel Link allows the switched-on owner to control vast audio programming resources, follow threatening regional weather patterns in real-time, stay informed about traffic jams ahead, keep up on the latest sports scores and find movie listings and start times.
We found its big eight-inch display easy to read and its systems easy to operate, something that can't be said of some much more expensive German cars. You can load personal CD photos on your in-dash monitor. You can find all local gas stations, listed either by nearness or in order of price per gallon. We followed the progress of a violent storm on an in-dash Doppler radar monitor, a new kind of automotive thrill. Pressing a couple of buttons displayed the five-day forecast. The system will play DVD movies with incredibly rich surround sound, and the touch-screen monitor takes running your iPod to new levels. Its voice command system indicates this technology has moved beyond the gimmick stage.
But the MKS is more than an electronics base; it must meet the standards of the contemporary automobile, somewhat as its superb forebear, the Lincoln LS, did so successfully. As a dynamic platform for freeway motoring, the MKS is first-rate, stable, steady, confidence-inspiring. It would be entirely at home driving coast to coast, and delivering an impressive 24-mpg EPA highway rating, this seems an enticing mission.
The MKS comes standard with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available for improved capability in foul-weather. A 3.7-liter dohc 24-valve V6 engine powers the MKS, delivering 273 horsepower. It works with a six-speed automatic transmission to post an EPA-rated City/Highway 17/24 mpg.
We found it cruises very nicely, smooth and quiet. It isn't a sport sedan along the lines of a BMW, however, and doesn't respond well to hard driving.
The Lincoln MKS ($38,465) is available in only one model. All-wheel drive ($1890) is optional. Four option packages are available:
The Navigation Package ($2995) adds voice-activated DVD navigation system, THX II w. 5.1 premium surround-sound audio, and a rearview camera. The Technology Package ($1115) upgrades with adaptive headlamps with auto high beam, rain-sensing wipers, forward sensing parking-aid system, rear-window power sunshade, intelligent access with push-button start. The Ultimate Package ($5715) includes the Technology package, Navigation package, dual-panel moonroof, 19-inch premium painted wheels, Ultimate seating trim with seat color-keyed suede strip in the center of the seatbacks and an embroidered Lincoln Star logo on the front headrests. The Aluminum Applique Package ($195) features aluminum instrument panel applique, leather shift knob, leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Safety features include dual-stage front airbags plus seat-mounted side airbags for head and torso protection, as well as safety-belt pretensioners and load-limiting retractors. The Occupant Classification System's sensor automatically determines by weight whether the front passenger seat is empty, occupied by a child seat or by a small, medium or large occupant and deploys the airbag accordingly. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, standard. Optional safety features include all-wheel drive and a rearview camera that can help the driver spot a child behind the car when backing up.
The Lincoln MKS is built on a reengineered and improved version of the chassis used in the discontinued Ford Taurus. However, the MKS's styling and presence are pure Lincoln, bold, sturdy, impressive. This luxury marque has been busily searching its past design DNA for usable yesteryear styling symbols that will play well in the present. The aggressive boat prow-like grille of the MKS recalls the classic pre-war Lincoln Continental; yet in the same gesture, this stands as a symbol of the new Lincoln's aggressive thrust into the 21st century.
While appearing rock steady in profile, the MKS has a dynamic stance that seems ready to pounce. And viewed from the rear on the interstate, this car has the self-confident presence, in scaled-down form, of an ultra-luxury sedan.
As befits a full-size American luxury sedan, the MKS makes generous use of chrome highlighting, supported by understated side sculpting in profile view. In addition to the usual variety of paint colors, the MKS is available in a new paint finish called Tuxedo Black Metallic. This black is similar to a metallic finish, except that in place of metallic flecks in the paint, it features brilliant, tiny flecks of glass. The result is a highly reflective finish that will wow some buyers. To others, however, Tuxedo Black will look like an extraordinarily coarse metallic blend more suited to bass boats, especially when illuminated under bright spotlights.
The MKS, with its overall length of 204.1 inches and dignified height of 61.6 inches, is a fully found luxury sedan that will surely earn its place in valet parking. However, as with many luxury sedans that aspire to sleekness (Jaguar sedans come to mind) its handsomely rounded forms leave it the impression of being smaller than it really is.
On the plus side of this undersizing, the air passing over the MKS at 70 mph flows smoothly and silently, yielding both a peaceful commute and startlingly efficient EPA Highway mileage of 24 mpg, impressive for this full-size entry. When it's time to refuel, the MKS features a refueling receptacle that eliminates the messiness of a gas cap.
Climbing into the cockpit of the MKS, its wide expanse of dashboard receding toward the windshield creates a sensation of lavish roominess. Our test car had a gleaming swath of dark wood running from one end of the dash to the other, its finish so bright indeed that we weren't sure whether to believe it was real wood. It was.
The instruments were laid out handsomely, with softly cushioned surfaces and hand-stitched leather seams everywhere on the dashboard, as befits a luxury car. The steering wheel was wrapped in leather, with wood highlights, and its girth and grip felt perfect.
Big buttons on the center stack made operating the HVAC (heating/air conditioning) and audio systems easy. What felt less perfect was the switchgear, which lacked the tactile elegance and reassuring sturdiness one might have hoped for in this car. Instead, the buttons and switches and A/C ducting adjusters felt generic, as if they might be found on any Ford product, high or low. Otherwise, the appearance and materials in the MKS cabin were fittingly swank.
The MKS profits from the sporting feeling of fine leather seating. The front seat cushion and particularly the backrest provide steadying lateral support. Long-range driving comfort is good and the fit and quality of the leather is excellent. Visibility is similarly excellent from the driving position. The proximity of the headrest to the back of the head was a minor annoyance for some of us; it's placed there for improved safety and cannot be adjusted.
The stepped gearshift controlling the six-speed automatic is simple and straightforward, though we were rarely moved to use it. Just ahead of the shifter is a panel on the center console with word Lincoln written bold. It looks for all the world like the cover of a stowage compartment, and its slightly misaligned cut lines encouraged the suspicion. In many another deluxe entry, this panel would've popped open to offer handy storage. In the MKS, no such luck.
The HVAC system provided generous torrents of cooling air.
The navigation system features a bright, eight-inch screen. We found the navigation system a good companion to our test drive, winding through the tortuous, ever-changing two-lane blacktop of the Virginia backcountry. The industry-leading Lincoln connectivity allowed us to monitor the local weather in real time, locate gas stations and otherwise stay in touch with the outside world. Returning to the traffic-challenged environment of Washington, D.C., furthermore, we were easily able to sort out the traffic jams ahead in real time and find the least annoying route to our final destination. Excellent. Touching the screen on a traffic jam revealed the cause. The navigation system operated in both three-dimensional mode and map view. The three-dimensional view is fun for impressing friends (and prospective buyers), but not particularly useful and somewhat confusing to interpret.
The premium-quality THX II sound system and satellite-radio accessibility of our Ultimate Package-equipped MKS furnished our deep-country drive with superb concert surround-sound. And using Ford's voice-activated Sync system, we were able to order changes in programming without ever moving our hands from the wheel. While parked, we watched clips from "Star Wars" crisply displayed on the screen and the fly-bys of the small, fighter ships were incredible over the 5.1 surround sound with crisp base and crystal highs. Likewise, the acoustical guitar and percussion on a live recording of the Eagles playing "Hotel California" was amazingly crisp and clear. These are benefits of the quality of the system and the quality of the sound-deadening of the cabin.
Second-row riders will enjoy the MKS as much as those in the front row. The rear seats offer capacious ease of entry and segment-leading spaciousness. The rear-seat cushions, while soft and comfortable, are not terribly supportive, but the rear seatbacks more than make up for this l
With the notable exception of the spirited, agile Lincoln LS, which the present MKS replaces, Lincolns have never been valued for the sporting character of their driving temperament. Classically, a Lincoln is just about the last candidate one would choose for a race through the darting and veering linked corners of canyon country. The MKS is no exception to this pattern. A sport sedan it is not.
The MKS is an excellent turnpike cruiser, but away from the interstate on a winding country two-lane, this large, heavy car feels less at home. Its moderately high steering effort inspires confidence on the highway, but rewards the driver with little information when driving in the backcountry. Rather, it eschews the virtues of the prior LS and reverts to being a somewhat stodgy Lincoln in the grand old mode.
However, this same time-honored Lincoln character has significant pluses. Primary among these is first-rate comfort and composure during long cruises on the interstate.
The MKS is confident at interstate speeds, and its four-valve 3.7-liter V6 produces an ample 273 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, more than enough to deliver long, effortless service life at highway speeds. It boasts an exemplary 24-mpg EPA Highway rating. Accelerating from a standing start, the package is above average, which is to say, neither a tire-burner nor in any way slow. Given the MKS's stand-up character, the choice of engine and performance seems just right.
It is in the area of chassis dynamics that the MKS comes up short. Veering off the interstate onto lesser, winding country roads, this Lincoln is decidedly un-entertaining. Driving over undulations at speed, the ride control was generally good, though occasionally the MKS exhibited the barest beginnings of floatiness.
When navigating bends in the road, the MKS seems to caution the driver to slow down. It is out of its element. The steering effort of the MKS is remarkably firm, which in most sport-sedan cases implies an enthusiast character. With the MKS, however, road feel communicated through this firm steering in curving terrain is muted, almost non-existent. And the ride motions of the car are stubborn and somewhat lurching, yielding little road information or driving pleasure. This is not to say that the MKS is in any way hazardous. On a curvy road, its chassis is simply not much fun to drive.
The brakes worked very well. Like many another car in its class, at 4127 pounds (with front-wheel drive) the MKS is a heavy car, but the big four-wheel disc brakes, augmented with ABS, traction control and electronic stability control, are more than up to the task. The problem is that, unlike many in its class, the MKS really feels heavy. Comparing its chassis dynamics to the Cadillac STS, no lightweight itself, the Cadillac feels like a Porsche.
The MKS was never intended to be a sport sedan, rightly so. And venturing as it does deep into the realm of onboard connectivity, this car makes an extremely interesting entry. But after producing the enticing, discontinued LS, Lincoln seems to have ignored the idea that putting more athleticism in its cars and a smile of pleasure on the driver's face is never a bad thing.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Ted West filed this report from Washington, D.C. Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.
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