Every year, carmakers collectively trot out dozens of new concept vehicles at auto shows around the world. Some fraction of those end up making their way to production lines and onto the streets. Most of the exciting design ideas, however, get heavily watered down in the process of going from auto show stand to showroom. One notable exception is the new Lincoln MKS. When the original MKS concept turned up in 2006, it was basically a slightly fancied up version of the then-new Ford Five Hundred, and it was not warmly received.
In a pleasant change of direction, Ford took the lukewarm reception for the concept to heart and by the time the production version of the MKS appeared at the LA Auto Show last November, it had been transformed. Unlike the "so what" appearance of the concept, the production model elicited much stronger opinions. Some hated it, others loved it. Regardless of how you feel about the new look, it is now a fact of life. The MKS began emerging from Ford's Chicago assembly plant a few weeks ago and Ford invited us down to Washington DC to sample it on the road. Read our driving impressions and check out a video of Peter Horbury's walk-around tour of the new 2009 Lincoln MKS after the jump.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Through the course of 2006, as the production MKS was being refined in the Lincoln Design Studio, Gordon Platto and other designers were also working on the MKR concept that debuted at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show. The team had identified a list of design elements that would define Lincoln's new design language. The most obvious element was the split-wing grille that hearkens back to Lincolns of the '30s and '40s such as the Zephyr and Continental. At that point, it was already too late to change the main body panels of the MKS. However, the team was so pleased with what they had wrought on the MKR, they made the late decision to apply the new face of Lincoln to the MKS.
It was a wise move. On the road, the new MKS has far more presence than any production Lincoln in years, including the late lamented LS. The MKS used the Five Hundred/Taurus platform as a starting point, but a lot has changed under the skin. The suspension has been heavily revised in order to handle the increased power and torque, as well as manage the motion of larger wheels and tires. The MKS has 18-inch wheels as standard equipment with 19- and 20-inch combinations available as options.
The basic Macpherson strut layout of the Taurus has been retained but the geometry has been modified to help minimize the effects of pushing 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque through the front wheels. The new geometry actually adds some anti-lift capability, as well. This works by using the reactive forces in the front end structure of the car during acceleration to help resist the tendency of the front end to lift up. The componentry that manages the motions of the rear wheels is more significantly changed. While the multi-link rear suspension still has an upper control arm along with lower trailing, toe and lateral links, all the pieces are new.
The mounting of the rear dampers in the MKS has also been moved further outboard toward the wheels. Moving the dampers closer to the wheels allows for greater travel, thus improving their effectiveness. The extra travel allows greater latitude for the engineers to tune the damping behavior for the optimum balance between comfort and handling. All of this helps maintain the ride quality that luxury car buyers expect while providing better handling and road holding with the 20-inch wheel/tire combo. On the road all of this works remarkably well.
We started off our first drive in the MKS from an Alexandria, VA Lincoln dealership in an all-wheel-drive model. The car was finished in a color dubbed Tuxedo Black. Unlike a typical metallic finish that is impregnated with metal particles, the Tuxedo finish uses tiny glass beads. When the light hits it right, it truly shimmers, much like the mystic paint that was used on mid-90s Mustang Cobras. We were able to see one car in light that was similar to what you get during the magic hour later in the day or early morning, and it truly looked spectacular and expensive.
Our car was fitted with the 20-inch wheel and tire package that uses 245/45R20 Michelin tires. At launch, all MKS sedans will be fitted with the new 3.7L version of the V6 used in other large Fords, Lincolns and the Mercury Sable. The 3.7L is rated for running on regular unleaded, which gives it an output of 273 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. If you choose to drop the extra cash on premium petrol, you'll be rewarded with an extra 2 hp and 6 lb-ft, a difference you're unlikely to notice on the road. Around March or April of 2009, the new EcoBoost V6 will become available in the MKS that will provide 340 hp and an equal number of lb-ft of twist. Power gets sent primarily to the front wheels via the same 6F50 six-speed automatic transmission used with the 3.5L V6 in other applications. The only difference in the MKS is the final drive ratio in the all-wheel-drive model.
The front-wheel-drive versions all get a 3.16:1 final drive, while the AWD Taurus uses a 2.77:1 ratio. The AWD MKS we drove had a shorter 3.39:1 ratio. Up to 25 percent of the drive torque goes to the rear axle as determined by an electronically controlled clutch pack. The rear torque is limited to keep the size of the drive shaft and rear axle down. Unlike some similar systems that rely on front wheel slip to trigger torque transfer, this one factors in throttle position and acceleration to send tractive effort rearward before the front wheels slip.
The ride route took us through a mix of urban, highway and rural driving from Alexandria to the Prince Michel Winery in Leon, VA. After a break at the winery, we continued on a loop that eventually brought us back to Georgetown in DC. One aspect of the MKS that was immediately apparent was the sense of quiet in the cabin. The side glass is laminated with two layers of glass sandwiching a layer of plastic. Even with serenity, it wasn't completely isolated the way that some Lexus models have been over the years. Just enough of the outside gets through to remind you that it's still there without intruding on the sense of calm. Driving along in urban traffic alongside a noisy truck, the noise was almost completely blocked out.
That calm isn't disturbed by the action at the road either. Even with low profile rubber on those big wheels, occupants don't take a beating. On some rough pavement that included sudden changes in road elevation and construction zones, the new suspension setup proved its worth. The changes in the rear allowed the engineers to tune in more rebound control over gaps and potholes. Essentially, they found that having the wheel resist the urge to follow the pavement downward to quickly and almost float over the gap provided a much smoother ride. At the same time, the jounce control allows even the heavy 20-inch rims to move up and out of the bumps. The real test will of course come in a couple of weeks when the MKS arrives in our Michigan-based Autoblog Garage for a full review. Then we'll find out how well this all really works.
Other aspects of the car's dynamics also appeared to work quite well. Some of the roads on our route were of the type best left to serious sports cars, but the big Lincoln remained thoroughly composed even where the pavement was still damp from storms that had passed a short time earlier. The MKS, at least with the current engine, doesn't really qualify as a sports sedan and Lincoln identifies its chief competitors as the Cadillac STS and Lexus GS. The MKS certainly felt on a par with the Cadillac, although we haven't tried the GS lately. Through the curves, at around eight-tenths, the big black Lincoln didn't really exhibit any noticeable understeer and if the stability control did activate, it wasn't at all intrusive.
Speaking of those storms, we had our drive on Wednesday June 4 when a series of severe thunderstorms swept through the region and at least one tornado is thought to have touched down. As we were on the second leg of the route, we could see the storms in the distance so we brought up the weather map using the Sirius travel link on the nav system. Sure enough, it showed all the storms in the immediate area pretty much live. We managed to miss the brunt of the storms, but we did get into some scattered rain. I set the intermittent wipers on their lowest setting to try out the Rain-Sense system. Sure enough, as the volume of rain picked up, so too did the interval shorten and they eventually went into normal continuous mode. As the rain stopped, so did the wipers. No more dry wipers dragging across the windshield.
As we made our way down one debris strewn road, other Lincolns appeared heading the opposite direction flashing their lights at us. Apparently a tree was blocking the road ahead, so we swung around and decided that based on the conditions it might be wiser to just make a bee-line straight for D.C. and skip the rest of the route. The voice commands for the nav worked quite well until both my driving partner and I tried to give commands at the same time, which left it befuddled. At that point I let him enter the destination while I tried to avoid fallen trees.
Overall, the MKS proved to be a very capable cruiser that didn't object at all to some back road thrashing. The only thing that might be considered a weakness is the engine. Hard acceleration drew quick but smooth kick-downs from the transmission followed by steady but not punch-you-in-the-back acceleration. It was certainly adequate, just not thrilling. Of course, in these times of high prices at the pump, that may not be such a bad thing. For those that want more, the EcoBoost is coming soon.
Peter Horbury gives a walk-around tour of the Lincoln MKS
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.