Review: 2009 Lincoln MKS

2009 Lincoln MKS – Click above for high-res image gallery

The 2009 Lincoln MKS may be the marque's last chance at establishing a distinct image after two decades of struggling to find its identity. At one time Lincoln, like its counterparts at Cadillac, stood apart from lesser vehicles with unique styling, powertrains and features that clearly delineated its place in the automotive hierarchy. Not that Mark IVs, Vs and VIs were high-water marks in design, but at least when you saw one rolling down the road, you knew you were looking at a Lincoln.

But the Continentals of the '80s marked the onset of Lincoln's utterly forgettable image, and when Ford went on a buying binge in the late '80s with Jaguar, continuing through the '90s with Volvo, Aston Martin, and Land Rover, the waters began to be seriously muddied. The creation of the Premier Automotive Group, which bundled all the premium brands together, did nothing to help Lincoln's outlook, so Ford's in-house luxury brand needed a fresh start. With the dissolution of PAG, Peter Horbury and the team went back to the drawing board to define a look that would shout "Lincoln!" for years to come. Read on to find out if the MKS succeeds.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

In the PAG years, Ford management didn't seem to have any idea of what they wanted Lincoln to be. Perhaps Lincoln's best shot at moving up the ranks was the LS, which actually came about from the desire to produce a new mid-sized Jaguar and have the American brand compete with lower end BMWs and Audis. But the non-descript styling and limited power (after all, it did have to stay a notch below Jaguar) meant it never really got the attention it deserved. When the life cycle of the LS expired, Lincoln was left without a clear successor. The Zephyr/MKZ didn't advance the styling bar, and it's Fusion-based architecture didn't fit the profile.

The 2009 MKS is one of those rare cars that actually improves upon its conceptual predecessor shown in 2006, and is the first production model to adopt the new cues that first appeared on last year's MKR concept. Unfortunately, most of the MKS was already locked in by the time the well received MKR was finished. The only significant design aspect to make it to production was the grille, but that may well be the most important element. For the first time in decades Lincoln has a face that stands out in a crowd and isn't an embarrassment.

The rest of the car is handsome and clean, if not spectacular. The belt-line rises towards the back and helps to hide its tall stance. As you're likely already aware, the MKS is derived from the same Volvo-based platform as the Taurus/Sable/Taurus X and Flex. At a distance it doesn't look large, but once you get up close you're struck by the MKS's height. The roof-line extends a full four inches taller than a Cadillac STS and 4.5 inches more than the Lexus ES350.

Like the Taurus, you sit tall in the MKS, which makes ingress and egress easy, but doesn't really enhance the idea of a sport sedan. The MKS' doors are cut down into the rocker panels and the skins wrap underneath, which makes stepping in and out easier. It doesn't seem like a big thing, but it does make a difference. Having the rocker panels covered should also keep them cleaner, meaning less chance of getting your pants dirty from road salt in the winter time.

In spite of the high seating position, the rising belt-line still leaves some of the "sitting in a bath tub" effect. If you like to drive around on nice days with the window rolled down, you won't feel comfortable resting your elbow on the window sill. However, the upright seating makes the MKS feel exceptionally roomy front and back. The seats are comfortable and supportive while offering all the adjustments you need, and when exterior temperatures deviate from optimal comfort levels, heated and cooled front seats keep your backside in cozy climes.

Last year, when Ford debuted the Sync system that included USB and line-in inputs with voice controls for auxiliary devices, it proved very popular. For 2009, Sync is being augmented with a new interface to the navigation system and Sirius Travel Link. Travel Link gets real time traffic data from the satellite radio system and can automatically re-route you to avoid backups. It also provides lots of information like sports scores, movie listings and guidance to the cheapest gas prices. Ford's voice control system is actually the most reliable and robust of any that we've tried so far. It recognizes commands the majority of the time and even accepts combinations of commands such as "Destination - POI." The new user interface is probably one of the easiest to navigate and makes BMW's iDrive look like a bad joke.

Overall, the interior design is clean and well laid out. The center stack is straightforward with audio and climate control buttons, including the heated and chilled front seats. The rear quarters are also thermally enhanced, but the occupants will have to rely on air flow to reduce temperatures. The nicely padded front center arm-rest is split down the middle and each side can be individually adjusted to suit the position of the occupant's elbow. One flaw we found with the center stack design is the section ahead of the shifter and below the climate controls which is emblazoned with "Lincoln" and would make an excellent storage compartment. However, the panel is fixed and our mobile phone was forced to reside in our pant pocket.

On the road, the behavior of the MKS belies its size, but the steering has no dead spots and the responses are reasonably precise. While the MKS and Flex are derived from the Taurus architecture, it's been heavily reworked, and to good effect. Changes were necessary to provide a decent ride with the 245/45R20 tire/wheel package. The short sidewalls alone wouldn't do much for on-road compliance, but the new suspension setup does a good job of allowing the wheels to soak up the battered and bruised pavement that comprises most of Michigan roads.

The 3.7L V6 is adequate for motivating the 4,127-pound sedan, but it probably won't set enthusiast hearts alight. The six-speed automatic is the same 6F50 unit used in other big Fords and co-developed with GM. Each company produced its own control software for the transmission and the team in Dearborn seems to have done a better job calibrating the shift smoothness. Ford applications consistently have seamless shifts at either full or part throttle, while the GM vehicles tend to be more jarring.

Most newer automatic transmission vehicles are saddled with a lackadaisical shift response when set in normal Drive mode, undoubtedly calibrated to optimize the EPA mileage numbers. Thankfully, popping the shift lever in Sport mode has a dramatic effect. Shifts are sharper, although still smooth, occurring at higher revs with downshifts occurring promptly with a stab of the go pedal. Tapping the shift lever to the right enables manual shifts that happen when you ask for them.

At just over $47,000 as tested, including the dual panel moon-roof, all-wheel-drive and the 20-inch wheel package, the MKS isn't cheap. However, it is competitive in price with some of the stalwarts of the luxury set and finally brings some style to the Lincoln line-up. On the off chance that you might have some 5.1 audio DVDs in your collection, you'll be glad that you opted for the THX-II certified surround audio system. Ford includes a sampler disk in the car that features Pink Floyd's Money and it sounded absolutely incredible.

Beginning in about April 2009, Lincoln will begin offering the 3.5L twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 in the MKS which should dramatically improve performance. Given the trajectory of gas prices right now, you may want to wait for a smaller four-cylinder EcoBoost engine to replace the V6s, although if you're spending near $50K on a luxury sedan, the 19 mpg we saw in mixed driving conditions may not bother you too much. For now, the MKS is a great start to the revive Lincoln and hopefully, it won't be long before we see models that incorporate all the elements that appeared on last year's MKR concept.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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