2011 Lincoln MKS Expert Review:Autoblog
For more years than we care to remember, Lincoln has soldiered on without a competitive large car. Ford's luxury marque finally gave its high-end roster some love for the 2009 model year with the large-and-in-charge MKS. At 204 inches long, the MKS is a Reese's Cup shy of a Navigator, and at 4,305 pounds, our all-wheel drive tester is only 166-pounds lighter than the super-sized Ford Flex.
When we tested the MKS last year, the relatively modest 3.7-liter V6 left us eagerly anticipating the long-promised twin-turbo EcoBoost variant. The first press samples of the MKS EcoBoost came in the spring, and our brief time with the 355 horsepower sedan at Milan Raceway gave us a newfound appreciation for the big Lincoln. But only a few hours behind the wheel wasn't nearly enough time to fully take in the EcoBoost experience, so we spent a week with Lincoln's Big Easy to see if 355 force-fed ponies catapults the MKS into the realm of the luxury elite. Hit the jump to find out how this latter-day Hot Rod Lincoln fared.
When looking at the MKS from a distance of about 100 feet, the sedan's well-proportioned sheet metal gives the illusion that it's only slightly larger than the typical mid-size sedan. Get closer, though, and you realize the roofline is over five feet off the ground, those moderately sized chrome wheels are actually 20-inchers, and Lincoln's luxury barge barely fits within the confines of a standard Stateside parking space.
Our Red Candy Metallic MKS EcoBoost tester was completely loaded, bumping its price tag to a not-insubstantial $54,910. When stepping up to the MKS EcoBoost, the base MSRP jumps by exactly $5,000 compared to the standard AWD MKS, and nearly $7,000 more than the entry-level front-wheel drive model. Our tester included the up-level Rapid Spec 201A, which for $3,500, includes a massive navigation/infotainment system and an expansive dual panel moonroof. Also added to our tester were park assist and adaptive cruise control, adding another $650 and $1,310, respectively.
For perspective, the MKS EcoBoost's downmarket sibling, the Taurus SHO starts at $37,170. Optioned out similarly to the MKS, the SHO tips the financial scales at $45,470. That's a lot of money for a Ford-badged sedan, albeit one loaded with AWD, 365 horsepower, and every option known to man. But it's still $10,000 less than the very similar MKS, and some would argue the Taurus looks better, too.
At least in terms of raw statistics, another vehicle worth mentioning is, surprisingly, the Audi A8. Both vehicles have AWD systems and the long-wheelbase A8 is within an inch of the MKS in length, while the Lincoln is an inch wider and five inches taller, has four more cubic feet of trunk space, 25 more lb-ft of torque and five additional horsepower, all with a price tag that undercuts the Audi by $30,000. The MKS is even lighter by 100 pounds.
Granted, the Audi carries more prestige and we'd argue that it's more refined inside and out, but the fact that the two vehicles are so similar in dimension and performance shows Ford studied the best large luxury vehicles on the market when planning the MKS.
Once inside, it feels even bigger from the driver's seat. Massive, comfortable brown leather seats capable of heating or cooling your posterior feel ready for sale at the local Lazy Boy outlet. The dash, adorned with plush, soft-touch materials has an 8.5-inch LCD navigation system at its center, and a thick, metal-effect design garnish that stretches from the passenger door all the way to the steering wheel. A long, elegant center stack separates the driver cockpit from the front passenger compartment, and a well-padded center armrest is dual adjustable, giving both front seat occupants the ability to set up their seating area to their own individual tastes.
We already knew the MKS had an inviting interior, so we were far more interested in the performance of the highly touted EcoBoost V6 powerplant. At 355 hp and 350 lb-ft, the twin-turbo'd MKS finally has the power to match up with the competition's V8 offerings. And while those power numbers look run-of-the-mill for the large luxury market, they're a bit deceiving. Thanks to its duo of turbochargers, the MKS has one of the healthiest, flattest torque curves in the segment. Those 350 lb-ft are at your beck and call all the way from 1,500 to 5,250 rpm, providing instant twist in almost any driving situation.
Unlike the Taurus SHO, which masquerades in vein as the second coming of Ford's original sleeper sports sedan, the MKS doesn't try to be something it's not. Looking at the MKS, the only pretensions of sportiness are a miniscule decklid spoiler out back and an EcoBoost badge the size of a Band-Aid. And with a green leaf growing from said emblem, we don't get the impression that the top-level MKS is a pavement punisher.
In reality, the MKS is anything but dangerous to our nation's roads. Sure, the 4,305-pound MKS is almost large enough to qualify for weigh station status, but its plush, compliant ride ensures that neither pavement nor driver is negatively impacted by its girth. The weight and plushness of the MKS gives the impression that the Lincoln sedan isn't going to tackle challenging chicanes on the world's best race tracks, and our experiences around town support the theory. While the MKS holds its own when cornering hard, thanks in large measure to its Haldex AWD system, its sheer mass and relatively high center of gravity means that no amount of suspension engineering is going to make this big Lincoln feel like a track star.
In a straight line, though, the MKS can flat-out ball. Ford tells us that the MKS EcoBoost will hit 60 in six seconds flat, and we'd speculate that it'd probably hit the magic mark a couple of tenths faster. That puts the straight-line performance of the boosted MKS in the middle of the pack compared to its V8-powered large lux competition, while keeping efficiency and CO2 emissions at V6-levels.
To properly manage all of its power, the MKS EcoBoost swaps gears with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic. The MKS EcoBoost also has the option of changing gears via paddle shifters on the steering wheel or on the console-mounted shifter. We found the paddle shifters to be fairly quick on the trigger and fun to use, but the muted tones of the force-fed V6 and the MKZ's somewhat limited pedal feel (and probably our limited attention span) led us to hit redline and bog out on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately, the polished nature of the MKS means that you feel little of the exhilaration associated with going fast. Stab the accelerator and the MKS will take off with authority. But you won't hear the rumble of a powerful engine, the tires won't scream, the front end won't lift on takeoff. The MKS EcoBoost just goes, level and steady, without any hint of drama. That may be fine for the average executive looking to mix in a little off-line pep on the way to the golf course, but we tend to want something more visceral. At the very least, Ford needs to dial in a better exhaust note to remind the owner that he or she has plunked down the extra dough for the EcoBoost, even if aural stimulation is only audible during hard acceleration.
On the safety front, the MKS feels as much like a Sherman tank than it does a large luxury sedan. Big, thick doors, airbags everywhere, and a cockpit that feels like it's impenetrable to all but the most advanced weaponry gave us an untested sense of security. Adaptive cruise control was one of the safety options checked off on our tester, and we used the radar-based feature quite a bit. On the freeway, the system helps keep your foot off the accelerator and the brake, as it automatically adjusts speed to keep a safe distance between you and the car in front. It works as advertised, and it isn't as overbearing as some systems we've used before, but we're more than a little turned off by its $1,310 price tag. That's a lot of coin for a feature few will use regularly.
The MKS also comes equipped with a collision warning heads-up display that flashes and beeps if the radar system senses you're going to mount another vehicle from behind. If danger is imminent, the brakes pre-charge for improved response. The heads-up system isn't our favorite feature, but in an age where drivers are more interested in text messaging and Twittering while behind the wheel, we're thinking it's one safety advancement that will avert a few fender benders.
Additionally, the MKS' multitude of sensors can help you park. Whether backing in or going into a spot nose-first, the system beeps whenever you get too close to another vehicle. We would have liked the system to be a bit less touchy, though, as the beeps, buzzes and flashing red lights made us feel like we were driving a pinball machine. And we don't want to hear the flat-line sound while parking, only to find out that we're still over a foot away from the vehicle in front of us.
While we were down on the EcoBoosted Taurus SHO's inability to fulfill the promise of the SHO badge, our feelings are a bit different when it comes to the more upscale MKS. In the large luxury segment, V8 power is still necessary to remain competitive, while a cushy demeanor takes precedence over razor-sharp handling. The MKS EcoBoost delivers on both fronts, while also providing superior fuel economy compared to its competitors.
So is the MKS EcoBoost for you? If you desire a plush ride, strong acceleration and interior appointments that will make you feel coddled, the twin-turbo MKS is definitely worth a look. If you want sports car handling and a tight turning radius, look somewhere else.
For the last year and a half, Ford has repeatedly discussed EcoBoost as its high volume, mainstream technology for reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. While Ford is putting a lot of effort into developing hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles, the high cost of those technologies will keep volumes low for the near term. Meanwhile, engine downsizing combined with turbocharging and direct fuel injection (GTDI) can cut consumption for a much lower cost. The technology arrives this summer, and while it has a green sheen to it, there's plenty of excitement for gearheads, as we've just learned.
Ford's first GTDI engine is the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 that is set to debut in the Lincoln MKS, MKT, Ford Flex and Taurus SHO. Over the last eight months, Ford has conducted a number of background preview drives with EcoBoost equipped vehicles that we haven't been allowed to discuss. With production starting in the next few weeks, however, Ford allowed us to drive some pilot production examples of the two Lincolns powered by EcoBoost engines at its Romeo Proving Ground in Michigan. This time, we can finally tell you about it and give you a preview of the new MKT.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc
With sales of the big Navigator sinking into oblivion along with just about every other full size SUV, Lincoln is introducing the MKT as a three-row, seven-passenger alternative for those who need something a bit bigger than the MKX. The MKT shares its Volvo-derived architecture with the Ford Flex. The rectilinear super-sized Mini styling of the Flex has been replaced with a look more in keeping with the current Lincoln design language that debuted on the MKR concept before being adapted to the production MKS. It is a look that's at once distinctive and controversial – not everyone will like it, but the MKT certainly stands apart from the crowd.
For our preview drive, we had the chance to compare the EcoBoost-equipped MKT against a more SUV-minded crossover, the 4.2-liter V8-powered Audi Q7. The Audi was chosen because, like the Lincoln, it can accommodate seven occupants (five in actual comfort) with a similar footprint. When developing the MKT and MKS, Lincoln considered whether to offer a V8 engine to compete with premium competitors. However, given the expectation that fuel economy and emissions standards would get tougher, the choice was made to follow a different path.
Thus, the Blue Oval has wrought an EcoBoost V6 that produce power levels equal to or better than competing 4.2- to 4.6-liter V8 engines, but with substantially better torque. We've already described the EcoBoost technology at length so we'll just briefly recap here. Turbocharging is nothing new to Ford or other automakers. Ford first started playing with downsized turbocharged engines in the early '80s. At that time, carburetors and and later port fuel injection meant that compression ratios had to be cut in order to prevent knocking and detonation. The result was weak low end torque, followed by a sudden rush of power. These engines had reliability issues and generally weren't that pleasant to drive.
The key to these new engines is direct fuel injection. With the turbochargers now pushing nothing but compressed air into the combustion chamber, there is no longer an opportunity for pre-ignition. Directly injecting fuel into the combustion chamber actually cools the compressed intake charge allowing the compression ratio of the EcoBoost engines to be kept much higher than in the past. The result: the 3.5-liter EcoBoost hits its torque peak of 350 lb-ft at just 1,500 rpm and stays there all the way to 5,250 rpm. The power peaks at 355 hp at 5,700 rpm. By comparison, the Q7 V8 generates only 325 lb-ft and peaks at 3,500 rpm.
For our preview drive of the EcoBoost MKT, we started off with three laps of the Romeo Proving Ground's five-mile high speed oval in both vehicles. For the first lap, we ran at speeds of up to 100 mph to evaluate the power and smoothness of the engines at sustained high speeds. For the second lap, we dropped speeds down to about 40 mph and tried out light to medium throttle tip-ins to simulate what a driver might need to make a pass on a two-lane road. For the third and final lap, we set the cruise control to 70 mph and reset the mileage readout to record highway mileage at constant speed.
Anyone who's driven any of the bigger Fords and Lincolns of the past couple of years will be familiar with Ford's 6F50 six-speed automatic transaxle. This unit was co-developed with General Motors, but each company does their own control software. In Blue Oval guise, this transmission is one of the smoothest shifting units on the market. For EcoBoost applications, the gearbox has been upgraded with beefed-up gears and clutches and an optimized torque converter. The EcoBoost versions also get steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and standard all-wheel drive.
As we soon discovered, the engine and transmission combination seems particularly well matched in these vehicles. In fact, anyone who was to climb in and drive off in a MKT without knowing what was under the hood would be hard pressed to guess that only six cylinders are doing the heavy lifting. In spite of the immense torque, the MKT just pulls away from the line smoothly and quietly. In fact, quiet is the major element of the MKT driving experience. Ford's aerodynamicists have put a lot of effort into subduing wind noise, which, combined with thicker acoustic side glass and an upgraded structure, allow the MKT to cruise in comfort at speeds well beyond 100 mph. When cruising at more modest velocities, the EcoBoost V6 is nearly silent and vibration free, only making its presence felt audibly when you stand on it. Even then, it produces a quality mechanical sound that's a satisfying addition to the driving experience.
Where the EcoBoost engine really showed its performance advantage over the Audi was when it came to throttle tip-in. The EcoBoost's fat and flat torque curve gives the Lincoln a response that is almost diesel-like, albeit without the attendant soundtrack. A light squeeze on the go pedal results in a seamless sweep of the speedometer needle clockwise around the dial, even without a kick-down of the transmission. Simply put, it's just a rush of acceleration. Regardless of whether you're going from 40 to 60 mph, from 50 to 70 mph, or 70 to 100 mph, the result is the same. Attempting the same feat in the Q7 results in a response far less impressive in its forcefulness. As good an engine as the Audi V8 is, it simply doesn't have anywhere near the low-end torque of the EcoBoost V6.
Of course, the biggest reason for going with a boosted V6 rather than a V8 is better fuel consumption. We ran a five-mile lap in each vehicle with the cruise control set at 70 mph. This is obviously far too short a test to be considered definitive, but it gives a reasonable indication of the results we can expect. Winds were blowing at speeds up to 40 mph on the day of our drive, but since we ran in both directions on the oval, its impact was minimized. The final EPA numbers for the MKT aren't ready yet, but Ford is expecting them to be at least 16 mpg city and 22 mpg on the highway. For comparison's sake, the Audi Q7 is rated by the EPA at 13/18 mpg and it registered 18.8 mpg on our short test. The same resulted in an average of 22 mpg for MKT, with a peak of 23.8 mpg on the tailwind side of the oval. That's a healthy 17% better than the V8-powered Audi, although other factors like weight, aerodynamics, mechanical drag, etc. need to be considered in this comparison.
Following our oval laps, we headed over to the hill route and durability loops for some ride and handling evaluations of the MKT and Q7. When we drove the Flex last summer, we were particularly impressed with the dynamic behavior of the big wagon. For such a large vehicle, it felt remarkably well-balanced with a great combination of spring and damping rates that kept body roll and understeer in check while still delivering a comfortable ride. For the EcoBoost MKT, the engineers have continued tweaking the formula, and when run back to back against the Q7, the difference was immediately apparent. In short, the Flex drives like a vehicle much smaller than it is, and the same is true of the MKT in spite of its luxury ambitions. You can manhandle the MKT hard into a corner, and the combination of well-tuned mechanical bits and seamless stability control intervention allow it to just track through at speeds that are surprisingly high for a CUV.
Unlike many of the other premium vehicles on the road with automatic transmissions, the MKT doesn't offer an explicit sport mode for the transmission. Sport modes typically move the shift points higher and enable downshifts under braking. Normally, moving the shifter to the manual mode enables the steering wheel paddles. However, moving the gearshift to manual (but not touching the paddles) enables a hill mode that behaves in much the same way. While the EcoBoost doesn't really need the higher revs to optimize performance thanks to its ample torque, the automatic downshifts can be handy and entertaining during more aggressive driving.
Aside from changes to the springs and dampers, the only real mechanical change to the suspension of the EcoBoost vehicles is the debut of electric power steering assist. The EPAS system will eventually be rolled out to non-EcoBoost models, as well. EPAS is notoriously hard to calibrate for good feedback, with only a few vehicles doing an excellent job, other systems border on terrible. The MKT falls somewhere in the middle. There are no on-center dead zones like we've experienced in the Acura TL and TSX, but the effort is a bit on the light side under some conditions. Overall, it is a good effort and the steering engineers will no doubt continue to tweak the calibrations.
Around the facility's durability route, there were a variety of different surfaces, many of them uneven, replicating roads that can be found out in the real world. It was here that the MKT really outshone the Q7. The big German bobbed nervously up-and-down and side-to-side over uneven pavement in a manner that would prompt most drivers to slow down significantly. The MKT, on the other hand, exhibited far superior control over both its vertical and lateral body motions. At the same time, the bumps and valleys were simply gobbled up by the suspension, keeping things serene inside the cabin.
Speaking of the cabin, we found the inside of the MKT a wonderful place to be. The dashboard and door panels are trimmed in cut-and-sew leather, and all models get the same eight-inch LCD touchscreen in the center stack – regardless of whether they are equipped with a nav system. Even without nav, you get the same basic graphical interface that we've found to be among the easiest to use of any on the market, regardless of price. The MKT seats are also outstanding, with nice, long lower cushions that provide excellent thigh support. All MKTs get a massive glass roof as standard, with a retracting panel over the front row as an option. The one place where the Lincoln loses out to its Ford-badged sibling, however, is the third row. The forward sloping rear glass and downward trending roof means the back row is a bit tighter in terms of headroom than the cubist Ford.
Once we finished with the MKT, we ran the same evaluations with the MKS four-door and found much the same results. For the sedan, Ford offered up competition in the form of the Infiniti M45X and Cadillac STS. Both of the competitors are at the end of their lifecycles, but remain competent vehicles, particularly the former. Perhaps when Lincoln gets around to longer drives of the EcoBoost MKS, they will bring out the new Mercedes E-Class instead. Regardless of the competition, the MKS revealed itself to be a surprisingly good car. That's significant, because as recently as a decade ago, the thought of a big Lincoln sedan that could run like the MKS was all but unthinkable.
Over the same hill route as the MKT, the MKS more than held its own and felt surprisingly tossable. The EcoBoost V6 proved to have plenty of grunt for pulling out of corners, and the suspension kept the car remarkably composed. Just as in the crossover, there is no adaptive damping on the Lincoln, but the system kept body motions well under control at all times. When we hit the oval with the sedans, the results also corresponded to what we experienced with the MKT.
In spite of the ten-inch longer Lincoln weighing some 300 pounds more, it felt significantly more responsive both at full and part throttle compared to the Infiniti, whose 4.5-liter V8 is rated at 325 hp and 336 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. The MKS' mileage results were also similar to its more family-minded sibling. We averaged 25.1 mpg around the loop in the Lincoln, while the M45x only achieved 21 mpg, a disadvantage of 16.4%. Again, the results of our too-brief test should be taken with several grains of salt, but they should also provide a reasonably accurate forecast at what to expect in real-world driving.
All four EcoBoost models go on sale later this summer, and we'll have more in-depth reviews when they are available. Come 2010, Ford promises that a longitudinal version of the EcoBoost V6 will find a home in the F-150 pickup (and most likely in the Mustang eventually, as well). We've already driven an early prototype F-150 with EcoBoost, and while it was far from finished, our initial impressions were positive. In fact, it bordered on "Who needs a V8?" Sometime later next year, we also expect to also see the first four-cylinder EcoBoost engines in the bay of the next-generation Focus. Although the latter application will probably be more fuel-economy minded than performance oriented, but we can hardly wait.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc
New Car Test Drive
Flagship luxury car offers sharp handling.
The Lincoln MKS is the marque's flagship luxury sedan. The MKS is a serious performer in the luxury sedan segment following upgrades for 2010 that included a new turbocharged engine and a brilliantly retuned suspension. A full-size sedan, the Lincoln MKS offers a choice of V6 engines and front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
The EcoBoost engine, a 3.5-liter V6 with two relatively small turbochargers that build boost very quickly, delivers 355 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, and returns EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers of 17 mpg City and a highly commendable 25 mpg Highway. We discovered pressing down on the throttle moves the MKS with V8-like authority, with plenty of get-up-and-go from any reasonable speed, while still delivering fuel economy more in line with what would be expected of a V6.
The standard engine is a 3.7-liter V6 of 273 horsepower and EPA fuel economy figures of 17/24 mpg with front-wheel drive and 16/23 mpg with all-wheel drive. Each engine is matched with a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The 3.7-liter engine is available with front drive or all-wheel drive, and the EcoBoost engine is available only with the all-wheel drive.
We found the Lincoln MKS a vigorous, big luxury car with a sporting heart. It will devour twisting country roads with poise and enthusiasm, delivering accurate, lively road feel that keeps the driver alert and thoroughly engaged.
The Lincoln MKS cuts a handsome profile. Its muscular, long body is trimmed with chrome highlights, giving it the flash of a thoroughbred American.
Inside is a roomy cabin, most notably in the rear compartment. The cabin design and quality materials, typified by elegant leather upholstery, confirm that this is an automobile for those accustomed to fine surroundings. The MKS offers the latest in technology.
The 2011 Lincoln MKS carries over largely unchanged, with only a few changes that involve technology. The available voice-activated navigation system now offers HD RadioTM technology; if a selected station is broadcasting with HD Radio technology, the system automatically picks up the signal and transitions to digital audio. And the Lincoln SYNC connectivity system, standard on the MKS, now integrates Traffic, Directions & Information with the voice-activated navigation system, giving hands-free access to personalized traffic reports, turn-by-turn driving directions, and up-to-date information on business, news, sports, and weather.
We found the big eight-inch display excellent and its systems easy to operate, which can't be said for some much more expensive German luxury cars. Personal CD photos can be loaded on the in-dash monitor. Local gas stations can be searched, arranged by nearness or price per gallon. During our time in the car, we followed the progress of a violent storm on an in-dash Doppler radar monitor, and pressing a couple of buttons displayed the five-day forecast. The system will play DVD movies with 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.
The 2011 Lincoln MKS is available with front-wheel drive ($41,270), all-wheel drive ($43,160), and EcoBoost with all-wheel drive ($48,160).
The Navigation Package ($2500) adds a voice-activated DVD navigation system with integrated Sirius Travel Link, THX II with 5.1 premium Surround Sound audio and MP3 capability, and a rearview camera. The Base Ultimate Package ($4,500) includes the Navigation Package, dual-panel moonroof, 19-inch wheels, Ultimate seating, and interior premium wood door trim. The EcoBoost Navigation Package ($3,500) includes the above, but not the 19-inch wheels, which are standard with the EcoBoost. Other options include the dual-panel moonroof ($1,695), and adaptive cruise control ($1,295).
Safety features include dual-stage front airbags plus seat-mounted side airbags for head and torso protection, as well as seat-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 spot a child behind the car when backing up.
The presence of the MKS is 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. According to company stylists, the aggressive boat prow-like MKS grille recalls the classic pre-war Lincoln Continental; yet in the same gesture, they say, this stands as a symbol of the new Lincoln's aggressive thrust forward into the 21st century.
While appearing rock steady in profile, the Lincoln MKS has a dynamic stance that seems ready to pounce. And viewed from the rear on the interstate, this car has the imposing presence, in scaled-down form, of an ultra-luxury sedan. It makes generous use of chrome highlighting, supported by understated side sculpting in profile view.
The Lincoln MKS, with an overall length of 204.1 inches and dignified height of 61.6 inches, is a fully found luxury sedan that will earn its place in the rivalries of valet parking. However, as with many luxury sedans that aspire to sleekness (Jaguar sedans come to mind) its handsomely rounded forms leave the impression that it is smaller than it really is.
On the plus side, the air passing over the MKS at 70 mph flows smoothly and silently, contributing to both a quiet, peaceful commute and good highway fuel efficiency. When it's time to refuel, the Lincoln MKS features a refueling receptacle that eliminates the messiness of a gas cap.
Seated in the cockpit of the Lincoln 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 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 sturdiness one might have hoped for in this car. The buttons and switches and A/C ducting adjusters felt generic, as if they might be found on any Ford. Otherwise, the appearance and materials in the cabin were swank.
The Lincoln MKS benefits from the luxury of fine leather seating. The front seat cushion and particularly the backrest provide steadying lateral support. Both front seats have 12-way and lumbar power adjustments. The twin front seats are both heated and cooled, and the rear seats are heated. Long-range driving comfort is good and the fit and quality of the leather is excellent throughout. Visibility is similarly excellent from the driving position. The forward-leaning proximity of the headrest to the back of the head was a minor annoyance, but it is placed there for improved safety and cannot be adjusted.
The stepped gearshift controlling the SelectShift 6-speed automatic is simple and straightforward, and the paddle shifters, standard in the EcoBoost, are located on each side of the steering wheel, allowing full manual shifting. Fully automatic shifting is provided normally, but for curvier roads where engine braking will heighten control, the paddle shifts are invaluable.
The HVAC system provided generous torrents of cooling or warming air.
The navigation system features a bright, eight-inch screen. We found the navigation system a good companion to our test drive through tortuous, ever-changing two-lane backcountry blacktop. Industry-leading Lincoln connectivity allowed us to monitor the local weather in real time and stay in touch with the outside world. Returning to the traffic-challenged environment of urban Washington, D.C., we were easily able to sort out the traffic jams ahead and find the least annoying route to our destination. Touching the screen on a traffic jam revealed the cause. The navigation screen 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.
The premium-quality THX II sound system and satellite-radio accessibility delivers superb concert Surround Sound. And using Ford's voice-activated Sync system, we were able to order changes in programming without 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 high quality of the system and the well sound-deadened cabin.
Second-row riders will enjoy the Lincoln 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 lax support. The concave, radiused seatbacks are nicely sculpted, providing plenty of lateral support. We found them very comfortable for two adults. The center position is suitable only for a child.
Cargo space is generous. The actual volume is a respectable 18.7 cubic feet, but trunk access is via a tight entryway. When fully loaded with luggage, however, the Lincoln MKS should make an excellent grand-touring machine. A pass-through is provided for skis.
With the notable exception of the spirited Lincoln LS, which the MKS replaces, Lincolns have not been valued for their sporting character. But the Lincoln MKS, particularly with the EcoBoost powertrain, changes this dramatically. While delivering better highway fuel mileage than its non-turbocharged stablemate, the EcoBoost delivers 355 horsepower, and accelerating from any engine speed, the 350 pound-feet of torque on hand ensures immediate, vigorous response.
Ford's EcoBoost system eliminates the least hint of turbo lag, that annoying hesitation in many turbocharged engines before they begin generating power. In the EcoBoost, small water-cooled turbochargers that can respond extremely quickly are combined with a high-pressure fuel pump to ensure immediate power delivery. These turbochargers are designed for a life cycle of 150,000 miles.
With the EcoBoost engine, paddle shifters on the steering wheel allow the same degree of engine-speed control as would an old-style stick shift. However, operating the paddle shifters requires no exotic downshifting skills. Using the paddles well brings the Lincoln MKS platform fully to life.
Another exemplary quality of the front-wheel-drive Lincoln MKS is that it feels more like a well-balanced rear-wheel-drive sedan, with all four wheels planted and contributing firm directional guidance. The car exhibits no torque-steer, that unsettling sensation that occurs when strong acceleration causes the steering to pull left or right. The Lincoln MKS suspension delivers terrific agility and road feel. Combined with EcoBoost's standard all-wheel drive, standard, the Lincoln MKS is a comfortable, confidence-inspiring all-weather sedan with truly impressive performance.
The 2011 Lincoln MKS delivers first-rate interstate-cruising ability. It's a touring sedan that is hungry for the horizon, with the added benefit of sporty, enthusiastic feel on curvy roads. Add its first-rate creature comforts, and the 2011 Lincoln MKS is a genuinely enviable luxury vehicle.
The Lincoln MKS is a fine performance luxury car, and venturing deep into the realm of onboard connectivity gives it an interesting mix of strengths. With the EcoBoost V6 and great driving dynamics, the 2011 Lincoln MKS is a fine solution for discriminating luxury buyers.
Ted West filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after a test drive of the MKS near Washington.
Lincoln MKS ($41,270), AWD ($43,160); EcoBoost AWD ($48,160).
Options As Tested
Navigation Package ($3,500) includes voice-activated DVD navigation system, Sirius Travel Link with six-month subscription, premium 16-speaker surround-sound audio, rearview camera, dual-panel moonroof, Ultimate seating.
Lincoln MKS EcoBoost AWD ($47,760).
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