Ford is attempting to reboot and redefine it’s Lincoln brand in about one third the time that General Motors took to reboot Cadillac. They are doing it with new or refreshed vehicles and an cohesive (though maybe not with a Zen like theme™ RoundAboutShow) Much like Cadillac’s Art & Science look, most people either love or hate the new front end design of Lincoln.
For a brief moment in time Lincoln were drawing inspiration from the ‘62-’65 Continental's which was most pronounced in the MKX which we tested back in May, and the Navigator, which, like the Town Car, might not be long for this world. Like it or not the “Waterfall Grill” look for Lincoln at least makes a statement, you aren’t going to mistake it for any other brand, and in this day and age when sometimes it’s difficult to visually distinguish between brands this is important.
Now channeling my inner Dennis Miller from his old HBO show, “I don’t mean to go off on a rant here,” but this continuing naming convention of MK(insert letter here) is beyond dumb. I know in theory that by going in this direction it’s easier to avoid trademark issues, but with the history of name plates that Lincoln can draw from it’s own portfolio, or borrow from Ford, give me a break. MK is supposed to reference the “Mark” brand, problem is the Mark brand was always attached to a two door coupe going back to the 1950’s. Then you have the problem with the third letter and what is it supposed to represent. OK “X” from Crossover, “S” for Sedan, but shouldn’t “T” be for Truck or Town Car, Lincoln says the T is for “Touring” and someone help me out what “Z” is for. OK I know the MKZ was originally the Zephyr, but shouldn’t that be “M” for Mid Sized or “E” for Entry Level? Then you have the issue of your two outliers the Town Car and the Navigator. Until they are killed off you have two different naming conventions with the brand, thus avoiding that Zen like theme.
Do you change up the Navigator to MKR? The “R” being for Redundant with the MKT now in the lineup? After all the MKT, which we have had in for review and will be posted in the very near future, hauls five to seven people in more style, comfort and mileage than the Navigator. Do you call the Town Car the MKA? The “A” being for Airport car since that is what you see picking up people at the airport.
The problem with these lettering naming conventions is they are generic. Cadillac and Acura to name a couple companies have gone down this path and hit still boggles my mind. Acura less so because they only have 25 years to draw upon, but with the two American luxury brands they have 80+ years of names to draw on and distinguish them. It seems the bolder and further out they go with their styling, the more they balance that off with throw away name plates.
What’s so wrong with calling the Z the Zephyr, and drawing upon Lincoln’s history for others. The MKT could easily be the Premier, the X could have taken the Aviator badge since it’s basically replaced that vehicle, and the MKS which I guess we should get to talking about here could and should be the Continental.
Lincoln needed some mid level luxury car to fill in sales figures with the Town Car all but relegated to Airport Black Sedan duty’s and gasolines sharp movement north in 2008 killed Navigator sales. Thankfully Ford was hard at work at the replacement for the 500/Taurus and Lincoln was able to jump on board with a version for themselves.
This is not a straight badge engineering job, there are many differences between the two cars, yet if you know it’s based of the new Taurus, and you’ve driven the new Taurus, the linkage us undeniable. The MKS feels like the big substantial sedan that it is, but it does hold a few surprises. Rather than being some luxo-barge that one might think a Lincoln would be, it’s actually handles quite well. While the road off of Highway 68 that leads you up to Laguna Seca Raceway may have more curves than all the roads in South East Michigan combined, we did find a few spots to push the general handling of the car and it was borderline shocking how well it tackled them. Off ramps with posted speeds of 30 were no problem at almost double that speed! While it’s not as light as feet as a Lotus Elise, or an Elise carrying another Elise on it’s roof, it’s better than you would expect for a 4200lbs car. Clearly some of the suspension upgrades that that SHO Taurus got made there way onto the MKS.
Steering communication, more like a string and two styrofoam cups connected by a string clarity rather than a fiber optic one. You turn, it goes, but feedback is not there, you just have to trust it. Granted the MKS isn’t likely to pull people interested in a BMW 5 Series away, nor those looking at an E Class Merc, strangely though I could see the Lincoln people targeting the A6 Audi crowd. It’s not a European like firm ride, maybe a touch softer than the CTS SportWagon we drove right before this. What this car will do, much like it’s brother the Taurus is suck up highway miles by the hundreds.
The big thing for the MKS is the power plant. Ford has deposited the 3.5 liter twin turbo EcoBoost motor under the hood. With 355 horsepower and a torque number equalling the horsepower, with a curve that looks like the Mesa’s in a John Ford Western, equals a lot of fun. The motor ticks all the right boxes for a modern lump, twin quick spooling turbos with direct injection that allow for a much higher compression ration of 10:1 and variable cam timing make turbo lag almost non existent. Ford claim a 20% improvement in fuel economy over a similar V8. While we didn’t notice any lag per se, when the tach was north of 2500 RPM you felt the power really build, not that it was missing below that area.
On a two lane highway or a four lane one, point the MKS in a direction and it goes willingly. The cockpit is comfortable, the seats give good support and the THX Stereo is fantastic. Unlike out experience with the THX system in the MKX which we found greatly disappointing this one was quite good be it with audio, or with video. We popped in “The Incredibles” DVD which is a THX 5.1 disc and right way you could tell the separation of channels. The video screen which has a matte finish looked pretty good as well. It’s not going to make you think you’re at home with your 50” Pioneer Kuro, but then again what are you doing watching a DVD while you’re driving!
We do have to spend a minute or two on my favorite subject of late and that’s the choice of materials for the interior. Lincoln's have a very uniform interior look, which we don’t have a problem with, but the material used to cover them is a bit lacking. It has soft touch surfaces, but the material has a plastic like leatherette feel. There is a minor bit of fake wood trim in the car which on the dash is a nice contrast to the acres of black, but the minor bit of it on top of the steering wheel would be better off having not been added. If you think grabbing a cold leather wheel on a 15F° Michigan morning is bad, just grab that bit of plastic on top of the wheel and it’s worse. Is it too much for a car with a sticker price $200 shy of $55,000 to have a heated steering wheel? How about remote start? Shouldn’t a car which you don’t need to insert a key to start, just push a button also have the ability to unlock your doors just by the same proximity sensor? My last gripe in this area isn’t exclusive to the Lincoln but if I had the seat heaters on when I turned off the car and the cockpit temp is sub freezing when I get back in, wouldn’t logic dictate that I might want the seat heaters on at least as high as I had them before? Sorry one other thing, should it take almost three miles of stop and go driving before I can feel the seats heating up? My girlfriends five year old Escape will have good heat on your back side within ONE mile!
Lastly I’d like to talk about the trunk. It’s large, it’s deep, but the mail slot that you have available to load and unload items makes it awkward. The opening has sufficient height, it’s the lack, as in almost zero, depth that causes the issues. Fishing grocery bags out of there was a bit of a challenge.
It’s taken us some time to come up with a grade for the MKS. We kept going back and forth between C+ and B-. There are areas of the interior which we think need an upgrade in quality of materials or at least some materials that have better contrast in color and texture, the access to the trunk was also not the best. To the plus side the car drove much better than we expecting and was a genuine surprise in several instances. We aren’t quite the target demographic for this car so we look at it differently then maybe we should. On the other hand it’s the demographic that I’m in that Lincoln need to be reaching to grow their brand going forward.
This is a crowded space in the market right now with some very good choices to be had. Does the MKS run with the leaders, no, but is it closer to that pack than you might think, yes, and that’s why it slides in with a B-. If nothing else it’s worth a test drive to see how it stacks up against it’s competition and see if it breaks your current perceptions of what a Lincoln is.