June 9, 2008

Photo Gallery: 2009 Lincoln MKS

Specifications: 2009 Lincoln MKS

The Guide: 2009 Lincoln MKS

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Washington, D.C. – After ruling the top of Lincoln’s hierarchy for so long, the venerable Town Car finally steps aside. For 2009, Lincoln has a new flagship sedan, the MKS, which is now in production in Chicago and which will begin shipping to Canadian dealers shortly.

The company will still produce the Town Car, now moved to Ford’s plant in St. Thomas, Ontario, but it’s kept strictly for fleet sales. Unlike the rear-wheel drive Town Car, the new MKS bases with front-wheel drive, and can be optioned to an all-wheel system that can send up to 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels when necessary.

The new model is built on a widened version of the platform that’s also used for the Ford Taurus, but unlike the MKZ and MKX, which are wholly based on the Ford Fusion and Edge respectively, the MKS has no equivalent in the Ford line-up, or with Mercury in the U.S. This helps to mark the beginning of the company’s plan to give Lincoln a unique character among its brands, and many of its new styling cues, including its “double-wing” grille, heavier C-pillars, chamfered belt line, clean “slab-side” doors and fenders, and upholstery materials by Scottish leather company Bridge of Weir should eventually make their way throughout all of the company’s models.

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This new Lincoln also carries a new engine: a 3.7-litre V6, derived from the company’s family of 3.5-litre Duratec engines, and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. With FWD, fuel economy is rated at 12.5 L/100 in the city and 8.4 on the highway; in AWD, it’s 12.9 and 8.8. Sometime next year, the MKS is slated to become the first Ford product to carry the company’s new EcoBoost engine, which uses twin turbochargers and direct fuel injection to provide, as the company says, the power of a V8 with the fuel economy of a V6; projections are up to 20 per cent better fuel economy and 15 per cent fewer CO2 emissions, depending on the application. The EcoBoost will also go into the new Ford Flex, and eventually, into half a million various vehicles each year.

While the EcoBoost is still to come, this newest Lincoln boasts a huge number of technological features. There’s Ford’s new capless fuel filler system, which uses a flapper valve in place of a gas cap and also eliminates the possibility of an engine check light from an improperly-closed cap; a proximity key with pushbutton start, the first time for the brand; adaptive Xenon headlamps that swivel up to 15 degrees when the front wheels are turned, to light up curves ahead; Ford’s SYNC system, with hands-free, voice-activated integration of cellular phones and music players; rain-sensing wipers; and available radar-based adaptive cruise control, voice-activated navigation system, and THX 5.1 surround sound stereo. Perhaps the coolest is a new keypad system, a next-generation version of the code-based door lock system that’s been a Ford trademark for decades. Instead of buttons on the window frame or door, the new system is a glossy black panel on the B-pillar that lights up and displays the numbers only when you run your hand over it. It’s a really neat feature and keeps the Lincoln’s styling clean and uncluttered; it may seem redundant in an era of keyless entry, but customers love it, especially when they need to retrieve something from the car and the key fob’s in the house or hotel room. The new panel also works as the trigger for the proximity sensor; if the fob’s in your pocket, you open the car by just waving your hand front of the keypad.

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The interior also marks some new moves ahead for the company. It includes high-quality materials, such as the vegetable-tanned leather, along with special emphasis on eliminating “cut lines” wherever possible: the glovebox door area is a single panel, while the sides of the centre console flow unbroken from front to back. It’s all a bit busy with a number of different patterns and textures, but overall, it’s quite attractive, especially since there’s just enough chrome throughout to add tasteful emphasis without being overpowering. A bright strip that runs across the dash and into the doors pulls it all together very elegantly, with a nod to the brand’s storied past, and there are tiny swatches of chrome on the vent handles. The instrument cluster contains simple, easy-to-read dials, although the fuel and temperature gauges are housed in a weird little plastic trough that reminded me of a window planter box, the kind that should have ivy dangling out of it.

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The front and rear seats are heated, and the front ones are cooled as well, with 12-way power adjustment; there’s a power rear sunshade (which dips down when the car’s put into Reverse), dual-zone climate control, a genuine wood inlay in the steering wheel, and an optional dual-panel sunroof. Seat side and curtain airbags are standard, but surprisingly, there are no active head restraints, a curious omission given the importance of rear crash protection and the role that these simple devices can play. The company also lost my vote on the rain-sensing wipers, which I got to try when a massive storm swept through our intended route. As with similar systems from every other manufacturer offering them, they worked fine in steady rain, but weren’t sure what to do when it turned to drizzle. I wish automakers would stop thinking that high-end buyers aren’t capable of figuring out that it’s raining; the variable intermittent variety is still the benchmark for reliable visibility in all conditions.

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As expected, the MKS is exceptionally roomy and comfortable, both back and front. The trunk is equally large, but there’s a very high lift-over to reach into it. And most noticeably, this car is quiet. The engineers have put a great deal of effort into eliminating road and wind noise, including using acoustic laminated glass in the windshield and side windows, and they’ve done an exceptional job.

The new powertrain is practically faultless, with the 3.7-litre V6 producing 273 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. The MKS is a very heavy vehicle – the FWD version comes in at 1,872 kg, the AWD at a hefty 1,940 kg – but the engine never breaks a sweat pulling it around, no matter how hard you press the pedal. The throttle is smooth and acceleration is linear; the transmission shifts almost imperceptibly and keeps the engine right where it needs to be, without hunting for gears even on long or steep inclines.

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The ride is what you’d expect from a big Lincoln: silky and smooth, and just shy of being too lightly-sprung. But I didn’t like the steering, which I found far too loose. There’s a lot of play in the wheel, which gave a feeling of disconnection between steering input and what the front tires were doing. It was fine in a straight line – point this thing to the condo in Florida, and it would be a great trip – but on winding roads, the car felt wobbly and unsettled.

That might well be an issue with the buyers Lincoln is trying to woo from other brands; company officials said they’re aiming specifically at the Cadillac STS, Chrysler 300C, Lexus GS 350 and Infiniti M35. In addition to the fact that all of those are primarily rear-wheel drive – and I can see the MKS selling more heavily with the all-wheel system, for that reason – the competition’s superior steering feel will lean heavier with buyers who aren’t just of the point-and-drive variety. This Lincoln has the looks, technology and quality feel to stand up amongst its peers, but Ford’s going to have to dial that front end in a lot tighter before it’s all the way there. The MKS’ handling is a throwback to the days of big, plush land yachts, but that’s not what sells luxury cars anymore.

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Attractive 19-inch alloy wheels are standard, while a 20-inch version is available as an option. The company said it expects to have a 19-inch winter wheel package on board before the snow flies this year. In the U.S., 18-inch wheels are the default size, and buyers can order a base vehicle that’s below ours; items like the rain-sensing wipers, adaptive headlamps, navigation system, pushbutton start and sound system that are standard on the Canadian cars must be added to the U.S. models.

Even so, there’s a considerable difference in price: Canadian models start at $45,599 for front-wheel, and $47,799 for all-wheel. In the U.S., you’ll pay $7,934 and $8,244 less, respectively. (Ford of Canada’s official reason is that it priced to the Canadian competition, not to the U.S. Lincoln’s sticker.) What I do like is that the all-wheel is a stand-alone item, which accounts for the reasonable $2,200 difference between the two; all other features and options are the same on both models. On many vehicles, taking the all-wheel means adding a number of other items on top of it, which can mean unwanted options for those who prefer all-wheel, or missing items for those who only need power to the front wheels.

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Overall, the MKS is an extremely worthy successor to the Town Car, bringing Lincoln up to speed with modern styling, technology, an awesome powertrain and wraparound interior comfort. But the driving experience has to be part of that, and there needs to be attention paid in this crucial area if the company is going to target the competition it has in its sights. It doesn’t have to be sporty, but it does have to be snug; fix that, and this car’s a contender.


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