2009 Lincoln MKS AWD Review
By Igor Holas
I do realize that starting a review with a marketing slogan undermines my claim to objectivity, but that honestly is the feeling I had when I finished my week with this new flagship Lincoln. In the end, I felt the MKS drove, rode, and felt unlike any other car I have driven to date, and it spoiled me at every turn.
Off the bat, I have to confess to a different bias of mine; one you will see pop up throughout the review. While I loved the MKS, I am a conscientious objector to the idea of luxury sedans. I pride myself on evaluating practical cars that form a clear case for their utility and appeal. I like spoils and creature comforts as much as the other guys, but I just do not see the point in paying $50,000 for a sedan that still only seats five (sometimes four), does not get exceptional mileage, and does not bring me coffee in the morning.
So the MKS was not exactly up my alley, but I do have to say I loved it. It did everything I want a car to do and then some. It had all the gadgetry you can ask for, a luxurious interior, quiet and spacious cabin, very confident manner in curves, excellent AWD system, and a nice V6 underhood. However, you can get most of this on cars from more pedestrian brands (like Ford’s own Taurus) for $15,000 less. So while I loved the MKS, it did not win me over to become a believer in the need for luxury cars.
The MKS I drove was (of course) fully loaded. It included the steerable HID headlamps, panoramic sunroof, leather that came from Scotland, navigation, keyless ignition, and many, many other options. The price as tested was just shy of $50,000 which is a lot, but still an incredible bargain in the luxury segment.
The MKS is a large sedan. Building on innards related to the Ford Taurus (also the Taurus X and Flex), the MKS is long, wide and tall; it almost looked comical parked next to my neighbor’s Yaris, and it was tough making it fit into the tight spaces of my lot.
Size aside, the car features an array of flowing lines that add elegance to the look. The overall impression is not sporty, not by a long shot, but the car exudes elegance from all angles. The tester also wore the elegant and new-for-2009 Dark Ink Blue paint, which looked almost black in many lighting conditions; but when the blue did show, it showed with a vengeance.
The front features Lincoln’s new bow-wave split grille and narrow headlamps all integrated into a flowing shape. The only thing disturbing this look was the wide hood cut-line in the mid-section of the split grille. Lincoln should have integrated the whole grille into the hood, or opted for an inset hood a-la Chevy Malibu for a cleaner look. As it stands, this cutline, which is the widest on the whole car, destroys an incredibly elegant shape of the nose.
The sides and the rear are sculpted into nicely complex surfaces which seem to never be flat. Generous chrome accents dress up the car and let you know right away that this is not a blacked-out sports sedan – it is a luxury vehicle.
The interior nicely follows my favorable impression of the Mercury Mariner Voga. The MKS features a contrasting black-on-crème color scheme, which pleased my eye as did the Mariner’s. However, many other luxury brands are now experimenting more and more with colors such as red, brown, orange, and even pure white, and so where the Mariner was daring, the MKS is playing it a little safe. If you agree, and you are in the market for an MKS, hold out for the 2010 model; a Ford representative told me they plan to expand interior trim options in the second year of production, including the addition of more daring colors.
Context notwithstanding, the cabin is par excelance with soft touch materials and leather wherever you look. The seats are exceptionally shaped and hug your body whether you are cruising down a highway or having some fun on back roads.
Every material I touched was either leather, leatherette, carpet or soft plastic. Even the glove-box door, the base of the dashboard, and virtually the whole door panels were simply pleasant to touch. The leather is supplied by the Scottish Bridge of Weir leathermaker which has such brands as Aston Martin in its portfolio. The leather is incredibly supple, and looks fantastic.
One of Lincoln’s stated objectives in designing the interior was to minimize the number of visible cut lines, and they succeeded. The interior flows everywhere it can, and makes the whole dash look seamless and elegant. The horizontality and linearity of the dash design is very relaxing amidst self-consciously over-styled dashes of many other cars (Lexus ES and Buick Enclave, I am looking at you). The center stack is covered in a matte black plastic, and while I know many people who dislike it, it was a nice change from fake aluminum, wood, or such. The button-and-knob area is all business – and it looks the part, with neatly organized controls in logical groups. The buttons are a little too similar in size and shape, but I was able to memorize their function and location without much trouble. The navigation screen sits high in the dash – near the driver’s line of sight – but it is a little far to reach. Also, the giant wasted space near the base of the shifter is just that – wasted.
All of the other controls in the car were intuitive – beginning with Ford’s redesigned seat controls with power-adjustable lumbar, to power adjustable steering wheel, to the radio and HVAC controls. The navigation system is a next-generation system with additional features and a higher-resolution display, and is identical to the one in the Mariner tested last week. It worked just as seamlessly, as did the SYNC system.
The back seats are luxuriously large, with a nice armrest, and cheap looking heated seat controls. However, the back seats are extremely comfortable, and behind them is a trunk that is unbelievably spacious; especially for a sedan.
We should return to the notion of size here, because the MKS will never allow you to forget that it’s a large car. It takes up a lot of space on the road, and takes a lot of space to turn. It also glides over potholes, concrete highways, expansion joints, and road kill with nary a disturbance. The cabin is also exceptionally quiet, and unless you push the engine, it is aurally nonexistent.
So, yes, the MKS is a land yacht; however if you expect it wobble in corners, or leave you numb on the highway, you will be surprised. It is no Mazda or BMW, but the MKS is confident in all conditions. The chassis, while large and heavy, is perfectly controlled, and behaves exceptionally well under all conditions, letting you take a canyon road sharply, drive aggressively on the city streets, or dash down a highway, all the while making it seem like no big deal.
Despite being primarily driven by the front-wheels, Ford’s new all-wheel drive system makes you forget its front-wheel drive roots in every corner and every curve. The tail asks to step out and turns you without effort. I am sure that if I had pushed the car to its true limits, it would have understeered, but in real-world sharp driving, the car is exceptionally neutral in its behavior. If you have doubts about the car’s neutral handling, please do yourself a favor: go drive an AWD MKS and experience this new system, because it is truly revolutionary. The system no longer waits for wheel slippage to redistribute power; instead, it adjusts preemptively, which also means making the car truly AWD and even nearly RWD in its behavior during aggressive driving.
Overall, the car drove like a dream – it was relaxed yet in control, smooth, yet communicative, and big yet responsive.
Underhood, the new 3.7 liter V6 engine will not win any smoothness, noise, or horsepower shootouts in the luxury segment, but the low end torque was very satisfying, and helped the engine stand out from Ford’s and even Nissan’s 3.5 liter V6 engines. The car never felt flatfooted, and the transmission rarely had to downshift for acceleration. Speaking of the cog-shifter, it was very well matched with the engine and, like Ford’s other new six-speeds, it was exceptionally smooth. The Lincoln offers a manual shift gate, and like all other shift gates on automatics it worked, but was utterly useless to me.
The MKS in its AWD guise is rated at 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway, and I can confirm that those are about right. I did once manage about 26 miles per gallon, but that was on a smoothly flowing urban highway. When driven above 70 miles per hour, the mileage is squarely in the 23 mpg range. In the city, the mileage drops rapidly thanks to the MKS’ hefty curb weight, but I managed to keep it just about the EPA rating in almost all conditions. No doubt, however, that the curb weight will take an exceptional toll on red-light racers.
I loved the MKS. However, most of the features I loved about it are also available on the 2009 Taurus, bringing me to my original point. Platform-sharing aside, I simply cannot see the point of luxury sedans. The comparable pedestrian models are nowadays so refined and luxurious already, they feature many of the same technologies and gadgets, and have very similar powertrains, that I cannot see the reason to pay additional $15,000 for Scottish leather, leather covered dash, soft touch glove box, and a Lincoln star on the hood. This is not an attack on Lincoln. I see no point in paying for Mercedes, Lexus or Cadillac either; sure they handle well, but most other cars do, too.
The MKS did not make me a believer in luxury brands – but it did win me over in another area: Lincoln finally got its game together and released a no-compromise, no-excuses luxury sedan. Unless you truly crave pure RWD performance and the road feel of BMW 3-series (in which case you should be buying BMW 3 series), the MKS delivers performance, refinement, and luxury on par with anything else out there. It is smooth and refined, and spoils you wherever you turn. On top of that, it is incredibly cheap for the class, which my practical self, can appreciate.
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