By Chris Haak
After having just spent a week in a Taurus SHO, and finding that car to be expensive, somewhat cramped, but fast as heck, I was looking forward to investigating its luxury-car cousin, the Lincoln MKS EcoBoost. Would the Lincoln flagship sedan – which shares a platform, powertrain, and many other parts with the SHO – be a more-luxurious SHO? More importantly, would it be a credible luxury offering, and would its substantial price premium over the SHO be justified? I was champing at the bit to find out.
The MKS is an attractive-enough car. It doesn’t have proper luxury car proportions thanks to the limitations of its front wheel drive-based architecture (all wheel drive is optional on the MKS, and standard on the MKS EcoBoost model that I tested). The car’s front overhang is unfashionably long, but at least the car’s grille and headlights are (to my eyes) the most tasteful and successful implementation of the new Lincoln family face first seen on the lovely MKR concept of a few years ago. The MKT crossover, in contrast, has a similar front-end design but doesn’t pull it off as gracefully as the MKS does.
As the MKS is a traditional American luxury car and makes no pretensions about trying to be a German car competitor (at least in terms of driving dynamics or design), exterior chrome is abundant around the fog lights, grille, trunklid, and window frames. There’s also a chrome strip that begins at the base of the windshield and works its way over the tops of the doors and to the leading edge of the trunklid. The car’s flanks are mainly devoid of swage lines and many of the curves that designers around the world have been adding to their cars. The result is a handsome, yet fairly conservative shape.
My test vehicle was also equipped with the optional chrome wheels. Though it’s a short-greenhouse design as are so many cars today, visibility seemed a bit better than it was in the Taurus SHO. The rear seat also seemed to be a bit more spacious than the one in the Taurus as well, and headroom is fractionally better. It’s funny to me that the MKS’ designers managed to shed the dorky tall-roof proportions of the old Taurus/Sable (nee Five Hundred/Montego) while still maintaining reasonable interior volume, yet the Taurus designers (who are likely some of the same people) could not manage to do that, chopping that car’s roof about an inch too far.
Inside the MKS, soft-touch materials abound. Unlike in lower-spec cars, it’s not an easy exercise to find hard plastics to tap your fingertips on. Controls for items such as the audio and climate systems are mainly operated by pushing any of several rows of nearly-identical small plastic buttons on the center stack. The buttons’ functions are difficult to decipher at a quick glance when unfamiliar with the car, and they have a rough, hollow feel (the rough part is probably intentional, but I doubt that the hollow part is). The MKS has very soft leather on its seating surfaces. The seats are geared more toward comfort than for holding front seat occupants into their seats during back road jaunts.
Though the interior materials were decent, and the seat leather was excellent, the MKS’ interior falls short on a few details. The dashboard is covered by cut-and-sewn material as is the dash in the Cadillac CTS. Like the CTS’ dashboard, the material is curiously pebble-grained and not a convincing facsimile of leather. The CTS, though it doesn’t compete in the same size class as the MKS, has the cut-and-sewn treatment continuing across all four upper door panels, while the MKS has the same color and texture at the top of its door panels, but no stitching.
The half inch wide chrome strips across the door panels seemed a bit gaudy in their execution, and I was not fond of the “Interior Metallic Package” (included with the $2,995 EcoBoost Appearance Package) that swapped the standard car’s attractive wood accents for patterned metallic ones. The metallic trim (which at least seemed to be real metal instead of chromed plastic) seemed to be an attempt to convince folks of MKS EcoBoost’s sports sedan credentials, while in reality it’s a large near-luxury car with a very powerful engine. Frankly, it looked out of place in the MKS, EcoBoost model or not.
The MKS does not disappoint in terms of the technology and luxury features that it offers. Lincoln has deployed an impressive array of gadgets that are competitive with the best of what’s available elsewhere in the industry. That Ford has developed a self-parking system that is cheaper and simpler to use than the Toyota/Lexus solution is a good example of the technology that is included in the MKS. (I will concede that I did not read the owner’s manual on how to use the feature in the MKS, so could not get beyond the “searching” phase after pressing the self-parking button, so I will give the car the benefit of the doubt and assume it was operator error). The MKS’ adaptive cruise control works more smoothly than the system in Toyota and Lexus models, and its infotainment options are excellent, particularly the easy pairing with my iPhone to use Bluetooth streaming audio and the hands-free telephone features. Using the Pandora iPhone app to wirelessly stream the specific type of music I’m in the mood for into the 16-speaker THX audio system - without having to buy the music or pay for a Sirius subscription – is close to perfection in my book.
I have some concerns about the MKS’ value proposition, which frankly may hurt the car in the marketplace. It’s not fundamentally different in mission from a Buick LaCrosse CXL, aside from its more powerful engine and slightly larger size (with a far larger trunk), yet sells for about $10,000 more, and I’d argue that Buick and Lincoln are more or less at the same level in the luxury-vehicle hierarchy. The value question comes up again when comparing the MKS EcoBoost to the Taurus SHO. The MKS includes more equipment in its higher price than does the SHO, but also costs about $8,000 more when accounting for feature differences, according to TrueDelta.
Standard features on the MKS EcoBoost include all wheel drive, adaptive HID headlamps, THX II Certified Audio with Sirius Satellite Radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, 12-way heated and cooled power front seats, rear window power sunshade, and adjustable ambient lighting. My test car was loaded with pretty much everything, including the $3,500 Rapid Spec 201A (dual-panel moonroof, ultimate package, navigation, and surround sound), $535 Active Park Assist, $1,310 CADS with adaptive cruise control, $2,995 EcoBoost Appearance Package (20″ chrome wheels, floormats, interior metallic package, and exterior body kit), and gorgeous $295 red candy metallic tinted paint. The MSRP is $48,285 including destination, and with the options, it comes out to a hefty $56,920.
My biggest annoyance with the MKS’ interior is the difficult way that one has to program (or de-program) the memory settings for the seats and mirrors as associated with a particular key fob. This is something that I’ve run into with other Ford products as well, and it continues to drive me crazy. Having a car that knows which driver is approaching the car based on which key fob is opening the doors – and adjusting seat and mirror settings accordingly – is smart. Forcing that driver to stop the car, pull out the owner’s manual, and walk through several steps to associate memory settings with the fob is not an ideal solution. I looked up the instructions in the manual, but gave up without bothering to try to make the association. Instead, I lived with having to adjust the mirrors and driver’s seat literally every time I unlocked and started the car. Hardly a coddling way to make my life easier for the driver of a luxury car, but something an owner would be able to set once and forget about.
Though the suspension tuning was a bit soft for my taste (I would have at least preferred to have the SHO’s firmer suspension tuning on the Q-ship MKS EcoBoost model), at least the softeness provided a comfortable ride. That suspension tuning, coupled with the soft, coddling seats, meant I never wanted for comfort, and was able to find a decent driving position in any number of positions – seat higher, seat lower, seat forward, or seat backward. With my long legs (34 inch inseam), I am able to reach the pedals from nearly everywhere, but appreciated the decent knee clearance under the dash for occasions when the driver’s seat is adjusted forward to allow more room in the back seat.
I was disappointed by the brakes on the MKS; to me, they felt even softer than those in the Taurus SHO. The SHO’s brakes are not that car’s strong point (at least without the performance package), and in the MKS EcoBoost, their relatively puny size is visually dwarfed by the optional 20 inch chrome aluminum wheels. Pedal feel is disconcertingly spongy for the first few inches of travel, but eventually they bite down. I’m sure that the MKS’ brakes would not be happy with repeated panic stops or racetrack driving – but which owners would really be doing that to this car anyway? The car’s steering ratio is slow for my taste and a little too low-effort; again, I’m not in this car’s target demographic.
As usual, it would not be possible to bestow more superlatives on the EcoBoost V6 – tuned to 355 horsepower on regular unleaded for MKS duty, vs. 365 in SHO duty with premium fuel. The engine is reasonably refined throughout its operating range, and in particular has a quiet idle. Goose the throttle, and it emits a bark from the chrome-tipped exhaust outlets. Turbo lag is minimal and generally only detectable when already in a lower gear; if downshifting to pass, by the time the downshift is complete, the turbos have spooled up. Once those turbos have spooled, the engine delivers a seemingly limitless wave of acceleration. This acceleration is, in my mind, a safety feature when engaging in situations such as passing on a two-lane road, because it allows you to get into the oncoming lane and back into your lane very quickly. At least I’d tell my wife that if I were trying to convince her to spring for the EcoBoost engine.
The paddle shifters connected to the six-speed automatic are black plastic and look out of place amidst all of the metal and leather (and leather-like substances) in the MKS EcoBoost’s interior, and are frankly unnecessary. All you have to do is stomp on the gas pedal, and the car will go fast. Hold onto it and the car will go very fast. Fuel consumption (after much stomping on the gas pedal) was about 15 miles per gallon over 150 miles of mixed, but mostly city and back road driving. As with the Taurus SHO, I had trouble eclipsing the 20 mile per gallon barrier except under the most gentle driving technique possible.
As mentioned earlier, the MKS EcoBoost includes standard all wheel drive. As I endured two blizzards during my week with the car, I had the opportunity to sample the car’s capabilities on streets that had solid-packed snow on them (but had been partially cleared). I was able to literally drive right around drivers of front wheel drive cars who were spinning their wheels. It definitely requires a mental adjustment to remember that in an all wheel drive car, it’s often more effective to power through minor slippage than to hit the brakes and risk a skid. I’m convinced that with the right tires (and not the 20 inch all-seasons on the test car), the MKS EcoBoost could be a great winter weather car, as long as the throttle is applied gently.
After my time with the MKS EcoBoost, I’m convinced that it is a fundamentally good car. It’s arguably the best-looking Lincoln with the most successful variant of the new split grille treatment, and includes an impressive array of technology, roomy interior and trunk, and with amazing straight line performance. With better highway fuel economy, this car would be a fantastic road trip car. I’m still not convinced of the car’s value proposition relative to other near-luxury competitors, but that’s for buyers to decide and not for me to make the call on. Now, what else can we beg Ford to drop the 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6 into?
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