The last time I reviewed a Lincoln product—an MKZ Hybrid—my disappointment in the car led to a relatively negative review. In fact, some folks thought I had it in for the brand. So I want to be clear here: In terms of the Big Three, I consider myself a Ford guy. While my father preferred traditional British sports cars from the likes of Lotus and Jensen-Healey while I was growing up, the family hauler was usually a Blue Oval product. We were carted around in a variety of big Fords, from a Country Squire wagon to a Galaxie 500 to a big ol’ LTD. Obviously, those cars aren’t Lincolns, but my point is I do consider that my childhood experiences left me with a rooting interest in Ford that remains today.
For one thing, unlike most recent Lincolns, including the current MKZ and MKX, the MKS isn’t likely to be confused with its Ford counterpart, in this case the Taurus. Leaving aside everything else for now, the lack of design differentiation between the Lincoln and Ford lineups has to be killing sales of the former—especially because you can’t leave aside everything else: As the Ford division continues to up its game with high-quality products that are loaded with premium content, there are fewer reasons left to choose a Lincoln beyond style. And with products like the MKZ and MKX looking so similar to the Fusion and Edge, even style differences have been minimized to a great extent.
But the MKS showcases a notably sleeker, less busy exterior than the Taurus, with a more graceful roofline and a more premium, almost BMW-ish treatment for the C pillar, where things get a bit (Hofmeister) kinky. In addition, while the design of the Taurus’ greenhouse gives the car an aggressive, forward-leaning stance, the MKS is sort of set back on its haunches with a coiled-up, ready-to-strike look. The back lighting units are nicely done as well, and I particularly like the way the top surface of the light case is exposed and on the same level as the top surface of the trunk and rear quarter panel. The MKS is still a bit bland from most angles, but it hides its Taurus underpinnings very well and would be quite nearly attractive if it weren’t for its current interpretation of the Lincoln “baleen whale” grille.
Although the results aren’t as bad as on the Lincoln MKT, this design cue in and of itself is likely to scare away customers. It completely overpowers the rest of the MKS’ subtle lines and creates a very challenging fit problem where the hood of the car meets the center piece between the split grille. The gap here looks huge and it’s right up front where you can’t help but notice it. I’ll also direct your attention to where the chrome roof trim meets the hood. Here, instead of some well-thought-out solution for integrating the two, it looks like designers simply gave up without even making an effort. This may seem like I’m picking nits, but remember, this is a $56,485 luxury car—I expect better, and I’m confident customers do as well.
Things were better in the MKS’ cabin, but not by enough. On the plus side, Lincoln added some much-needed visual interest in the car’s dashboard with a perforated metal trim piece that extends nearly the entire width of the dash. It made for a nice contrast with rivals that rely on wooden accents and trim, while avoiding the overuse of the “Piano Black” stuff that I consider just a fancy grade of plastic. The dual-pane moonroof and overall backseat comfort garnered kudos, too. On the other hand, front seat bottoms seemed shockingly short and narrow, and the car’s paddle shifters—although quite artistically designed—had a certain amount of play to them, as if they weren’t firmly attached to the steering column. And that’s just the start of the nit parade.
Look at the pictures again, specifically the ones showing the center stack. See that space just in front of the gearshift and below the climate controls, with a nice shiny “Lincoln” on it? In nearly every other vehicle I’ve driven, there would be a hidden storage bin behind it—not so in the MKS. And the leather-covered business that looks like center armrests? You might think those things lift up somehow for further storage, but again, they don’t; they do look nice, though. There’s the standard sort of large-ish bin beneath the armrests, but you don’t get the shallow tray storage that so many other automakers are able to incorporate separately on top of the bigger space.
Of course, the biggest disappointment with the car’s interior has to do with Lincoln’s upgraded MyLincoln Touch enhancement to its standard SYNC system—or more correctly, the lack thereof in the MKS. Ford’s (and Lincoln’s) commitment to voice-activated technologies, whether you like it or not, has become a key part of the company’s metaphorical DNA. But the latest iteration is not even offered on the MKS yet, even though the Ford version is available on the Focus, which costs some $20,000 less than the Lincoln. That being said, I can discern improvements in SYNC with every new Ford product I get, and the Lincoln was no exception. Voice recognition was very good, and I found myself quickly falling into the habit of using the system whenever my hands were busy.
Making up to some extent for the lack of the MyLincoln Touch setup is the wealth of safety technology in the car, including adaptive cruise control, adaptive HID front lighting, a rearview camera, active park assist and very handy blind-spot mirrors. These mirrors made a huge difference in rear visibility, and would be a quick and easy—and welcome—addition to any vehicle. From a consumer standpoint, though, I imagine this commitment to safety doesn’t snag very many extra customers.
Then there’s the actual driving experience. I haven’t been on the road with the Taurus SHO, which is the closest Ford counterpart to the MKS EcoBoost, but that car has gotten a fair amount of plaudits for its performance. Thus, I was expecting the Lincoln would be be, if not fun, then at least engaging. Well, it wasn’t. The steering was noticeably light and disconnected, reminding me first and foremost of the feel of the Toyota Avalon. Now, there’s certainly something to be said for the package offered by the Avalon, but Lincoln shouldn’t be competing with Toyota.
The ride was okay, but nothing more, and it certainly wasn’t as refined as the Buick LaCrosse, or even the Chevrolet Malibu. Worse, even with 355 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of EcoBoost under its hood, the Lincoln felt distinctly “blah” under acceleration; I’ve seen reports of 0-60 times in the mid- to upper-5′s—no mean feat in a car that weighs in well north of 4,000 lbs.—but it felt about two seconds slower than that. Part of what’s going on here has to do with the car’s all-wheel-drive system and electronic driving nannies, all of which provide some amount of extra control but no amount of extra fun.
And not only did the engine seem to be lacking in “boost,” but it didn’t turn up much in the way of “eco,” either. The EPA rates the MKS as capable of 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway, yet I struggled to reach 15 mpg in combined city and highway driving, and I really wasn’t pushing the car very hard. Although it’s worth noting that when I did, the six-speed transmission didn’t sound too happy about the situation. I do have to admit that, since driving the MKS and garnering my own impressions, I went back to check reviews from a number of other sites, and they all reported much more satisfaction with the MKS’ performance. So perhaps my recent time in the much nimbler Suzuki Kizashi, which I drove just prior to the Lincoln, affected my judgement.
Overall, it’s not that the Lincoln MKS is a bad car, but being “not a bad car” isn’t enough for success in today’s luxe car segments—which probably helps explain why Lincoln sold only 828 of them in April, a number exceeded by the soon-to-be-discontinued Lincoln Town Car by over 100 units.