The 2009 MKS is Lincoln's new flagship, a car that Ford hopes will help put its luxury division back on the map after years of losing ground to Cadillac and both Asian and European luxury brands. It effectively slots between the MKZ sedan (which was briefly known as the Zephyr) and the ancient Town Car, and it is the first production realization of Lincoln's new design direction. That design direction was first seen at the Detroit auto show in January 2007 with the Lincoln MKR concept car. While the MKR was nominally based on the Ford Mustang's rear-wheel-drive platform, though, the production MKS is offered either with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The MKS is on sale this summer, and Lincoln sees the Cadillac STS, the Acura RL, and the Lexus GS as its natural competitors.
The 2009 Lincoln MKS's double-wing grille is a derivation of the one from the Lincoln MKR concept and was inspired by the 1941 Lincoln Continental. Flanked here by standard HID headlamps, the grille is something you will definitely see in future Lincolns. Ford's design chief, Peter Horbury, says that the space between the two wings is the perfect spot to showcase the Lincoln badge without having it compete with a grille behind it. The delicate horizontal bands below the grille are good-looking and well-proportioned, but they are flanked by large, odd-looking cavities at the bottom corners of the car that contain the foglights. From the side, the MKS is most notable for its strong, chamfered shoulder line and its stainless steel window surround, which widens into a dramatic flourish as it meets the C-pillar. Not coincidentally, we imagine, that C-pillar treatment also invokes the famous C-pillar kink in BMW sedans. Thankfully, the space on the front fenders aft of the wheels is adorned simply and effectively with the Lincoln badge rather than the already-clichéd vents that we see elsewhere so often.
The rear of the car is elegant and spare but quite bland. It's here, though, that you most notice the strips of stainless steel that run from the A-pillars, over the car's roof, and down to the trunk lid. They are a nice touch. The LED taillights are accented by a vertical white light strip that contains the turn signal indicators, which look pretty cool when they're illuminated.
Depending on trim level and options, the MKS is shod either with standard eighteen-inch wheels or optional nineteen- or even twenty-inch wheels. Strangely, the twenty-inch wheels are the least attractive, as they look cheap and tinny.
Lincoln boasts that the MKS is comprehensively and luxuriously equipped. Every modern telematics feature is either standard or optional, including a state-of-the-art navigation system with traffic reports supplied by Sirius Satellite Radio. Remember the push-button-entry feature that debuted years ago on Lincolns? It returns here, but now instead of cheesy buttons that protrude from the sheetmetal, there are heat-sensitive, backlit numerals integrated into the B-pillar, and they become visible only after you run your hand over them.
The instrument panel is trimmed in a wide swath either of ebony, olive ash, or genuine aluminum. In a nod to Lincoln's heritage, the leather is supplied by Bridge of Weir, the same Scottish company that supplied hides for the Continental Mark II way back when. Lincoln says it is the "softest leather ever used in a Lincoln." It's nice, and it does have a slightly richer hand feel than much of the plasticized leather you see these days, but it doesn't have much of that pleasing leather smell that you get in more expensive cars. Both heated and cooled front seats are available, as are heated rear seats. Interior panel tolerances are good, and the plastics are good quality. The secondary switches for radio and climate are a little on the cheap side, though, with a vast array of little black rectangular buttons that look more like they belong in a Ford than in a Lincoln. The primary gauges are nicely lit, but they are pretty ho-hum, too. Optional dual moonroofs flood the cabin with light. The center armrest is split into two sections that move individually with the driver's right elbow and the front passenger's left elbow, which is convenient.
The optional, 600-watt, sixteen-speaker THX II 5.1 surround sound stereo is absolutely superb, and the interface for controlling it through the high-resolution navigation screen is top-notch. Ford's Sync system, which allows you to control an iPod or any other MP3 music player and a Bluetooth cell phone through voice activation, is standard. The Sirius Travel Link system can also provide nearby gas-station prices, movie listings, sports scores, and other real-time information through the navigation screen, which is the virtual command center of the vehicle.
Total passenger volume is a substantial 105.9 cubic feet, and the trunk is rated at 18.4 cubic feet.
The standard engine is a 3.7-liter derivation of the 3.5-liter V-6 that is widely used across the Ford and Lincoln lineups. For now, at least, the 3.7-liter is exclusive to the MKS, where it makes 273 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque on regular fuel. If you run on premium fuel, you can eke out a couple more horsepower and a bit more torque, but it hardly seems worth it. Those thirsty for V-8-style power will have to wait until next spring, when the MKS will be the first recipient of Ford's new, twin-turbo, direct-injection, 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which Lincoln promises will deliver the "performance of a V-8 with the fuel efficiency of a V-6." With 340 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque but an estimated 23 mpg on the freeway, it will be the first offering under Ford's new "EcoBoost" powertrain program. Adaptive cruise control is optional.
The MKS platform is a derivation of the one that underpins the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable sedans, which itself came from the Volvo S80. A lot of work has been done to it to deliver a more premium ride-and-handling experience and also to accommodate the additional power as well as the larger wheels and tires. Stability control is standard. Lincoln engineers benchmarked the Lexus GS chassis as they developed an all-new rear suspension for the MKS. The front suspension is also modified from Ford/Mercury duty.
On the Road
You start the 2009 Lincoln MKS with a push button (naturally; no upscale car uses a simple key anymore), and the 3.7-liter V-6 springs to life with a pleasing rasp. Pull the gearshift lever into Drive, and you're off: there are no shifter paddles or other newfangled gearchanging devices here, but MKS owners can make the best of the 3.7-liter V-6 and its six-speed automatic transmission by sliding the gearshift lever to the right, thus engaging the SelectShift mode which allows you to push forward to downshift and pull back to upshift. Thus engaged, the 3.7-liter V-6 eagerly races to its redline and provides strong acceleration and linear power, even if it's not particularly scintillating. In manual mode, the gearshift lever bangs against its stops as you push it back and forth, which sounds and feels a little cheap, but you quickly learn not to move it through its full range of motion. The V-6 is certainly a good engine, but the MKS doesn't even have as much power as, say, the new Nissan Maxima, let alone the V-6 version of the new Hyundai Genesis. Premium cars require premium powertrains, so the EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 cannot come soon enough.
The MKS delivers a firm, well-controlled ride that will be somewhat of a surprise for Lincoln owners who are accustomed to the pillow ride of the Town Car and the last-generation Continental. Steering effort is not too high for traditional buyers, though, and the steering is precise if not overly communicative. When presented with an open stretch of twisty road, you can choose the SelectShift mode and have a reasonably entertaining romp, but there's no hiding the MKS's substantial curb weight of 4127 pounds in front-wheel-drive form; all-wheel drive adds about 150 pounds. The brake pedal is too mushy when you're really stomping on it, although it's fine in normal usage. And although ride comfort as a whole is quite good, the twenty-inch wheels on our test car could not effectively squelch freeway expansion joints. We imagine most people will be better served by the nineteen-inch wheel-and-tire package.
The cabin is well-insulated from road noise, and the seats are comfortable and supportive. However, the headrest of the driver's seat is pitched forward a bit too far, and this takes some getting used to. One presumes that it was done in an effort to provide head and neck support in case of a collision, but there must be a better solution. The rear seats are fairly roomy, also, and the sightlines from the front seats are good.
Pricing and Fuel Economy
In front-wheel-drive form, the MKS is rated at 17/24 mpg city/highway. Our all-wheel-drive test car was rated at 16/23 mpg but returned only 18.2 mpg during our 170-mile test drive loop, which admittedly was a combination of two-lane roads, city streets, and freeways, including stop-and-go rush-hour traffic driving into Washington, D.C. The MKS starts at about $38,000, and our fully loaded all-wheel-drive test model was priced at $46,070, including destination.
The MKS falls short of being a class leader, but it is a solid effort on Lincoln's part and offers plenty to attract those who are looking for a roomy, comfortable, luxurious, and very well-equipped sedan with classic yet modern styling. Unfortunately, it does not offer the road presence or stance that the MKR concept, let alone all of the stillborn Lincoln concepts from earlier this decade, promised. Ford is clearly getting its Lincoln house in order, and the MKS is an indicator of even better things to come. But in creating a flagship from its corporate front-wheel-drive components set, Lincoln is fighting the tide of the luxury-car world, which has moved to rear-wheel-drive-based platforms. Although the Acura RL is hardly a runaway success, Lincoln would be wise to follow Acura and give the MKS standard all-wheel drive, as front-wheel drive just does not send the right message anymore in the luxury-sedan realm.