“This car is a spaceship,” my son informed me, in the matter-of-fact tone he always uses when presenting knowledge imparted by commercials. I expect that he’s somewhat outside the target demographic — he’s nine — but his awareness is at least an indicator that Lincoln’s message is filling the airwaves. And while that message is an obvious overstatement, the tech-laden MKS is undeniably the poster child for a big push underway at Lincoln, and parent company Ford as well. You’d be forgiving for thinking that CEO and recent Seattle transplant Alan Mulally had been plucked from Microsoft rather than Boeing.
Of course, the Microsoft-cobranded Sync system is on hand. It takes a couple minutes to connect your phone the first time, but afterwards it connects automatically. There sometimes is a bit of a delay in Sync-facilitated phone conversations, but even so, the hands-free calling feature works well enough that it ends up encouraging cell-phone use while driving — probably not a great thing. There are no real downsides to the other techno-wonders: the rearview camera, the keyless ignition, the navigation system, the active cruise control with collision warning, and the automated park assist.
The last one may be little more than a novelty to those who live and work in the exurbs, where opportunities for parallel parking are few, but those who do have occasion to use it will find it works remarkably well. It scans for and finds the space, then you shift into reverse and work the pedals while it spins the wheel. It’s far quicker and less fussy than the system on the Lexus LS.
The navigation system is also one of the best out there, and is able to incorporate weather and traffic info – although we found that its color-coded traffic info sometimes put a highly positive spin on things. We loved the ability to easily configure the large display to show a half-size map with satellite radio info on the other side, or a full-size map that still manages to squeeze in music info at the bottom.
The pre-collision warning system only kicked in once, and the huge, flashing red warning that appears in the windshield is pretty hard to miss. Similar to technology available in Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and others, it scans ahead to see if you’re closing in fast on a car ahead; if so, it sounds a warning and pre-loads the brakes to shorten the stopping distance.
The most heavily advertised technology here of course is EcoBoost, which is Ford’s term for direct injection paired with turbocharging. In the MKS, the turbo V-6 comes standard with all-wheel drive, lest the engine’s output turn this car into a torque-steering demon. Even with all-wheel drive, a quick stomp on the gas still can be felt in the steering wheel, at least momentarily until the AWD system shuttles more of the torque to the rear wheels. Certainly there’s plenty of torque to move around, and the boosted MKS does not lack for power. Lincoln also includes shift paddles, but the application fails on two levels. First, you have to move the gear lever from D to M before the paddles will respond, and second, the push-pull logic follows that of BMW but not the preferable – and far more widespread – industry practice of one paddle for upshifts and the other for downshifts. As to fuel economy, I saw 23.5 mpg on a four-hour round trip that was mostly highway with some country-road cruising.
Speaking of back-road cruising, the chassis tuning of the MKS is the area where this new-age Lincoln was a little more reluctant to make a major break with the past. Bump isolation remains a priority, much more so than damping body motions or delivering precise steering feel.
My loaded-to-the-gills example had a pretty swell-looking two-tone brown and black leather interior, which was decked out with the latest, au courant ambient lighting (including illuminated door sills) and lots of chrome trim. The soft seats are high up off the floor and pleasantly comfortable. The exterior, which shares no body panels with its platform-mate, the Ford Taurus, was similarly dressed up, with optional chrome trim. And the car got a surprising amount of attention; I had one extended conversation that took place over the course of several stoplights along New York’s Riverside Drive with a gentleman in a VW New Beetle convertible. A young, Mercedes-driving realtor expressed interest, too.
Given the fast-forward pace of advancing technology, Lincoln’s new positioning as high-tech leader might be difficult to sustain. But with the MKS at least, it has given the product a sense of modern relevance it hasn’t had in a long time.