Driven: 2013 Lincoln MKS

With the departure, finally, of the Town Car, the vehicle that has defined Lincoln for years, Ford's luxury brand is now in the process of building a new identity. It won't be that of a European-style luxury carmaker, as Ford won't devote the necessary resources to develop a rear-wheel-drive chassis. Instead, Lincoln will continue to adapt front-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive Ford platforms. Other than styling -- which also is in flux, at least until the arrival of the new MKZ -- Lincoln is relying on technology to give it the premium imprimatur the brand too often has lacked.

It's an expedient but still risky strategy. It's expedient because adding high-tech features can be done more quickly and more easily than designing all-new models. The risk, however, is that other carmakers (not to mention Ford-brand siblings) are doing the same thing, so the standout effect could be ephemeral at best.

IT'S BOOSTED

Rather than messing with names or letter combinations for trim levels (Lincoln's virtually identical letter combination model names are senseless enough), the three tiers of MKS are delineated by their powertrain: 3.7L FWD, 3.7L AWD, and 3.5L EcoBoost AWD.

The base 3.7-liter V-6 is newly endowed with variable camshaft timing on both the intake and exhaust valves. Its output has increased to 304 hp and 279 pound-feet of torque, and its fuel economy ratings are 18/27 mpg (FWD) and 18/26 mpg (AWD). Those figures are about par for the course. The starting prices of $42,810 (FWD) and $44,805 (AWD) represent pretty good value, not because they're so much lower than competitors' -- they're not -- but because of the high level of standard equipment.

At $49,800, the EcoBoost version costs about $5000 more than the 3.7 AWD and also exacts a 1 mpg fuel economy penalty in both city and highway driving. Is it worth it? Well, let's just say the EcoBoost V-6 is the best thing about this vehicle. No, it's not news anymore and, yes, it's available elsewhere (Taurus SHO, Explorer, Flex, F-150), but its big horsepower (365 hp here), instant torque, and utter lack of turbo lag make the EcoBoost V-6 a must-have upgrade over the standard six. Getting that power to the ground is surprisingly easy, as the standard all-wheel-drive system is now quicker to shuffle the power rearward. Sudden acceleration no longer has the steering wheel squirming in your hands.

MAKE YOUR SELECTIONS

There's more technology at work in the powertrain and in the chassis, as Lincoln has made its so-called Drive Control standard equipment on all versions of the MKS. Similar to systems in Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW models (among others), Drive Control offers different settings for the dampers, steering effort, and throttle and transmission mapping. The most significant differences here are in the suspension, where the adaptive dampers work to achieve a balance between ride comfort and body control that will please the widest possible array of drivers. The sport mode does a good job of snubbing body motions, at a cost of some heavy-footedness over bumps. Comfort and normal modes bring a very smooth ride -- even on twenty-inch wheels with 45-series rubber -- but allow more roll, pitch, and dive, making the MKS feel every bit of its 4436 pounds. Either setting is not bad, but neither is perfect.

MAD DASH

The more obvious infusion of technology is inside the car. MyLincoln Touch is a prominent feature as is a new instrument cluster with configurable screens borrowed from the (outgoing) Ford Fusion Hybrid. The speedometer is flanked by two screens, and the driver uses four-way switches on the steering wheel to select the information that appears on them. Unfortunately, those switches sometimes require a bit more fiddling than they should. The displays, however, are clear, bright, and colorful -- they really look great. MyLincoln Touch continues to have the same issues as MyFord Touch, plus a few of its own. The main screen is large, with great fonts and graphics. The problem is that too many functions are sucked into the screen, which remains a less-than-ideal venue in a moving car; additionally, many of the touch spots are quite small, so they require all the more concentration to use. Outside of the main screen, Lincoln has brought the impracticality of flat-panel switches to the climate control system as well. And then the topper, for different-but-not-better silliness, is the use of touch-sensitive slider bars for audio volume and fan speed. They are nowhere near as precise to use as physical knobs and rarely deliver what you want on the first try. A more useful bit of new technology is that the MKS can become a mobile wireless hot spot, when connected to a cell phone with a data plan, a party trick first introduced by Audi last year.

LINCOLN'S LOOK

Lincoln is also trying to be more modern in its appearance, and the 2013 MKS has undergone more than the typical tweaks to the front and rear fascias. All the sheet metal forward of the A-pillars is new, as Lincoln designers work to evolve the brand's face. You can judge the success of their efforts for yourself, but the MKS did elicit some positive reactions in tony Chappaqua, New York, in a parking lot filled with BMWs and other luxury rides. Still, it's clear that this is a car that has been worked, as it lacks the design cohesiveness of the new MKZ.

Working to play catch-up is exactly what Lincoln is doing, both with the MKS and as a brand overall. The progress has been impressive in some areas, less so in others. Embracing technology has paid visible benefits in the powertrain and chassis but is problematic in the interior. Better-integrated technology as part of a more cohesive whole will have to characterize Lincoln's new entries from here on out.

2013 Lincoln MKS EcoBoost

Base price: $50,675
As tested: $58,265

Standard Equipment:
3.5-liter turbo V-6 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
All-wheel drive
20-inch polished aluminum wheels
Adaptive suspension
Dual exhaust systems
Passive keyless entry with touch pad and push-button start
Remote start
Forward and reverse sensing system
LED taillamps
HID adaptive headlamps
MyLincoln Touch
Sync
AM/FM/XM stereo with CD player and audio input jack
Power windows and door locks
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Bridge of Weir leather-trimmed seats
Heated and cooled front seats with driver's memory
12-way power front seats
Leather and wood steering wheel
Tilt and telescoping steering column
Ambient lighting

Options on this vehicle:
Equipment Group 202A - $4600
- Premium package
- Blind-sport monitoring system
- HD AM/FM/single CD THX-II audio system
- Heated steering wheel
- Adjustable pedals w/memory
- Power rear sunshade
- Rearview camera
- Navigation
- Elite package
- Multi contour seats
- Active park assist
- Heated rear seats
- Lane keeping system
- Premium wood package
Dual panel moonroof - $1695
Adaptive cruise control w/forward collision warning - $1295

Key options not on vehicle:
None

Fuel economy:
(city/hwy/combined)
17/25/20 mpg

Engine:
3.5L V-6 turbo
Horsepower: 365 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 350 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm

Drive:
All -wheel

Transmission:
6-speed automatic

Curb weight: 4436 lb

Wheels/tires:
245/45R20 front, 245/45R20 rear Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires

Competitors:
Audi A6
Infiniti M
Lexus GS350

Michael Walden At Pfeiffer
You mention that Audi had the WiFI mobile hot spot feature first "last year", that is wrong the 2011 Lincoln MKX also had that feature that has since evolved into the Lincoln MKS, MKT and 2013 MKZ as well. Thus the Lincoln MKX has now had it for three years.

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