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2009 Lincoln MKS

A lot has been said, including in these pages, about the styling of Lincoln's new MKS sedan. Naturally, much of the commentary has focused on which particular aesthetic features the MKS did - a big, double-wing grille centered by the Lincoln badge - and did not - a windshield that sweeps, headerless, up over the front seats - inherit from Lincoln's gorgeous 2007 MKR four-door concept car. But what definitely didn't make the transition from the auto-show floor to the showroom floor is something you cannot see: the MKR's rear-wheel-drive chassis. Instead, the MKS is built on the front-wheel-drive foundation of the Ford Taurus (née Five Hundred), which itself is derived from the Volvo S80.

So, with the MKS, Lincoln is thumbing its nose at the luxury-car tide that has moved inexorably toward rear-wheel drive. Determined to make the most of the family-sedan platform they were given, Lincoln engineers fashioned an entirely new, control-arm rear suspension, partly to accommodate optional twenty-inch wheels. They also attached both front and rear suspensions to fully isolated subframes. And, of course, they specified an optional all-wheel-drive system, a feature that no midprice luxury sedan can do without these days.

The MKS is good, but hardly groundbreaking, to drive. On a ribbon of blacktop that undulated through Virginia horse country, the MKS exhibited decent body control and bump suppression, precise if not overly communicative steering, and smooth shifting from the six-speed automatic, which can be operated manually via the gearshift lever. The brakes work fine, but the pedal goes soft when you really stomp on it during hard driving. The cabin is whisper-quiet, and our test vehicle with twenty-inch wheels rode well, although it became slightly unsettled over freeway expansion joints. Eighteen- and nineteen-inch footwear also is available.

Lincoln bored out Ford's corporate 3.5-liter V-6 to 3.7 liters for MKS duty, and the resulting 275 hp (with premium fuel; power drops to 273 hp if you choose lower octane) was enough, but just enough, to propel our 4276-pound, all-wheel-drive test car. Fuel economy for the AWD MKS is rated at 16/23 mpg; we averaged about 18 mpg over the course of a day's driving on freeways and two-lane. For now, the 3.7-liter is the only powertrain option, but Lincoln is developing a direct-injected, twin-turbocharged version of the 3.5-liter V-6 that should produce about 340 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque. The division wisely will pair this promising new powertrain only with all-wheel drive in the MKS. Unfortunately, it won't be available until spring 2009.

Here and accounted for now, though, are the MKS's plentiful creature comforts. The roomy cabin is handsomely appointed with nice leather (from the same Scottish supplier that did the 1956 Continental Mark II, no less), fit and finish are commendable, and dual moonroofs are optional. The available touch-screen navigation system is top-notch, the Sync phone/audio interface is standard, and the optional 600-watt, THX II Certified 5.1 surround-sound stereo will rock your world.

Over the past decade, as Cadillac has gone from strength to strength, the Lincoln brand has wavered, to put it kindly. Lincoln's struggle to redefine itself is hardly over, but the MKS is a promising addition to the brand. A pleasant enough car now, it ought to come into its own next year with the twin-turbo V-6. After all, Lincoln promises that it will offer the performance of a V-8 with the fuel economy of a V-6, and there's a lot to be said for that.