Ford's "premium" car lineup is engaged in a deadly game of last brand standing. Now that Jaguar, Range Rover and Aston Martin are casualities of war (i.e. someone else's problem), it's down to Volvo and Lincoln. Official denials aside, Volvo's the next to go. Lincoln must carry that weight (a long time). And so we meet the front wheel-drive-based Lincoln MKS, Ford's first post-Carmageddon (karmageddon?) luxury car. Has Lincoln's sibs' dismissal finally liberated the brand from badge-engineered mediocrity?
Genetically, no. The MKS is built on the same platform underpinning the Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable, several Volvos and the Ford Flex (sort of). So if you want to represent the streets and diss the MKS' D3ness, you can slight the big Lincoln as a tarted-up Taurus or a cheaped-out Volvo. Luckily for Lincoln, the brand's current core audience has no idea what I'm talking about.
The MKS' design is as inoffensive/memorable as its nomenclature. The split grill is meant to become a brand trademark, created to stop the Lincoln logo from getting lost in the chrome (what logo?). Despite the nasal blingery, the car's British-born designer claims the Lincoln owner views the MKS as a "reward for hard work, not simply an outward symbol of status." Just as well, really. The MKS scores an F on the all-important Mom test (would your mom recognize it immediately). Still, there are some charming features, such as the too-small taillights cribbed from a Maserati Quattroporte.
The MKS' interior was designed by two different teams. The top half of the cabin (everything from chest level and up) is fantastic. There are nothing but soft touch plastics, trendy stitched soft leather(ette?) on the dashboard, buckets of genuine chromium and a beautiful horizontal strip of wood.
Let's call that wood strip the 38th Parallel. The lower half of the center stack is rock hard, festooned with two counter-intuitive, tightly gathered groupings of small radio and HVAC buttons. Below that: dead space, like some kind of polyurethane desert. Rather than add a cubby or storage area at the bottom of the center stack, buyers of the Aluminum Applique Package are treated to a giant six-inch wide chrome "LINCOLN"– just in case they thought they were driving a top-spec Ford Taurus.
The first-for-Ford application of the enlarged Duratec 35 sits under the MKS' demure hood. The 3.7-liter V6 stumps-up 275hp and 270 ft.-lbs. of twist, feasting on regular gas. It's a far smoother and more flexible powerplant than GM's 3.6-liter six-pot, easily on par with the best of the Japanese V6 engines. For real.
Unfortunately, this sparkling piece of engineering is under house arrest, guarded by a sadistic six-speed autobox named Sucko the Clown. In the interests of fuel economy, it shifts into sixth gear at any speed above 0 miles per hour. Passing, maintaining speed up inclines, and merging all cause the box to reach for a bottle of Advil. The whole bottle.
If NSAID suicide isn't your bag, you can shift the transmission in auto-manual mode, or just lock it into SST mode (I kid you not). This tranny setting holds on to the gears for much longer (at times too long), harnessing the Lincoln's otherwise grazing horses. So configured, the MKS is a reasonably quick car. Seat of pants estimate: zero to 60mph in about seven seconds.
Needless to say, the SST setting exacts a significant fuel economy penalty. I didn't measure the mpg because my actuary is off this week, but when the ostensibly efficiency-oriented "Drive" setting yields 16/23 (AWD model), you know it's not looking good for the sportier transmission setup.
And how does it handle? Yes. It handles. The game here isn't track daze, or high speed cornering, or anything even vaguely involving so-called "sportiness." It's all about the ride. The MKS' new, fully-independent rear suspension makes cobblestone streets your bitch. Also in terms of handling, the MKS is sound-deadened to the point of rigor mortis. Ambulance drivers better hope MKS buyers have keen peripheral vision.
The suspension is the ace up the sleeve for the MKS, a car that desperately needs four of a kind. Even on class-exclusive 20" wheels, you can sink into the supple leather chairs, pile on the highway miles and never remember a thing.
Lincoln aimed for a base hit here, and by God they got one. It's too bad, because you can't come back from three runs down by taking the safest route. Had Lincoln swung for the fences, we might well have seen a very different MKS: a signature car for reborn brand. But they didn't, or couldn't. At this point, my advice is to buy a fully-loaded Mercury Sable instead or buy something used with genuine upmarket cachet.
[Ford provided the car, travel, gas and insurance.]