If Lincoln were a person, it would have been committed to a psych ward years ago. Battered by corporate politics, economic cycles, and a desire to both retain traditional customers and conquest new ones, the brand has lacked a coherent identity for over a quarter-century. There have been times when each of its models was the product of a different strategy and expressed (or failed to express) a different design language. In the early 2000s Lincoln seemed to finally be getting its shit together, with a brilliant Continental Concept and a common design language applied to all of its 2003 models. Then the wheels came off the wagon—again—and a bankruptcy-skirting Ford had no choice but to cancel the ambitious cars in the PAG pipeline and redo Lincoln on the cheap. Did they spend their pennies well? What is a Lincoln in 2010? There’s no better place to find out than the driver’s seat of the current flagship, the MKS EcoBoost.
There’s absolutely no sign of the long, sleek Continental Concept in the MKS. To save money, Lincoln based its latest large sedan on the Five Hundred. To their credit, the designers made the most of the platform’s challenging proportions, scrunching the greenhouse, blacking out the rockers, and detailing the exterior much as Lexus would have. Aside from its chunky proportions, the car isn’t distinctive, but it has presence.
The tested MKS EcoBoost had the $2,995 Appearance Package, which takes the car in the wrong direction. The rockers are not only body color, but they’re extended with side skirts. The last thing this body needs is to appear taller. The package’s 20-inch chromed alloys accentuate the insufficiency of the wheelbase. And the extra-cost Red Candy Metallic paint? Not the right shade for this car.
Inside, vestiges of Lincoln’s earlier aesthetic remain in bits of satin metal trim. But the overall appearance is much less distinctive and, while a couple steps up from the related Taurus, not quite luxury class. High points: the upholstered IP upper, glitzy instruments, and soft brown leather seats. Low point: the black plastic trim panel on the rear face of the center console doesn’t have the metallic sheen of the other trim panels and wouldn’t even look suitable in a Focus.
None of this mattered one bit to my wife. She fell in love with the MKS because it does other aspects of luxury very well. The interior is hushed even at highway speeds. The large seats are heated, cooled, and cushy—no BMW emulation here. There’s less room than in the Five Hundred—function has been traded for form—but still plenty of it. And the car is chock full of gadgetry: automatic auto-dimming steering-linked headlights, automatic wipers, adaptive cruise, active parking, keyless access and ignition, THX audio, voice-activated nav, SYNC, and a rearview monitor that, combined with front and rear obstacle detection, makes the car’s severely restricted rearward visibility a non-issue.
Ford couldn’t afford to develop a new V8. So, through some odd twist of economics, it developed a twin-turbo DOHC V6 instead. The EcoBoost V6 doesn’t make lusty sounds, but at least it sounds more refined in the MKS than in the Flex. There’s no boost lag to speak of and all 355 horses are present and accounted for when you mash the go pedal. Despite the requisite all-wheel-drive, drive this car harder than it’ll typically be driven and there’s an occasional twinge of torque steer. The Eco bit isn’t just marketing hype. I observed 19 MPG in suburban driving, and 24 on the highway, surprisingly good for 355-horsepower, 4,400-pound car.
Know how some cars shrink around you the harder you push them? The MKS is not one of those cars. Mind you, it doesn’t fall all over itself in hard turns. It just prefers a more sedate driving style, and long stretches of highway most of all. You sit crossover high, and never does the MKS feel an inch smaller or a pound lighter than it is. Which is larger and heavier than it looks—the tall bodysides and large wheels trick the eye. How big is it? Compared to an Audi A6, the MKS is 10.6 inches longer, 2.9 inches wider, and 4.1 inches taller. It’s a “whole lotta car.” The Fusion-based Lincoln MKZ I drove the following week felt as sharp and tossable as a Miata in comparison. In Lincoln’s defense, it didn’t aim to create a sport sedan with the MKS, turbos and paddle shifters notwithstanding. Even with EcoBoost the suspension is biased in favor of ride quality (which is nevertheless merely good, not great). The Appearance Package’s side skirts and spoiler would be all wrong even if they looked right.
Not the most refined, but loads of features—sounds like a value play. Is it? Close comparisons aren’t easy to come by—there aren’t many truly large 350-plus-horsepower all-wheel-drive sedans on the market for anything close to the MKS’s price. Similarly load up an Audi A6 4.2 quattro, and the smaller, German luxury sedan lists for about $10,000 more. An Infiniti M45 AWD? About $11,000 more. While the Lincoln’s $54,000 price tag (sans Appearance Package) seems steep, others are significantly steeper. With one notable exception: the Hyundai Genesis 4.6 undercuts the MKS EcoBoost by about $10,000. Adjust for the Lincoln’s additional features, including all-wheel-drive, using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool and the Korean sedan retains a $7,000 advantage.
And so, what is Lincoln? Judging from the MKS EcoBoost, it’s size, power, silence, soft leather, and lots of buttons. These are all things Lincoln used to be known for, and all are turn-ons for the typical American luxury sedan buyer with no desire to carve a curve quickly. The MKS is a little rough around the edges, but many of these buyers won’t care or even notice. The relatively low price will help. But will potential buyers notice the MKS in the first place? The main thing missing: styling that is just as unapologetically American as the rest of the car. Something like that aborted Continental.
Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of auto pricing and reliability data
Lincoln provided the car, insurance, and one tank of gas for this review