The Truth About Cars » Lincoln The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Lincoln Galhotra Takes The Reins As Lincoln’s New President Wed, 23 Jul 2014 12:00:04 +0000 ashwani-kumar-galhotra.img.1375822969106

As one of his first major moves since becoming CEO, Ford’s Mark Fields named vice president of engineering Kumar Galhotra as president of Lincoln, effective September 1.

Automotive News reports Galhotra, who will report directly to the new CEO, will be the premium brand’s first president since Al Giombetti left the post in 2007. The move will also reduce executive vice president of global sales, service and marketing Jim Farley’s role with Lincoln, which will be focused on marketing the brand once Galhotra takes over.

The new president — an engineer and product executive who has worked with Lincoln, Ford and Mazda in the past — will bring his marketing experience to the table as Lincoln prepares to launch in China later in 2014; he headed Ford’s Asia Pacific division from 2009 to 2013, and helped bring about the new Ranger pickup to market.

Speaking of the division, engineering director Jim Holland will move from there to replace Galhotra as Ford’s vice president of engineering, reporting to global product development chief Raj Nair.

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Lincoln Nearly Axed By Mullaly, Saved By Fields Tue, 01 Jul 2014 11:00:37 +0000 2015 Lincoln MKC

Today marks the day Mark Fields becomes CEO of Ford, taking up where now-former CEO Alan Mullaly leaves off. This day may also mark the day Lincoln begins its slow climb back from the brink, especially when Mullaly once considered killing the brand before Fields became its champion.

Bloomberg reports Lincoln, then struggling to find footing after years of assimilating Fords upmarket with no unique product in sight, would have gone the way of Mercury had not Fields and global marketing chief Jim Farley convinced Mullaly that the brand was worth saving. Now that he is CEO, Fields will be leading the effort to bring Lincoln up to fighting trim.

The first product of this effort is the MKC, which shares its mechanical base with the Ford Escape and its 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo-four with the upcoming Ford Mustang. However, the crossover’s design is 85 percent unique to itself, and has premium features on par with its competitors — BMW X3, Audi Q5, Acura RDX — including soft-touch leather and parallel-parking technology. The crossover follows the MKZ — whose delayed roll-out over technical gremlins prompted the debate over Lincoln’s fate — and will be later joined by a redesigned MKX and the replacement for the MKS.

The MKC will be aimed at drawing buyers from premium brands like Cadillac and Lexus, Ford owners wanting to move up, as well as young first-time buyers and empty nesters looking to downsize. The road back to the top will be long, however; though U.S. sales climbed 21 percent during the first half of 2014 with 37,251 models leaving the showroom, annual sales are 65 percent down from the brand’s peak in 1990.

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Detroit Three Lead The Charge In Chinese SUV Boom Tue, 29 Apr 2014 13:00:50 +0000 2014 Lincoln MKX Concept

Long after the first SUV gold rush in the United States, the Detroit Three are gearing up for a second gold rush, this time in China.

Automotive News reports SUVs and crossovers have snagged 19 percent of the local market in 2013 as the once-dominant luxury sedan market fell from 47 percent in 2000 to 15 percent. General Motors forecasts as many as 7 million SUVs will leave the showroom by 2020, with president Dan Ammann noting that 60 percent of first-time buyers in China bought an SUV last year. Further, Ford credits crossovers for a sales surge of 49 percent in 2013, pushing Toyota out of the No. 5 slot in a local market that views SUVs and crossovers as being, in the words of Chevrolet dealer He Sei, “sportier, more fashionable and more youthful” than other vehicles.

To capitalize upon the upcoming boom, GM brought the Chevrolet Trax to last week’s Beijing Motor Show with plans to add 10 SUVs during the next five years, while Ford introduced concept versions of the body-on-frame Everest and Lincoln MKX crossover, both of which will soon see production. Finally, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will resume Jeep production in China through a joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group Company, with three models due in 2015.

Meanwhile, Lexus, Audi, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Citroen are following the Detroit Three’s lead into the Chinese SUV/crossover market, bringing a number of concepts and production-ready vehicles to Beijing. That said, they will have a hard battle against the three U.S. automakers, as SUVs and crossovers have been their bread and butter since the first rush in the early 1990s through the late 2000s.

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Wolff Out, Woodhouse In As Lincoln Design Director Fri, 11 Apr 2014 10:00:54 +0000 Max Wolff, Lincoln Exterior Design Chief

The Lincoln division of Ford has replaced former design director Max Wolff with David Woodhouse, the former head of the Blue Oval’s Premier Automotive Group, as part of the premium division’s $1 billion makeover.

Bloomberg reports Wolff will remain with Lincoln as the brand’s exterior design boss, and that the change occurred in December with little fanfare, as Ford no longer issues press releases for promotions below the vice president level, according to spokesman Stephane Cesareo. Both design chiefs were brought over from General Motors to Ford, with Wolff arriving in 2010 from Cadillac, and Woodhouse from GM’s design studios in 1999.

Wolff’s biggest mark on Lincoln is the current MKZ, which he reworked immediately upon arrival in 2010. Though the premium sedan — based upon the Ford Fusion — faced production problems that saw the overall brand’s sales fall to a low not seen in over 30 years, the MKZ’s success boosted Q1 2014 sales to 36 percent.

Aside from his styling work with PAG, Woodhouse was in charge of Ford’s advanced design studio in California between 2004 and 2009, and guided Lincoln’s strategy between July through December of 2013 before becoming the brand’s new director of design.

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Lincoln to Consider “Legacy” Names Due to Chinese Influence Fri, 29 Nov 2013 16:04:37 +0000 2014 Lincoln MKS

Remember when Lincoln had cars with names such as Mark, Continental, Zephyr, Town Car and Versailles? Alas, unless you want to own a body-on-frame SUV from the newly renamed Lincoln Motor Company, your choices begin with MK, and end with a letter that somehow corresponds to the model in question.

Should Ford’s VP of Global Marketing Jim Farley have his way, however — and you happen to also be a resident of China — the next Lincoln to be sold may have a real name upon its backside once more.

Why? The Blue Oval plans to reintroduce Lincoln to the Chinese market, who still remembers when many a government official and president turned up in a Continental; this may also explain in part why the lead car in the funeral for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il was a Lincoln, if not how it got there in the first place.

Farley believes the concept of non-alphanumeric nomenclatures is worth revisiting, though no current model will receive a proper name for the foreseeable future. Until then, Lincoln’s customer base will continue to need to remember which MK is the right MK for them, unless they want a Navigator, of course.

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4000 Miles In A Lincoln MKZ Mon, 09 Sep 2013 14:15:46 +0000 DSC_0806

Øyvind Birkeland is a Mechanical Engineer from Norway who works with developing internal combustion engines. A lifelong car enthusiast, he owns a 1961 Ford Anglia which has been sitting in a barn for 20 years. Mr. Brikeland is a Panther Lover, having owned a 1997 Crown Victoria LX in the past. After reading the recent review of the MKZ here on TTAC and hearing about the fallout, he contacted us to offer his thoughts regarding the car — JB

This summer my girlfriend and I decided to do a road trip across the US from LA to Miami. Like many Europeans we have been thinking and dreaming about doing something like this for a while, so this year we decided to do it. We booked a flight to LA and a return ticket from Miami 23 days later. A lifelong car enthusiast, the biggest job for me during the preparation for this trip was to find the right car. I was seriously considering buying back my ’97 Crown Vic LX which I had owned while living in San Diego and using it for the trip, but I didn’t know what shape it was in and I deemed it too risky. We decided to get a rental instead. It was imperative for me to have an American car; coming back home to Europe and telling people I did a 4000 mile Trans-American road trip in a Kia would be an embarrassment I would not have been able to live with. Luckily National provides a rental class which only includes Cadillacs and Lincolns. We booked it without knowing which model we were going to get.

Arriving at LAX the excitement of getting to explore the parking lot’s LCAR section was pretty intense. To my absolute joy there were several 2013 MKZs waiting for us to choose from. I have really liked the design of this car after seeing the Super Bowl commercial and it was my absolute favorite of National’s LCAR fleet. This was also before Kreindler’s infamous slaughter of the car, so I was in bliss. We immediately grabbed a black 3.7. Except for the large engine, the car was in its absolute base configuration which means a MRSP of just over $37k. However, basic configuration in the MKZ includes the CCD suspension, Active Noise Control, paddle shifters, a nice stereo with Sirius XM and leather seats. I was satisfied. I think a similarly equipped BMW 330i would cost somewhere around $11k more, so my first impression was that you’ll get good value for your money with the MKZ.

It had been a while since I drove a car with an automatic, but it did feel nice to just press D on the dash and cruise around LA in this absolutely gorgeous car. I put the suspension in comfort mode which provides a very smooth ride. Combined with the Active Noise Control, cruising on both city streets and highway roads was more comfortable than in any other car I have driven to date. German cars in the same price segment do not perform as well at this as the MKZ in my opinion.


As the picture shows we went for a drive up the winding roads of Mulholland drive. With S-mode activated the car changes character. The steering and dynamic suspension firms up and invites you to utilize all 300 hp from the V6. The active noise control does not mute the engine growl, which sounds pretty good for a midsize family sedan. However the transmission leaves a lot to be desired. It is a traditional automatic with a torque converter and it feels slushy even with the flappy paddle override activated. It is no problem keeping it in gear until the redline, but gear changes are slow and uninspiring. With such a nice engine and suspension system, the only right thing to do would be to give it a great twin-clutched fast shifting box. However, I don’t know if Ford currently has one that would do this car justice, and as Americans don’t buy stick shifts the 6F-50 was the only transmission left in their parts bin. Annoyingly, Lincoln has built in a “safety” feature into the electronics of this transmission which can infuriate the calmest of men: if you for some reason should open the driver’s door while backing up, the transmission throws itself into Park, kamikaze style. As rearward visibility in the MKZ is very bad, this “safety feature” can be very annoying when trying to figure out how far you are from the curb or another car while backing into a parking space. The lag between pushing the button and the car shifting back to R is also too long, adding to the irritation.

When we are talking about annoying things about the MKZ, it makes me want to ask Ford a serious question: Who was the genius who decided to put highly reflective chrome rings around the buttons on the steering wheel? In the afternoon when the sun is low the light hits them through the window and for some magic reason the sun’s rays always end up in the middle of the drivers eyeballs, making you want to rip the trim right off the steering wheel. And in the unlikely situation that the chrome rings are not in a position to blind you, you can be sure the big Lincoln cross in the middle of the steering wheel is. So while it surely is way too dangerous to back up at 3 mph into a parking space with the door halfway open, driving though 85 mph traffic in Texas completely blinded by the sun is not a problem according to the Lincoln engineers. Adding to the frustration the buttons on the steering wheel are unresponsive and requires to be pushed in much longer than what you assume.

However, I am not going to turn this into another MKZ-slaughter today. I do like the car a whole lot, so let me continue with some good sides again. On the outside, best side of the car is arguably the ass-side of it. In my opinion it looks pretty distinguishable, which is something I would imagine the car designers try to accomplish. The MKS is a good example of the opposite. However, distinguishable design does not always mean good design. In the MKZ’s case I believe the designers nailed it pretty well. Design wise it has differentiated itself a lot more from the Fusion than the CD3 did, even though I might like the Fusion better at least from the side view. I would imagine that it’s important for the average Lincoln buyer that people doesn’t confuse it with a Fusion. I am looking forward to seeing similar design cues on the next models. I also like the fact that Lincoln has not been tempted to use retro styling on it. Cadillac also refrained from using any type of retro styling on the CTS and it worked out pretty well at first. Nobody in their right mind would choose a 2012 MKZ over a 2012 CTS based only on design. Next year the table might have turned. The MKZ has gone from meh to wow, while the CTS has gone from cool to bloated. But then there is the situation regarding FWD/RWD. Let’s not get into that discussion.

On the inside, the MKZ has been transformed from something extremely boring and ’90s looking to something that is innovative, practical and very good looking. Why any car maker that offers a car without a manual option insists on wasting perfectly good center console area on a pointless knob is beyond my comprehension. When Lincoln instead put the gear selection up on the dash it freed up space to make a very good looking dash/center console unit. There are two open shelves in the center console that is convenient for putting your phone, wallet, Snus or whatever you might carry in your pockets. On top there are some nicely hidden cup holders and ash tray/12V socket, and RCA connectors, SD-slot and two USB ports in the arm rest. There is however a serious problem with the dash and integrated touch screen, and it is called “fingerprints”. After only a day it starts to look very smudgy. This again leads to difficulties reading the information on the slow operating infotainment MySyncing Lincoln Touchness screen or whatever they call it. And why do automakers nowadays think it’s a good idea making touch screens and buttons that it is impossible to operate without actually taking your eyes off the road? What is the problem with buttons that you can feel with your fingers without looking at them? I guess they forgot how to make good looking buttons (if they ever really knew how to do it. I don’t know the answer to that one).

Everybody is complaining about badge engineering this and not a real Lincoln that, right? But then the concept of kit architecture and platform sharing is hailed as the only way to be able to survive in the future of the car industry. So where does the border go between badge engineering and platform sharing? My Skoda Superb is built on the same B5 platform as the Audi A4 but it doesn’t give me much premium car love from my non-engineer friends. Yet when I have to change any mechanical parts on it I always notice that they all have four rings stamped on them. Like the old Superb, the MKZ is built on a very good platform that is well regarded by auto journalists and car buyers alike. Lincoln’s problem however is that the Fusion got the CD4 first. VAG always gives Audi the new things first and then adopts it to VW and then to Seat and Skoda. If Ford did it the same way, giving Lincoln the new stuff first and then passing it down to Ford afterwards, maybe the situation would have been different and the accusations of badly performed Badge Engineering would calm down a bit.

We drove the car 4000 miles through nine states and it was a fantastic trip. The combination of very comfortable front seats, a good looking and quiet interior, adjustable suspension and a great stereo made it a very good highway cruiser. The computer showed 26 MPG for the whole 4000 miles. I am used to getting MPG in the low ‘40s in my diesel Superb, so I wasn’t impressed. But then again my Skoda doesn’t have 300 hp. I never really inspected the quality issues like panel gaps and poor finish in the welds on it, but I guess stuff like that would be possible to improve on the production line. If it’s still an issue I hope they will figure out how to fix it soon. My fuel filler door never popped open unexpectedly like it did on Kreindler’s loaner.

So what do you get if you decide to buy an MKZ? Is it just a glorified Fusion with a special grill and no gear knob at a much higher price? I haven’t tried the Fusion, but my initial answer would be no. The ’13 Lincoln is definitely a lot more distinguishable from the Fusion than the previous one was. Whether you like the Fusion’s or the MKZ’s design best, there is no mistaking one for the other anymore. It’s around $6k more expensive than a Fusion Titanium, but for your extra money you do get a V6, the advanced Continuously Controlled Damper system, active noise control and a more luxurious interior. And unlike new Buicks it doesn’t look like a grandfather’s car. I am a 28 year old mechanical engineer and I felt really good driving around in it, better than I would if I was driving a comparable German car. If I should give it a numerical value on a scale of zero to something I would give it an e on a scale from 0 – π.

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TTAC “Blacklisted” By Ford Of Canada Due To Excessively Truthful MKZ Review Thu, 29 Aug 2013 12:55:40 +0000 photo-4-450x337

We’ll make this short and simple. Derek Kreindler’s forthright review of the new Lincoln MKZ was posted a month and three days ago. Immediately after the review went live, Derek’s next press loaner from Ford was canceled with no reason given. All further requests for Ford press loaners in Canada have been denied. On August 6th, I sent an email to Ford’s head of PR in Canada.

The email read like so:


My name is Jack Baruth and I am the recently-appointed editor-in-chief of The Truth About Cars.

Two weeks ago we posted a review of the Lincoln MKZ that detailed significant quality and execution flaws with our test example.

It is my understanding that since the review was posted, our Canadian editor Derek Kriendler has had his previously scheduled Ford media loaners canceled. Furthermore, he has been advised that he will have no further access to Ford vehicles. I have also heard from sources within Ford media operations in the United States that Derek is on some sort of “blacklist”.

I find it rather difficult to believe that the second-largest North American automaker communicates with the press by mysteriously canceling loaners and “sending messages” through third parties. It’s passive-aggressive to a contemptible extent.

I’d like to confirm with you that no such action has in fact taken place and that there has been a misunderstanding. While I can certainly empathize with the concerns that have been voiced to me about the review, I’d rather handle them in a conversation that through some juvenile idiocy where Derek can’t get anybody at Ford to return a phone call and as a consequence he test-drives random MKZs from dealership inventory and photographs their numerous and sundry quality flaws for, oh, I don’t know, once a week for the next two months.

We stand behind the review as written but given the generally positive press we have provided for Ford products from the Shelby Mustang to the Flex Ecoboost I am surprised at this reaction. If, in fact, it is a reaction and not simply a misunderstanding.

I received no response to that email. I have called Christine twice since then, have been sent to voicemail twice, and have not received a return call. We’ve given Ford nearly a month to respond to our inquiries or to communicate with us in any way, shape, or form. No response has occurred.

It should be noted that during this episode, we received an invite to the Ford Fiesta ST program here in the United States, sent an American writer, (Matt Fink) and reviewed the vehicle. We also participated in the Boss Track Attack program and will be bringing you a review of that program in the near future. (Hint: it’s fantastic.)

As I noted in my email, this sort of passive-aggressive response is beneath a manufacturer of Ford’s stature. Unfortunately, it’s par for the course: when GM blacklisted me five years ago, the way I found out about it was by arriving at the airport to a canceled flight. GM’s PR people simply sent me to voicemail and threw my emails away. I finally got the scoop through a phone conversation with another journalist who was told to “give me the word”. When I was re-blacklisted by GM two years ago, the way I found out about it was through a rumor, apparently spread by GM personnel, that I’d crashed a CTS-V during a press event. The truth was that I shortcut Turn 16 as described here. Although there was grass in the lower grille of the car, there was no damage and the car continued to participate in the event, as did I, with no difficulty or confrontation involved. Not until I got home did I hear that I’d never be coming back. We have a word in Ohio for “men” who behave in that manner, but insofar as TTAC is family-oriented to a certain extent I won’t mention it.

You could argue, and I am certain that some of our argumentative readers will argue, that insofar as Ford of Canada refuses to directly inform me that TTAC has been blacklisted, that we have not been blacklisted but in fact simply are no longer scheduled for press loaners or events. To me, it’s effectively the same thing. I’ve been informed that a major Canadian newspaper is also enduring the “silent treatment” for an uncomplimentary MKZ review. If we can find out more, we’ll tell you.

While I can certainly understand that certain parties at Ford might be upset by our review, insofar as it pointed out numerous flaws in the MKZ that had gone unreported elsewhere, the proper way to address these concerns would be by contacting us and discussing the concerns. Was the MKZ loaner defective for a reason? Was it a pre-production car? Had it been abused or quality-tested to death? We’ll never know, because Ford’s actual response has been to attempt to punish Derek.

Ford of Canada may be under the impression that we will beg to have our access back at any cost, including the cost of sacrificing our integrity. Ford of Canada may be under the impression that TheTruthAboutCars can be intimidated or bullied into giving positive reviews to Ford products regardless of the merits of those products. Ford of Canada may be under the impression that TTAC can be manipulated through passive third-party communications and unspoken threats. They are mistaken on all counts. This site was founded because one man, Robert Farago, would not be silenced. It will continue to provide the truth about cars to the readers. This isn’t Motor Trend. We work for you, not for Ralph Gilles or Geoff Day or Terry Rhadigan or Christine Hollander. We are committed to bringing you the truth. When a Ford product is better than great (step forward, Boss 302) we’ll praise it. When it’s pretty good (hello there, Fusion Ecoboost) we’ll share that with you. When it’s not worth the money, we’ll tell you — and we did.

We’re hoping for a swift resolution of this issue with Ford of Canada. In the meantime, feel free to share your concerns with this attempt to punish the truth at Ford’s Facebook page. And if you see a Lincoln MKZ out in the wild looking like it needs some quality control, feel free to send us the picture. Perhaps a dozen photos of misaligned fuel doors will convince Ford that TTAC isn’t out to get them. Failing that, it might convince them to fix the fuel doors. We’d settle for that.

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Capsule Review: 2013 Lincoln MKZ Wed, 24 Jul 2013 13:00:10 +0000


“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” – Henry Ford

Anyone who aspires to review cars should give Mary Walton’s “Car: A Drama of the American Workplace” a careful examination. In 392 pages, Walton introduces us to the men and women who went through the gruelling task of designing, engineering and planning DN101, the second-generation Ford Taurus that was meant to dethrone the Toyota Camry once and for all from its spot as America’s favorite car. Only the hardest of hearts would fail to identify with the Ford staffers who spent billions of dollars and countless hours slaving away at a project that ultimately flopped in the marketplace. I know it gave me pause for a long time when it came time to review a car. I began to second guess whether it was right to harp on some poorly fitting trim or wonky steering feel or a carried-over powertrain. Surely, someone wanted to do better, but budget constraints, infighting or other external factors must have conspired to taint their platonic ideal of an automobile.

And then I spoke to someone who worked at Ford and told me the story of their mother’s car shopping experience. “I went to the Lincoln dealer with her to look at a new MKZ,” he told me. “I was there, wearing my Ford jacket, picking the car apart on the showroom floor, cussing and spitting tobacco into a cup. There was flash (extra plastic that hasn’t been filed away) on the fascia. The fit was poor. My mom ended up buying a Lexus.”

Suddenly I didn’t feel so bad anymore.

Forty seven thousand six hundred and sixty-five dollars. Take a second to visualize that. For most Americans, that is a lot of money. Quite possible their salary for the year. Maybe even a nice starter home on a rural route in an economically hard-hit part of the country.


That’s also how much you’ll have to fork over, before any incentives or rebates, for this car. A car that is approaching $50,000, but has a fuel filler door that spontaneously pops open every morning and hangs like a limp appendage.

I did my best to overlook the glaring quality issue that was staring me right in the face at 6 AM every day, but even the supposed selling points of the MKZ ended up pissing me off even more. Take the full length retractable sunroof, something that Lincoln’s marketing guys can’t get enough of.

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When fully retracted, it effectively blocks off half of your rear window field of view, reducing the already poor rear visibility. The brochure picture (above) downplays this effect but believe me, the chunky section just below the glass panel combined with the dark tinted glass gives you a field of view worse than the first generation Chrysler 300′s windshield. Luckily, this is an option that can be avoided, but so much of Lincoln’s sales proposition as a premium car seems to be based on this feature. Lest we forget previous issues surrounding fit and finish with this feature.

So, that’s two major issues before we’ve even turned on the car. Starting it is a bit like using an ATM. You hit the starter button on the center stack, then hit Reverse to back out, then Drive to go forward. All of this is done via a column of push buttons, like an old Chrysler, except there’s a discernible lag with this system that you don’t find elsewhere. Having never really experienced it before, I found it a bit disconcerting. The MyLincoln Touch system was as crappy as ever, slow to respond and awkward to use thanks to its haptic controls. The boys at Allen Park ought to start looking very closely at UConnect, and how easy it is to make a touch screen system that actually works. The 2.0 Ecoboost engine returned a whopping 16 mpg in city driving, while the turbo took forever to spool up when the accelerator was pressed. So much for downsizing engines to achieve greater fuel economy.

Most cars seem to have one redeeming feature that saves them from the depths of vehicular Hades. This has none. It does nothing better than a Fusion, costs as much as a decently equipped 3-Series, and displays the kind of QC issues that one would have expected from a Korean auto maker a decade ago. In such a competitive marketplace, this is a disgrace. The Lincoln MKZ is one of the most poorly executed cars in recent memory. There is literally nothing redeeming about it. I can think of more reasons to avoid it than to buy it. And I’m not the only one – Lincoln had so little faith in this car, that they had to pump up early driving impressions by putting Ferrari 599 GTO-spec Michelin Pilot Super Sport  tires on the car. Even then, nobody was fooled.

Once upon a time, Lincoln stood for something. It was the car of choice for pimps and presidents and every high-profile individual in between, whether your name was Iceberg Slim or John F. Kennedy. The MKZ, however, is for the kind of person Iceberg Slim would deride as a “mark” or a “sucker” – someone too dumb or brand loyal to go buy anything else. In the words of Nino Brown, another famous pimp, Ford ought to “cancel this bitch” and get back to making something worthy of the brand.

Lincoln provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

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Review: 2012 Lincoln Navigator Tue, 14 Feb 2012 22:10:21 +0000

There was a time when the Lincoln Navigator was the hottest SUV going, an epoch that coincided with the “shiny suit era” of rap music. From a peak of nearly 39,000 sold in 2003, Lincoln sold just 8018 in 2011.

An anecdote related to me by a former Ford PR exec has it that Lincoln and P. Diddy were going to collaborate on a product placement/endorsement deal – Ford gave P. Diddy a Navigator, and P. Diddy then became involved a nightclub shooting that tarnished the reputation of the music mogul himself and his then boo Jennifer Lopez. P. Diddy protegé (and recent convert to Orthodox Judaism) Shyne took the rap for the shooting, and Ford pulled the deal. Why does this bizarre footnote merit a mention? Because Diddy then adopted the Cadillac Escalade as his vehicle of choice, and everyone with any pop culture exposure knows that the Escalade is the car to have for anyone who has suddenly come in to money. The Navigator became an instant also-ran, while Cadillac’s brand was at a high point not seen since the days of tail fins.

Despite cutting a bold figure, the Navigator’s utilitarian pickup truck roots are immediately apparent after climbing aboard, as you step up from the F-Series sourced power running boards and sit in the cushy driver’s seat. There are plenty of parts bin interior pieces here, and the blonde wood, tobacco tan leather upholstery, analog clock and retro typeface gauges are ostensibly designed to evoke a sort of 1960′s Mad Men feel. The Navigator is no 1963 Continental – if anything, its Betty Draper’s Country Squire station wagon with a dose of nouveau riche vulgarity, thanks to the shiny latticework of the grille and the chrome dubs mounted at all 4 corners.

The 5.4L modular V8 isn’t a bad powerplant, with 310 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque on tap. The biggest handicap is Ford’s 6-speed automatic, which felt like an antiquated 4-speed until the spec sheet shed light on the extra two gears. On minor inclines, the transmission hunted for gears repeatedly, and kickdowns were slow and clumsy. With the 2WD setting engaged, I saw a whopping 10 mpg in the city and that’s with conservative throttle applications. $100 was barely enough to fill the Lincoln’s gargantuan gas tank. On brief highway drives, window noise seemed excessive for a luxury vehicle, and it seemed to come through the A-Pillar much like it would on an economy car. The Navigator handles as expected – tracking solidly in a straight line, soaking up bumps efficiently, feeling top-heavy but stable during directional changes.

Ford’s SYNC system with an in-dash touch screen was standard, and the system seems to have a fair number of bugs and glitches worked out. The THX certified stereo sounded crisp at high volumes, and rap music had just the right amount of obnoxious bass to render the music clear and audible to pedestrians who scowled at me while they walked past. A back-up camera and front and rear park assist systems helped maneuver the Navigator into tight spaces, a boon for soccer moms who may take the Navigator to gentrified urban neighborhoods designed before the mass adoption of the automobile.

The best place to be in a Navigator is the back seat. There’s ample room for your person in both the second and third row, though truck space is severely compromised unless the third row is folded. Luckily, there are power folding systems for the last two seats, and a power tailgate option when you’re finished.

When the Navigator first debuted, car magazines still came with mail-away cards for customers to order brochures. What a quaint notion. Even sales of the once-mighty Escalade are in the toilet, as consumers move away from profligate body-on-frame SUVs to the  car-based CUV. As an ironic novelty, the Navigator might be acceptable as a potential purchase, but I just can’t fathom why one would buy this over an Expedition (if they needed to tow a boat) or any number of crossovers out there that are better than the Navigator in every objective area. The Range Rover, an equally ostentatious (and much better engineered) vehicle has stolen the title of the official vehicle of gauche showoffs from both the Navigator and it’s Cadillac counterpart. The Navigator isn’t likely to die any time soon, as it’s a great source of profit for Ford. Ironically, for a vehicle so clearly engineered in the dreadful pre-Mulally era of Ford, the Navigator arguably has the strongest and most unique identity within Lincoln’s otherwise uninspiring lineup. Maybe keeping it around isn’t such a bad thing after all?

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Review: 2012 Lincoln MKZ Take Two Thu, 28 Jul 2011 12:39:12 +0000

Fifty feet away and I was already furious. The oh-so-chipper Enterprise rep was leading us towards a Ford Fusion — and that is not a full-sized car in the Enterprise universe. Fusions are mid-sized. I’d specifically booked a full-sizer for this trip around Utah and Idaho. My hope was to receive an Impala, thus benefiting from the legendary 3.9V6 fuel economy and Fender-Twin-Reverb-combo-amp trunk space. This was injury added to insult. We’d waited forty-five minutes at the rental counter as a succession of elderly Mormons returning to SLC for “Pioneer Day” had asked detailed questions regarding the rental insurance, the fill-up policy, and the best place to eat near Temple Square… and now, although the parking garage was quite dark, I could plainly see the Fusion’s distinctive C-pillar ahead.

“Listen, miss,” I began, realizing that I sounded exactly like the kind of fussy old jerk I’ve spent my life avoiding and/or despising, “we requested a full-sized car, and this…”

“…is a luxury car,” she said, “I’m so sorry, we are out of full-sized cars, and I thought you would take a luxury car.” That’s when I saw the Continental star on the fender. No, the MKZ isn’t exactly a Fusion, but is it really a luxury car?

Michael Karesh provided a comprehensive styling analysis in his earlier review of the MKZ, so I will boil my opinions down to the following:

From the side: It’s a Fusion.
From the back: It could be anything.
From the front: It looks pretty good.

There you go. Michael had a loaded-out press car with the Sport package, but my rental was the $35,420 base model. There’s already $1500 cash on the hood at the moment, and if you can find a 2011 on the lots — which, honestly, shouldn’t be tough — there is $4,000 cash back on those. Either way, we are talking high twenties/low thirties.

That kind of cash would buy you a fully-equipped V-6 Accord or Camry, or it would put you into a turbocharged Korean. It will not put an ES350 or Acura TL in your driveway; the MSRP on those two is a few grand higher and the incentives aren’t quite as free-flowing. Still, those two cars are the Lincoln’s natural competition so that it is the context in which we will view it. Luckily for me, I’d just driven a brand-new ES350 a week before so my reference points were reasonably fresh.

Compared to the chunky luxo-Camry, the MKZ’s big windows and low-cowled, cliff-faced dashboard makes it seem like a much smaller car both inside and out. The reality doesn’t support the impression; not only is the Lincoln slightly heavier than the Lexus, it’s virtually the same length and offers slightly more front-passenger room. (Back-seat drivers will prefer the ES, particularly in the leg-stretching department.)

Both cars offer comfortable and not overly-sportly leather seats as standard. Heating and cooling is a $640 option on the Lexus, standard on the MKZ. During the nighttime segments of our 600-mile trip through Utah and Idaho, Vodka McBigbra kept her seat on three red LEDs while mine stayed on three blue ones. This feature alone could save your marriage, or at least save your affair.

Lexus has built a reputation on lexurious, excuse me, luxurious interiors, but while they’ve been treading water, Ford has been swimming for shore. The MKZ’s materials look and feel better than those found in the ES (to this reviewer, anyway) and its dashboard gaps are smaller. The Lexus is assembled in Japan; the Lincoln, in Mexico. Globalism on the hoof. Another surprise; the MKZ really has more interior differentiation from the Fusion than the ES does versus the Camry. I remind you all that this is the company which brought us the Versailles — but Lexus, I suppose, is the company which brought us the ES250.

Both cars ride pretty well, in the modern FWD mode. There’s a lot of weight in the nose, and no amount of gas-charged shock absorption can hide that fundamental problem. Compared to a C-Class Benz, or even my 2009 Town Car, the shocks are softer but the body motion seems considerably more pendulous. Encountering a big pavement wave at the 100-110mph velocities common out West reveals the MKZ’s severe lack of rebound damping. If you’re going to hustle in this car, consider the sport package. On the positive side, it definitely has its torque steer under better control than the Lexus, which will cheefully head for the ditch under any provocation, does.

On the freeway, our MKZ self-reported an average mileage of 26.4; around town, the number was 21.2. Given that the 263-horsepower Duratec 3.5 doesn’t exactly sing to the enthusiast soul, perhaps it’s better to spring for the no-cost hybrid option. If you’re looking for a fast car, look somewhere else — unless your idea of a “fast car” is a 1986 IROC-Z, which will find itself in arrears of the Lincoln’s wide neon taillights.

While the hybrid option is free, the MKZ’s “THX 5.1 theater surround sound” options is not — but it should be mandatory. The “Premium Sound” installed in the base car is so bad that I ended up working the fader and balance controls trying to find the defective speaker, only to come to the conclusion that they were all defective. It’s a shame because the version of SYNC installed in this system was lightning-quick in operating my 13,646-song iPod. It never missed a voice cue, from “Vladimir Ashkenazy” (my request) to “Stronger Than Pride” (V. McB). Not that the Lexus has anything comparable to offer; its sound system will be intimately familiar to anyone who has ever owned a Corolla, in operation and features if not sound quality.

The rest of the MKZ is about what you’d expect given its Fusion roots and modern-Ford trimmings. Wind noise is low, road noise is low, the trunk is capacious, nothing fell off, and it idled without complaint for over an hour, running “Max A/C” in 104-degree weather, so V. McB’s mother could recover from an overly-ambitious kayak trip down the Snake River. It’s a solid car and it gives nothing away in that respect to the Toyota.

Is it a luxury car? No and yes. It won’t bludgeon your neighbors with prestige, it won’t impress the valet, and it won’t ever sit center stage in a rap video. Its platform is prosaic, its engines are shared with family wagons and/or CUVs, and its development schedule was less Nürburgring than it was Bürgerking.

All the MKZ can claim to be is a quiet, comfortable, well-made, well-equipped car that is pleasant to drive, enjoyable to operate, and probably satisfying to own. The pricing isn’t bargain-basement but it is a bit of a bargain given the equipment and materials provided. I personally prefer it to both the ES350 and the Buick LaCrosse. If you consider either of those to be luxury cars, then consider this to be one as well, and a decent one at that.

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Review: 2011 Lincoln Navigator Wed, 02 Mar 2011 21:23:53 +0000

A different driving experience is worth a few points in my book. A vehicle can be flawed, even seriously flawed, but if it provides a unique experience I personally find it more appealing than a technically superior but emotionally vacant appliance. With this in mind, and a Lexus LX 570 my ride for the week, I decided to have one last fling with a pair of dinosaurs, the Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade. Few vehicles are more out of step with the current market. Today, the Lincoln.

So, how do you take a large Ford SUV and make it seem worthy of the Lincoln badge and a $60,000+ MSRP? Well, there’s the right way, and then there’s the easy way. The easy way: add a lot of chrome. The slabs on the lower doors are standard, while that over the grille is a $75 option. To these the dealer appears to have felt the need to add the B-pillar appliques. Even paired with “tuxedo black metallic” the result isn’t convincing. The Navigator had a few years in the middle of its run when it looked almost classy. But both the early and recent generations have been all about wretched excess superficially and even haphazardly applied to a basic box that’s much more at home as a Ford.

Inside the Lincoln Navigator this story continues. The current interior is a step back in materials and style from the one the preceded it. Lincoln claims that the wood is real, but it doesn’t look real, and it certainly isn’t spectacular. The instruments look dated and cheap, while the controls feel dated and cheap, even clunky in the case of the shifter. The controls in a luxury vehicle should never feel clunky. The same HVAC controls that look a little cheap inside the 2008 Ford Taurus X I recently purchased are employed inside this $63,360 Lincoln. Lincoln has upgraded the interiors in its most recent products, but the Navigator is apparently being left to die on the vine as time passes it by.

In terms of function the Lincoln fares better. The seats in the first two rows are huge and cushy. Perhaps even a little too cushy and lacking in support, but they befit the brand. Expansive windows pair with a high seating position to provide outstanding visibility. One ergonomic shortcoming: there’s nowhere for the driver to rest a left foot. So said foot must simply be planted flat on the floor.

Unlike the Cadillac Escalade (or the Lexus LX 570, for that matter), the Lincoln Navigator has an independent rear suspension. The main benefit: a low, flat floor in the rear of the vehicle, for the best third-row seat in the entire industry. There’s plenty of room back there, and with the third-row bench very high off the floor and a little less cushy than the others it’s arguably the most comfortable place to sit in the Navigator. This never happens.

There’s only a foot or so of cargo space behind the third row. For those who want to carry six-plus people AND their luggage Lincoln offers the Navigator EL. In the EL the seating dimensions remain about the same, but there’s another foot behind the third row for luggage. If you’re getting this sort of vehicle you might as well go all the way; I tested the regular wheelbase only because it was closer in size to the Lexus.

Ford’s “modular” V8 has never received much love, and that’s not about to change in its waning days. The three-valve-per-cylinder 5.4-liter V8’s specs aren’t bad: 310 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 365 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. But they’re up against a curb weight north of three tons. Worse, the V8 produces an unseemly roar while going about its work and the six-speed automatic isn’t the smoothest. With so many gears to choose from, you wouldn’t expect the sort of overly aggressive kick down common with lesser endowed boxes, but it’s here.

The steering has a moderate weightiness to it and feels pretty good for this class of vehicle. That’s the high point of the suspension. Handling is thoroughly predictable but ponderous, even compared to the Cadillac. Despite the independent rear suspension and luxury mission the Navigator pounds and shimmies over bumps. The body feels flexy and too loosely attached to the frame. Old man Leland must be rolling in his grave. His Lincolns never rode anything like this. The tested vehicle was shod with the optional 275/55R20 tires. These could be poorly suited for the suspension, and the standard 18s could ride better. But the 20s possess plenty of sidewall. They’re hardly rim protectors. Even with them there’s no obvious reason the Navigator rides as badly or feels as unpolished as it does. Competitors also tend to be quieter inside.

When testing Explorers and Expeditions in the past I’ve wondered how Ford could go through the cost and trouble of fitting an independent rear suspension to its otherwise conventional SUVs and still manage to underperform the live-axled competition from General Motors. With the latest, and perhaps last, Navigator, this mystery continues. The big SUV’s roominess and comfort are outstanding, but in just about every other way it falls short, even far short. The luxury is all superficial, at best. From the minor controls to the shifter to the engine to the chassis the Navigator feels clunky. Given its age and configuration I expected the SUV to feel dated. But the thorough lack of finesse came as a surprise. While rare these days even among low-priced subcompacts, this isn’t the sort of distinctive driving experience I was looking for.

Craig Carlson at Varsity Lincoln in Novi, MI, provided the vehicle (248-305-5300).
Michael Karesh owns TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.
Navigator cargo Navigator instruments Naviagtor front quarter Navigator second row Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Navigator third row Navigator instrument panel Navigator front Navigator rear quarter Navigator engine Navigator front seats Navigator side Navigator-front-thumb
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Review: 2011 Lincoln MKX Wed, 05 Jan 2011 22:11:56 +0000

The Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX have been sales successes despite lukewarm, at best, reviews. Apparently they provide what the typical crossover buyer wants. For 2011 they’ve received revised exteriors and thoroughly reworked interiors. Intrigued by the new MyFord/MyLincoln Touch user interface, I requested one for a week, and received the MKX. So, what’s the future like?

First, the rest of the vehicle. The name remains easy to confuse with the MKS and MKZ. The changes to the exterior styling align the MKX with the rest of the line, swapping out the classic Continental-inspired eggcrate grille for an oversized twin-portal piece and similarly splitting the previously one-piece tail light. Also, the front fenders now hump up, Mazda style, over the wheels. All of these changes render the exterior more trendy and less clean, though the MKX remains a moderately attractive vehicle.

The interior changes are more extensive. The retro-inspired instrument panel is gone. French stitching has been molded into the new, less distinctive IP to make it appear luxuriously upholstered, and the effect is convincing. The extensive wood trim is the real stuff. The metal-look trim is not, but its bronze finish is a refreshing, appropriately upscale variation from the norm. Overall, the interior looks good.

Getting into the Lincoln MKX is a bit of a chore, as the doors feel very heavy. Why? As in the first-generation MKX, but perhaps a little less so, the seat cushion can feel unexpectedly hard. The seatback provides some lateral support, which is more than the typical buyer will ever need. The seat heaters take a long time to get to work, and the steering wheel heater affects only the outside edge. Palms benefit while fingers—most in need of the heat—remain frigid. The rear seat reclines, but is a little low and there’s less legroom than in the average compact crossover.

The engine, bumped from 3.5 to 3.7 liters, is now good for 305 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 280 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000. Though about 50 short of the EcoBoosted variant not offered in the MKX, this is more the enough to accelerate the MKX’s 4,361 pounds as quickly as the typical owner will ever desire. Even with front-wheel-drive there’s no torque steer, but the nose becomes light and wanders a bit under hard acceleration. As in other applications, the big V6 sounds gruff and pedestrian. Especially considering the MKX’s $40,000+ price it should sing a sweeter song. To view it you must wrestle with a prop rod. The six-speed automatic can be manually shifted, but the shifter is too far rearward in M to do this comfortably.

Driving casually about the burbs I observed from 16.5 to 19.5 MPG, the key variable being the number of stops. Cruise a steady 55 and the MKX manages to top 20, though not by much. Drive the MKX aggressively and you’ll see 12.

The MKX’s chassis has been improved, but remains subpar. The crossover feels stable and understeers minimally once it takes a set in a curve, but feels unsettled and vague on center. The quick, light steering deserves only some of the blame; most of the on-center slop seems to originate from the suspension. The ride is smooth and quiet…if the road is smooth. Toss in a few bumps and the MKX bounds and thumps over them, even though the 20s are not as low in profile as the 22s offered on the Edge. Oddly, the MKX handles and rides better (or at least much better than expected) on a curvy, unpaved road. While some of the best cars feel better the harder they’re pushed, vague handling in the most casual driving isn’t a prerequisite.

Which brings us to MyLincoln Touch. This system employs three LCD displays, including a pair of small ones flanking the conventional speedometer and a large touchscreen, ten switches on the steering wheel, including two four-way rockers, and a few rows of newfangled touch-sensitive switches on the center stack. The Edge/MKX sibs and the Chevrolet Volt are the first places I’ve encountered these “anti-buttons.”

If you suspect that such a complicated, unconventional system requires a few days to figure out, you suspect correctly. If vehicles with these controls end up in rental fleets, the rental car companies better beef up their help desks. At first the touch-sensitive controls frustrated me, because prodding them with a fingertip, like one would a conventional button, often does nothing. I then learned that brushing a fingertip across a control is both easier to do, as it requires less precision, and works every time. The audio volume and fan speed sliders seem especially nifty once you figure them out (not all reviewers have, but my kids did).

The touchscreen remains dicey even well up the learning curve. The four basic systems—nav, phone, audio, and climate—are color-coded (on both the large touchscreen display and the steering wheel-controlled right-side small display) and logically organized. One problem: as on other such systems, is that too many basic functions—like the seat heaters you want engaged ASAP on a winter morning—require two or three steps to access. A larger one: unlike with the touch-sensitive switches, your finger must hit the exact spot, and the screen being flat there is no physical guide and no tactile feedback. If the road is even a touch unsmooth your finger is bouncing about and hitting the right spot consequently requires far more time and concentration than in should. Even at the end of the week very little about this system seemed effortless. My wife, who I thought might love it because of her general technophilia, hated it.

All of this said, I found the system quite pretty to look at and fun to use once I sorted it out. But this is a problem in itself, since time spent playing with the controls is time not spent concentrating on the road.

So, a very mixed review. I like the look of the MKX’s interior, and somehow remain fond of the controls. After experiencing them, conventional controls look and feel antiquated. But, by any practical measure, the MKX does nothing especially well. Then again, it never did. Sales have been healthy regardless. Good enough has been…good enough. Perhaps looks matter most. If so, the 2011 MKX should sell even better than the original.

Lincoln provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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Review: 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid Mon, 22 Nov 2010 21:38:47 +0000
Ten years ago I would never have considered comparing a Lincoln to a Lexus, but times change and with Lincoln heading up market with their latest product refreshes and Lexus searching for their soul in the mass market, the stars have finally aligned. And nothing out of Detroit strikes so closely the heart of the Japanese competition as the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. After all, reliable entry-level luxury and hybrid tech are two things the Japanese mastered long before anyone else. Is it possible for an American company to beat Lexus at their own game?

The Lincoln MKZ aka the Zephyr, has had a hard life, and despite following the same formula that made the Lexus ES a success – take your mid-size volume car, add some bling and call it luxury – the MKZs sales figures are less than half the competition from Japan. With the 2010 refresh of the MKZ and Fusion models Ford may finally have some competition.

From the outside the MKZ finally has some style; like it or not, the corporate proboscis has been grafted on just about every Lincoln product. While I personally hate the baleen whale motif, I have to admit that in a land of bland styling the Lincoln sure stands out. In my week-long stint in the MKZ people either loved or hated the look; a definite improvement considering nobody could ever recall the previous car. Sadly, however, Lincoln decided to restrain themselves when it came to the sheet metal and plastic out back. Pity, I think a resurrection of the fake-spare-tire hump could have been an interesting look. Sure the MKZ’s rump is decidedly more Lincoln than its Fusion brother, but I had hoped for something more daring.

Inside the MKZ the first thing you notice is that Ford has been spending some money on their interiors lately. The fit and finish in our tester was excellent, although parts quality was something of a mixed bag. The center console looks fantastic when covered in the stained walnut that our tester had, but a quick jaunt to the local Ford shop reveals that buyers unwilling to pay for the $495 executive package will get a console with questionable plastics. Adding injury to the $41,370 MSRP (as equipped) are the Ford-parts-bin parts. It’s not that the borrowed components are bad… if they match. What makes the mirror and door lock switchgear objectionable is how good the other interior parts are, allowing for a quality clash within arm’s reach. Keep your paws off the borrowed parts however and you’ll notice tasteful wood, chrome, leather and faux-suede accents in all the right places. My only further quibble is with the Ford corporate tiller: it’s not a bad steering wheel per se (its thin rim lacks any kind of sport grip and the leather feels cheap), but it doesn’t belong in a $40,000 car.

Speaking of pricing, Ford is trying something novel with the MKZ Hybrid, starting at $34,340, the Hybrid MKZ manages to be the exact same price as the FWD MKZ with the 263HP 3.5L V6. Buyers just have to decide if they can give up 72 horses in exchange for an 86% improvement in fuel economy. So far in 2010 Ford claims the Hybrid MKZ has had a 25% take rate so early indications are that buyers are willing. My local Lincoln dealer thinks the take rate would be much higher if they could keep the leather coated battery hauler in stock.

Out on the road our inevitable comparison to the HS250 begins to bear fruit for Ford. While Toyota may have been first to market with the Prius and arguable still holds the innovation title in the hybrid arena, the HS250 is far from the “Lexus Prius” everyone had hoped for. Oddly enough, that title really goes to the Lincoln MKZ and here’s why: The HS250’s economy ratings are honestly a failure. Rated at 41MPG city, the MKZ bests the Lexus by 15% (35MPG) and its combined economy of 39MPG makes the MKZ Hybrid 10% more efficient overall then the HS250. Ouch. Over the course of a week and almost 900 miles we averaged 36.5MPG (mostly highway with plenty of steep-hill driving) overall and easily managed 41.8MPG overall when treating the MKZ more gently (this involved highway speeds of 75MPH and a daily commute involving going over a 2,300ft mountain pass). The last vehicle I tested that yielded this many MPGs was the much-lighter Ford Fiesta. Even the EPA is infatuated, ranking the Fusion/MKZ/Milan triplets the second most efficient cars in America. The HS250? Not even on the top 10 list.

When the road starts to curve the difference between the Fusion and MKZ become more obvious. While I would not say the MKZ handles poorly, it is obvious it is tuned for a more compliant ride than its platform mates. Under hard braking the nose dive is extreme, but otherwise it’s about what you would expect from a baby Lincoln. The seats are cushy and rear passengers are treated to enough leg room for a moderate road-trip, 5 passenger odysseys should be kept to lunch-runs with your thin coworkers however. It will be on these short runs that the MKZ’s real party trick becomes obvious. Thanks to a larger traction motor and bigger batteries than Ford’s first gen hybrids, the MKZ is able to drive electric only up to 47MPH (as long as you keep your right foot light) compared to the 25MPH electric-only top speed of the HS. This means that in heavy traffic that isn’t quite stop-and-go, the Hybrid system in the MKZ pays dividends.

While the MKZ Hybrid will never be a track star, the 191 net horse power system (156HP 2.5L I4 and 40HP motor) are more than adequate for most situations. The system integration is well executed and the transitions from electric only to hybrid power are as seamless as anything from Toyota save for the LS600hl. What the MKZ lacks in scoot, it more than makes up for in electronic goodies. Gone are the days that going American meant settling for old tech, the SYNC system with the massive LCD nav screen in the dash is quite simply the best voice command infotainment system shy of BMW’s iDrive system. Seriously. For the tech-nerds out there, Ford has added twin LCD screens on either side of the speedo that adds some Star-Trek bling to the cabin.

As my week with the MKZ Hybrid drew to a close I realized that I would actually miss the car. Lincoln’s MKZ may be less appealing than much of its regular gasoline powered alternatives, but compared to the hybrid competition, the MKZ really shines. When you factor in the 2,000 gallon fuel savings over a supposed 150,000 mile lifetime with no additional cost at purchase, the MKZ even makes a compelling argument against other more premium marques in the segment. While this “Ford in drag” can’t compete with the likes of the Audi A4, BMW 3, Mercedes C or the former Ford stable-mate the new Volvo S60, it never the less adds an interesting dimension with the superb fuel economy. With January to October sales of the MKZ barely totaling 17,466, the MKZ may just be the best kept secret in Detroit. Pity.

Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

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Panther Week Comparison: 1988 vs 2006 Lincoln Town Car Tue, 21 Sep 2010 18:17:15 +0000

Kudos to Baruth for having the stones to (re)join the Mehtas and countless other Pro-Panther families at the dark side: no small feat considering he’s a famous Audi/Porker racer extraordinare. Which points to a universal fact: it’s okay for car people to love the American Land Yacht, even if modern-day Detroit hopes we’d forget about the past. To that effect, check out two Lincoln Town Cars that often grace my driveway.

My Dad can be a stereotypical Indian: he loves luxury goods, but doesn’t always want to pay for them. His pre-owned BMW 750iL did just that at every (unscheduled) service interval, but his 2006 “Designer” series Town Car doesn’t disappoint, loaded with THX navigation/audio and the back seat from the long wheelbase version to boot. I added a monochrome Navigator-esque paintjob, a resonator-free intake, mufflers from the 2010 Mustang GT (yes, it sounds like a Mustang now), semi-metallic pads, and a Crown Victoria Police Interceptor rear swaybar (2mm thicker) to the mix: this Lincoln is better than new.

My Aunt has driven Dearborn’s flagship since I was a kid, helping frame my collective respect for these machines. Her 1988 Signature Series personifies all that was right with America: traditional styling, pillow-topped brown velour, power everything and a modicum of modernization via vacuum fluorescent indicators and a cutting-edge SEFI 5.0 liter V8 with overdrive.

While both relatives could do better, they really cannot. When you demand flagship luxury on a family sedan budget, the Town Car is it. Northstar Cadillacs? I prefer my head bolts intact. Anything imported? Some luxuries aren’t crystal clear until the repair bill for a modest problem arrives: a truly non-luxurious notion to consider.

The 2006 Town Car is no slouch at sane driving inputs. Even sans Mehta-modifications, it feels better in a corner than America’s mainstream sweetheart, the Toyota Camry LE. With its relative lack of driver nannies and poised V8/RWD architecture, the Town Car is miles ahead of products that pull back on their electric throttles, drive the wrong wheels, self-steer their tillers and spin rubber band tires that bang on pavement joints. Contrary to every other luxury car, the Town Car is cool with you being cool with yourself.

It’s possible to take a corner without getting sea sick, but why bother? Instead, be cool: thanks to that Police Interceptor bar, the ’06 Town Car is a blast when gently easing into a corner, crossing the apex and hammering the throttle: exploding out of a corner like a scene from COPS. This car is fun.

And when its time to relax, the “Designer” encourages Houstonians to go Slim Thuggin’, workin’ that wood grain wheel in the nearest parking lot. Too bad the live axle crashes over speed bumps, and the beatbox can’t hit the highs and lows demanded by modern music. Ditto the lack of A/C seating, rich carpeting, SYNC interface, or the Mustang GT’s awesome powertrain. Ford even dumped the THX/Navigation option in 2008 to add insult to injury.

This wasn’t a problem for Lincoln back in 1988. The Signature Series sports the best thrones front and back, shaming the “Designer” digs. The velour is softer than any automotive-grade leather, thigh support is downright naughty, and the 80-watt “Premium Sound” system is shockingly competent when you drop a hit of old school in the tape deck.

I found the need to be “Lōc’d After Dark” uncontrollable, so I hit the freeway, lowered the power vent windows, put one hand on the top of the tiller and let the digital gauges dance to the beat, or to the up-down cycling of that prodigious powerdome hood and pointy fenders. One ride in a proper 1980’s Town Car at not-quite legal speeds and you’re straight-up ghetto fabulous, homie.

The elder Town Car is just that, unbelievably entertaining, feeling better the faster you drive. In a straight line: with over 100k on the clock on a 100% original suspension, this unit has absolutely no road holding ability. And what of live axles? You can’t feel a damn thing with tuning this soft. While not a threat to bystanders, the leaky Motorcraft shocks and low-rider springs means I should “Piston Slap” this car on my Aunt’s behalf. But the economy sucks and the ’88 is still a head turner with a clean set of Michelin whitewalls.

So which Town Car is better? No doubt, the 1988 has everything a luxury purist desires: add the performance and technology advancements from the new Mustang GT, add the interior bits of the Navigator and this car–as it sits–would rule the world. Take it from someone who drove a Rolls-Royce Phantom, this is THE machine. I couldn’t resist sneaking a peek at that unmistakable, 1960s Continental-inspired profile in an office building’s glass wall, and there were too many “Gawd Damns!” from passengers upon entry into the vat of brown velour to not proclaim the 1988 Signature Series the champion. It’s a shame: the new model never had a chance. Sorry, Dad.

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Rentin’ The Blues: First Place: 2010 Lincoln Town Car Signature Limited Wed, 14 Apr 2010 14:48:21 +0000

I’m going down to Memphis

Where they really playin’ the blues

I’m going down on Beale Street

And have a good time like I choose

“Thank you for coming to Budget. I have you booked for a Kia Optima.”

“The hell you do.”

“That is a full-size car as you requested.”

“Well, in that case, I want something that is not a full-size car.” And that is how I came to be rolling through the proverbial Dirty South in a 2100-mile, 2010-model-year Town Car. Yes, they still make ‘em. The current lineup has been rationalized to Signature Limited (117-inch wheelbase) and Signature L (123-inch). There’s absolutely no reason of which I can think to take the SWB car, but that’s what the rental fleets have, and it’s what you can easily buy off-lease. I’ve found plenty of essentially identical two-year-old SigLims for under $20K, so this car is not only a direct used-price competitor for the 2009 Sable I reviewed previously, it’s also in the same ballpark as… a Kia Optima.

Automotive experts of the Internet, when they are not telling people that a 2009 Sable is virtually the same car as an old Volvo S80, like to tell people that a 2010 Town Car is virtually the same car as a 1979 Lincoln Continental sedan. This is true in the same sense that a 2000 Honda Civic Si is the same car as a 1988 Civic. In both cases, there were major dimensional and engineering changes across multiple generations of the same basic design. I am the former owner of a 1980 Mercury Marquis Brougham Coupe and I can state with authority that the current Town Car is nothing like that car in terms of driving dynamics.

This does not mean that recent Crown Victoria owners won’t be perfectly at home. Ford has steadily rationalized the differences between the Panther cars over time and this 2010 car is the most egregious example of that. Town Car aficionados (yes, they exist) will tell you to avoid Canadian-built TCs in favor of the Wixom, MI-assembled 2008 and earlier model years. They may have a point. The plastics and leather are okay, but they are nothing like what you would find in an Audi. Come to think of it, they aren’t close to what you would find in a new MKS.

Also not up to MKS spec: the sound system. You can get SYNC in a fifteen-grand Focus but not in a Town Car, and for the first time in my recent experience, the stereo simply isn’t loud enough. There is no navigation screen, no aux plug, no USB support, no nothing. The center console features dual-zone climate control and that’s more or less it.

Once in motion, the Town Car has a surprising flaw: it’s a wanderer on the highway, requiring constant correction and displaying quite a bit of sensitivity to side winds. My displayed mileage for the trip was 22.7 over the course of 2,635 miles, including a day in New York and one cruising around Memphis. There’s more than adequate power and the four-speed transmission rarely feels as if it needs additional ratios.

A snowstorm outside New York revealed why a whole generation of drivers abandoned big RWD cars: it was an absolute nightmare on a high-crowned, icy two-lane, requiring frequent, violent corrections at the helm to keep pace with the rest of the traffic. When the road turned dry, it was time to take advantage of the anonymity afforded a black Lincoln on I-95, pushing into the triple digits and pushing traffic out of the left lane with a double-blink of the brights and a bullying chrome grill. This is no sports car but it has some fundamental balance to it at speed. Too bad it has no brakes.

In traffic anywhere, the Lincoln is a fearsome weapon. It’s big, it’s official-looking, and it brake-torques from the lights like a Fox Mustang. The steering is light but accurate enough to place the car inches from a falafel vendor or inebriated pedestrian. Potholes don’t faze it. And Ford’s never bothered to put anything like advanced engine electronics in it, so you can wrap the seatbelt tight and left-foot-brake all day, standing the car on its nose on corner entry and then spinning the inside rear wheel on the exit.

If I came to admire the Town Car — and I did — my passengers admired it from the beginning, rating it above not only the Sable but vehicles like the Audi A6. Only my Phaetons have received higher ride-along reviews.

You’ll miss this car when it’s gone. It’s old, it’s flawed, it’s imperfect. Still, it’s utterly authentic, and when the last one rolls off the line we will never see its like again. If you haven’t driven one, it’s worth doing, and it’s as close as your local Budget Rent-a-Car. Unless, that is, you prefer a Kia Optima.

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Review: Lincoln MKZ Wed, 07 Apr 2010 13:19:57 +0000

The logic behind the Lincoln MKZ is clear enough: if Toyota can get away with making a Lexus out of a Camry, why can’t Ford do the same with a Fusion? The ES 350 is arguably convincing as a Lexus (I’d argue pro, if not with much vigor, while there’s no shortage of people who’d take the other side). But does the MKZ make for a convincing Lincoln?

The MKZ spent one year as the Zephyr, and received a more thorough revision for 2010. Both the grille—Lincoln’s current twin waterfall—and the tail lamps have gotten larger, in the current fashion. Unlike with the Fusion’s tri-bar, the supersizing doesn’t hurt. But the grille does nothing for the side view, from which the MKZ, though handsome, appears much less distinctive. Even with bespoke sheetmetal fore and aft of the doors, the midsize Lincoln sedan doesn’t look even as different from the Fusion as the ES does from the Camry. The money for dedicated fenders was not well spent—this is the way GM used to do it. If you’re going to spring for unique metal, spend a little more to alter the basic shape.

A larger problem: the MKZ doesn’t look much different than any other conventionally packaged three-box sedan. Ask a kid to draw a sedan, and he’d likely draw this. I dropped by a Buick showroom while driving this car, and the LaCrosse makes the MKZ appear just so twentieth century in comparison.

This story continues inside the MKZ. The Zephyr and pre-refresh MKZ had a three-quarter Town Car IP that, though certainly dated, was definitely Lincolnesque. There’s nothing remotely memorable about the new IP with the possible exception of the lighted hash marks that ring the instruments—a trait shared with other current Lincolns. Some other bits of style: the light gray piping on the steel gray seats and a tasteful level of chrome trim. The interior materials, while not those of a $41,000 car, are certainly better than those in the Fusion. The padded door panels are an especially welcome upgrade. But the Fusion should have door panels this nice, rather than the econo-car moldings it does have. A Lincoln interior should be nicer still. Beginning with the sound the doors make when pulled shut.

One dividend of the MKZ’s conventional packaging: good visibility to the front and sides. The thick-pillared, high-belted LaCrosse can’t touch it here. The front seats, though less cushy than those in the larger MKS, provide good lateral support. Together with the hand-operated parking brake, they suggest that we might even have a sport sedan on our hands. The rear seat, while fairly roomy, has on overly flat bottom cushion, for me among the least comfortable in any car.

Cargo is a strong point. Unlike in the MKS or the LaCrosse, the opening is as expansive as the trunk itself. Credit the conventional three-box shape. The hinges are the non-intrusive sort. And, for even more space, you can fold the rear seat. Can’t do that in a LaCrosse or a Lexus ES. One omission: no interior handle to close the trunk—you must touch the outer surface of the lid. Why?

A 263-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 remains the sole engine option. It’s no EcoBoost—if Ford offered that engine it could just put the MKZ on the enthusiast map—yet the sans-boost six is more than adequate.  If you don’t want a little torque steer, you want the optional all-wheel-drive. Fuel economy in mildly aggressive suburban driving was about 18.5—almost the same as the larger, heavier, considerably more powerful all-wheel-drive MKS EcoBoost. Go figure. The six-speed automatic can be manually shifted, which can be handy on curvy or hilly roads.

Manually shift a Lincoln, really? The tested MKZ was fitted with an optional sport suspension that certainly livens things up. After a few days in an MKS, this MKZ felt like a Miata until my reference point readjusted. It’s taut.

Perhaps too taut. With the sport suspension, the MKZ’s ride quality is often jittery, and occasionally crosses the line into harsh. I don’t recall the Fusion Sport riding this firmly, though certainly it must have? With a Ford badge and tighter steering I might have found this ride/handling balance agreeable, at least on the right road. In a Lincoln it seems…inappropriate.

Noise levels are fairly low, but not MKS low. When I drove an MKS with the regular suspension and a Milan back-to-back a few years ago, I found that the former was notably smoother and quieter. Possibly because the typical mainstream sedan has gotten so much smoother and quieter in recent years, I didn’t get the same premium feeling this time around. If the Fusion isn’t this smooth and quiet, it ought to be.

Perhaps it’s time to change our perceptions of what a Lincoln should be? Problem is, we need something to change them to. Like the MKS, but to an even greater degree, the MKZ lacks a coherent, distinctive character. The MKS at least had the “big and cushy with tons of stuff” thing down pat. As much as I hate to say it, the MKZ is just a mildly upgraded Fusion. Not a bad car by a long shot, since the Fusion is a good, reliable basis to start from. And at the right price I’d gladly recommend the MKZ, and certainly wouldn’t kick one out of my garage. But the $41,355 on the tested car’s sticker is not the right price. To deserve that kind of money, Lincoln needs to offer something more special. Perhaps the most telling indicator: while my luxury-loving wife hated to see the MKS go back, she hasn’t missed the MKZ for a moment.

Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online provider of automotive pricing and reliability data

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Review: Lincoln MKS Ecoboost Take Two Fri, 19 Mar 2010 14:42:56 +0000

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

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Review: Lincoln MKT Take Two Wed, 25 Nov 2009 16:30:03 +0000 Tooney, if not tiny

The Lincoln MKT is a Looney Tunes cartoon: based on previously made creations, packaged into something unique. While the animated series started from the Warner Brother’s impressive music library, the MKT comes from an old Volvo S80 platform, sharing a motor with the Mazda6. So both creations are downright looney. Which explains the MKT’s krill filtering grille: silly in pictures, insane in natural sunlight where it’s obvious that 40% of it’s toothy smile is blocked off by solid plastic paneling. Which probably says more about the current state of Lincoln better than anything else.

While the Lincoln MKT’s design is proportionally derivative and stylistically challenged, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Still, the MKT’s droopy butt sticks out like a sore lincolnmktintthumb in any lighting condition outside of a PR-coordinated photo shoot: even the oversized, italicized “T” on the decklid badging reeks of branding desperation.

Sure, the not-so-subtle beltline kick pays homage to the Continental Mark IV and the taillights are Mark VIII-ish, but the MKT’s boxy fenders with a lack of “Pre-War Continental” flare and cargo killing slant back design take the 1930’s coachbuilt-era’s hallmarks to dangerously bizarre heights. Then again, it happens when you design a CUV around other people’s hard points (so to speak). If there’s one reason to buy a wannabe-xB Ford Flex, here it is.

The interior is a less obvious desecration to the Lincoln brand, as the once favorable opinions on the Lincoln Navigator are history. But Navigator never died, and it’s brilliant combination of masculine haunches and day-spa like ambiance both charm and disarm any occupant.

The MKT’s cabin is awash in the luxury hallmarks of others: Lexus-like soft curves, Acura’s swoopy slabs of wood and an awkward Volvo-homage from the (inelegant) negative area behind the center stack. The flimsy wheel-mounted shift paddles are laughable, but the center console’s armrest sits higher than their door-mounted counterparts: FAIL. The steering wheels’ misaligned wood grain inlay is a sad cost cutting measure (ironically) not found on the earlier, badge engineered, Lincoln MK-Zephyr: a proper hunk of oak on the wheel is mandatory at this price point.

Luckily, someone sweated the other details. The white LED backed, chrome ringed gauges are bright, futuristic and elegant. Most anything touchable is wrapped in a leather-like material with triple stitching. The THX-fettled audio is stellar and the navigation’s GUI might be the most straightforward on the planet. Even the first two rows of seating provide adequate comfort and luxury, for a brand formerly known for being anything but adequate.

Get the MKT moving and you experience the good and bad of Ford’s recent decisions. In the 4500lb, two-wheel drive Lincoln CUV, Ford’s Duratec 3.7L six-pot is a pleasant surprise: paired with a reasonably quick six-speed autobox there’s enough grunt to light up the twenty-inch wheels, launching the MKT through the intersection in a flash of blinking traction control advisories.

lincolnmktrearAnd that’s just first gear. The MKT flies down the highway with sports car authority: nice, until you remember that front-wheel-drive and impressive power don’t mix. Wheel-jerking torque steer makes straight-line duties cumbersome, so turning the MKT with a modicum of throttle authority is entirely out of the question. While flat-ish handling is one the “D3” chassis strong suits, there’s too much power to finesse those front wheels.

Then again, the entire affair is no less artificial than a Lexus RX. Which isn’t damning the MKT with faint praise, considering this platform’s international heritage. And who buys a FWD wannabe-SUV for cornering pleasure?

These vehicles are about a pleasant ride. And the MKT doesn’t disappoint, except when it does. The ride is suitably floaty, without the pavement joint obliterating motions of the Navigator equipped with a similar set of twenty-inch rolling stock. In case you missed the underlying problem, remember that fragile products require air-suspended trucks for Interstate transport. That said, the adaptive cruise control works brilliantly for long distance cruising: too bad this system’s soul mate, the Lincoln Town Car, continues to live (thrive?) in the Stone Age.

But wait, there’s less! The four-passenger MKT carries about the same amount of cargo (third row folded) as a five-passenger Taurus from the Jac Nasser era, netting terrible fuel economy in the process. And think twice before towing (the rated) 4500lbs, even with EcoBoost motivating the car-based transaxle and unitized frame. While the MKT is more palatable than today’s Navigator, that’s not a very sincere compliment.

Unless the D3 platform’s voodoo sales curse magically disappears at the sight of the MKT’s grinning face, this abomination is doomed from the start. But the sooner the MKT dies, the sooner Lincoln will realize their heart and soul is in their core offerings. And, with any luck, they’ll stop neglecting them this time. Which is what we’ve been waiting for…for several decades.

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Review: 2010 Lincoln MKT EcoBoost Mon, 26 Oct 2009 15:31:44 +0000

Remember the scene in Jaws when Quint is being eaten by a great white shark, where he kicks his legs at the beast’s head, trying to avoid its endless rows of razor-sharp teeth? I reckon Lincoln’s designers based the MKT’s snout on Bruce’s man-eating maw. Sure, there’s a touch of Hannibal Lecter’s mask to the MKT’s grill design. And yes, HR Giger’s aliens would feel right at home wheeling this whip to a Humanity’s End party. But there are children who laughed at the liver-loving psycho killer and sniggered at the acid-tongued incubus who will wake-up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, begging Daddy to take them to school in the morning in his sedate sedan. Congratulations, Lincoln: the MKT is the world’s most terrifying family vehicle.

The MKT’s grill is so unrelentingly grotesque it’s easy to overlook the fact that the crossover’s hind quarters are equally—if less aggressively—hideous. For anyone who appreciates well-sculpted sheet metal and artful illumination, the MKT’s butt is an abomination. The enormous red strip bisecting the back end at nipple height is a distorted echo of an over-sized Ford Thunderbird logo pasted onto an homage to the Acura RL’s ungainly reverse snow plow motif. Adding insult to aesthetic injury, the MKT’s back-up lights are in exactly the wrong place (dead center).

But wait! There’s more! The rear’s glass-to-metal ratio and forward tilt suggests nothing so much as an oncoming Amtrak train. You can’t ask the MKT’s designers “what the hell were you thinking?” because, clearly, they weren’t. The MKT’s profile is blessedly bland, if you discount the 10-spoke 20″ EcoBling wagon wheels filling-up the arches and ruining the ride. We’ll get to that . . .

Based on its looks, the only logical market for Lincoln’s unfathomably ugly station wagon is someone driving a Like the MKZ...only better!hearse. Unfortunately, the $50K plus sticker puts it out of reach for all but the most successful goth rockers, who’d instantly opt for a proper tour bus. Which leaves . . . who? Seriously. I have no idea why anyone would buy a Lincoln MKT. An engine freak?

Lincoln proudly proclaims that the EcoBoosted MKT is the “only vehicle in its class with a twin-turbocharged direct injection V6 engine.” There’s a reason for that. Vehicles in this genre (at this price point) are tuned for quiet composure. Unlike a smooth-spinning naturally-aspirated six or a lazy, loping V8, the EcoBoosted 3.5-liter V6 is a thoroughly manic motor. The MKT’s force-fed mill feels like an amphetamine-crazed stallion, ready to drop a couple of cogs and bolt for the horizon at a moment’s notice. Or, indeed, without a moment’s notice.

Never mind the occasional roller coaster-like jolt, when the MKT’s speed-seeking six-speed gearbox loses its [freight] train of thought. Or the fact that the MKT’s paddle shift transmission gave up the ghost in the middle of my test drive. With 350 lb•ft of torque at just 3500 RPM, the MKT accelerates like its hair’s on fire. How great is that?

Not much. The the carnivorous Lincoln’s an answer to a question nobody asked: where can I buy a really fast Medusa-class crossover with a hair-trigger throttle? Oh, and don’t worry about wind noise, tire roar or a stiff, crashy ride. Or handling.

Sensibly enough, Lincoln equips its blown MKTs with all wheel-drive. While the big rig’s brakes are almost as touchy as the go-pedal, the steering system serves-up something roughly approximating feel and the car corners without excessive body roll. To no appreciable effect save safety. Tap into the MKT’s seemingly endless thrust (just try not to) and its forward momentum completely outstrips the Lincoln’s ability to do anything about/with it. The MKT is more Hyundai than hot rod; it’s Sonata sports wagon it Hertz.

Yes, there is that. The MKT’s materials, interior design and overall build quality suggests a future spent scaring jet-lagged travelers trudging through rental car lots. What the hell are those pieces of foam glued to the top of the engine bay (in front of the base of the windscreen)? My guess: a twenty-five cent fix for an at-speed hood rattle. Got duct tape? Yup. Well we may need some more over here . . .

As an automotive brand struggling to reclaim its place in The Bigs, Lincoln has equipped all MKTs with “premium perforated leather trimmed seats.” While the chairs are comfortable enough for government work, they’re as aromatic as a window pane. Without any eau de dead cow to distract the nasal palate from nasty, out-gassing plastics, Lincoln’s luxury crossover smells exactly like an oven-fresh Ford Focus.

It’s no small point. Lincoln owes its miserable existence to its inability to sweat the small stuff. Everywhere you look, there’s evidence of cost cutting. From the glove box lid’s flimsy feel, to the execrable embalmed mouse fur material covering the third row seats, to the nasty faux nickel-finished plastic adorning (in the ironic sense) the radio and HVAC housing, the MKT is more econo-box than luxury limo.

I know luxury cars. And you, sir, are no luxury car.

The MKT’s central dials are an especially egregious example of Ford’s lack of commitment to, or understanding of, an upmarket ethos. Garish markers illuminate an otherwise vapid tachometer and frame the speedometer in twenty mile-per-hour increments. [Note: if Lincoln wants buyers younger than 60, perhaps they shouldn’t put that number smack dab in the middle of the speedo.] I’m thinking the MKT’s vanilla-ice-cream-topped-with-gravy styling owes its genesis to a penny-pinching rummage through Ford’s parts bin. If so, shame on them. If not, double shame on them.

The MKT’s plastics may smell bad, but they engender the same amount of haptic happiness as any other Ford product (i.e., none). About the best that can be said about the MKT’s cabin: the wood’s shiny and the second row seating is expansive, cosseting and comfortable—provided the owner opted for twin chairs (as advertised on TV).

Hang on; why would they do that? Who wants an ugly-ass six-chair leather-lined station-wagon-on-stilts? How’s that whole R-Class thing working out for Mercedes, anyway? True story: the moribund Merc enjoys pride of place on the Lincoln’s Compar-O-Matic, flanked on either side the not-exactly-flying-off-the-shelves Audi Q7 3.6 and the not-entirely-unpopular Acura MDX.

Yes, well, as well all know, three’s company and six is a crowd. And there are not one but two more 5000 lb gorillas in or near the MKT’s vicinity. I know Lincoln’s nonsensiclature makes it virtually impossible to memorize their lineup, but I seem to recall that they already have a crossover. The MK . . . uh . . . X. Trying to create a market for the MKT—instead of improving and promoting their existing model—is yet more evidence of Ford’s ongoing wander through the wilderness.

Anyway, primate number two: the Ford Flex. The twin-under-the-skin Flex is no oil painting either, but it costs less, does everything the Lincoln MKT does, and wasn’t designed by a psychopath serving a life sentence in a maximum security mental health facility.

Time to face facts: the MKT’s fugly grill and bulbous butt are an insurmountable obstacle. The EcoBoosted Lincoln could be as fast and agile as an Mercedes S63 AMG, as luxurious as a Bentley Flying Spur and as economical as a Toyota Prius and you’d still need to a brace of beta blockers to buy one.

I know Lincoln dealerships treat their customers well, if only because of their scarcity. But anyone who buys an MKT instead of an up-optioned Flex or something else entirely is an idiot. Actually, make that a blind idiot.

As even the Rhode Island Department of Motor Vehicles’ licensing division has to draw the line somewhere, I don’t expect the Lincoln MKT will do much for Lincoln’s bottom line or future prospects, save weaken them. The Lincoln MKT AWD EcoBoost proves, once again, that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Performance: 5 stars. Anyone who’d want more thrust in this thing ought to have their headers examined.

Ride: 2 stars. If it was an SUV, fair enough. But it isn’t, so no fare.

Handling: 3 stars. Deadly dull but not deadly.

Exterior: 0 stars. Ghastly.

Interior: 0 stars. What we have is a failure to luxuriate.

Fit and Finish: 1 star. Nothing broke or fell off during the test drive, but Lincoln needs to reach higher. MUCH higher.

Toys: 4 stars. It honest-to-God parks itself and the SYNC works a treat, but the ICE audio quality is so muddy I wanted to put a pair of Wellingtons over my ears.

Desirability: 0 stars. I can’t imagine anyone pining to plunk down 50 large on one of these things.

Price as tested: $50K

Overall Rating: 0 stars. Beats walking and goes like stink, but the MKT is a complete embarrassment to all concerned, really. A badly built car that never should have been built.

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Review: 2010 Lincoln MKS Fri, 16 Oct 2009 14:39:42 +0000 MKS

Fifty-three thousand dollars! I’m tempted to say it again! Fifty-three thousand dollars! What are the chances that any American-branded sedan could be worth this kind of money, particularly in our newly cost-conscious era? Mr. Farago has repeatedly pummeled the “MKTaurus” on these pages, and that was before the price of Lincoln’s big sedan cleared the fifty-K mark. Before we can even get a handle on whether or not the MKS is a good car, it’s critical that we take the competition’s temperature and see just how unjustifiable the pricing is.

Boost mobileWe can start with the Lincoln’s distant relative, the 2010 Volvo S80. In V8-powered, all-wheel-drive trim, the Volvo is $50,950. The S80 cannot be equipped quite as thoroughly as the MKS — it cannot park itself, as the MKS can, and there’s nothing to compare with Ford’s SYNC system — but a thoroughly equipped S80 costs about $56K. It’s not as fast as the MKS, it’s not as big as the MKS, and it’s not as gadget-heavy, but it is made in Sweden and it will carry more credibility with your daughter’s friends at any of the Seven Sisters. Call it a draw,

I like the idea of a matchup with the Audi A6 3.0T. The example we tested earlier this year was priced almost dollar-for-dollar with the MKS. I will admit to being an unbashed Audi fan who owns a rather questionably-colored S5 coupe, but of the dozen or so thirtysomethings I put into both the A6 and the MKS, nobody preferred the Audi. The MKS simply murders the Audi in a straight line, on the spec sheet, and on the open road. Only in full-throttle, wet-road situations or around a racetrack does the Audi’s superior driveline pedigree reveal itself. There’s never any torque steer from an A6. On the other hand, perhaps if the Audi had as much power as the Lincoln there would be more danger of torque steer. Nor does a low-option A6 feel quite as special as the “Ultimate Package” MKS inside. This round goes to the challenger from Dearborn.

Lexus doesn’t offer an AWD GS460, and the GS350 is outgunned in this comparison. If we equip an Infiniti M45 AWD to match, we are well past $62K and it still won’t hang with the MKS in a straight line. As with the Audi, I prefer the layout of the M45’s AWD system, which avoids the annoyances of a transverse engine and the attendant wandering steering wheel. Still, the M45 has neither space nor pace to match the MKS. Acura offers a facelifted RL, about S Marks the spotwhich the less said the better.

At the end of this little market-pricing journey, we have to conclude that the “MKTaurus” offers pretty decent value for the money. You won’t get more for less anywhere else, and in EcoBoost form, the Lincoln is genuinely rapid. Taurus SHO owners are already dipping into high twelve-second quarter-mile times with nothing more than an ECU reflash and premium fuel. The MKS would be capable of the same feat. Previous-generation BMW M3s should, perhaps, worry. I personally smoked an SLK55 AMG in a 0-60 sprint for a two-into-one lane merge, primarily due to the traction advantage. While his traction control was stutter-stepping the back tires along a rather chilly fall Ohio road, the MKS had briefly spun the fronts and shaken the wheel before redirecting drive to the rear for a steam-catapult launch.

You can get this same twist in a thirty-eight-grand Taurus “Show”, however, so to justify the markup the MKS needs to feel special in a way that numbers can’t describe. After putting substantial drive time behind the wheel of the Taurus and the MKS, I wouldn’t hesitate too long before spending the extra money for the Lincoln. It’s much quieter on the freeway — as quiet as any D-class German under most circumstances — and it rides impeccably.

The less-than-cultured responses at the steering wheel that plague the D3 Fords have been tidily addressed with the new EPAS electronic steering. Not only does EPAS exchange the syrupy, indistinct direction-finding of the standard car for a vibration-free, variable-effort smoothness, it also permits the Cocoon...MKS to park itself. This feature works like a charm, and best of all it works in the middle of the night. Even the best parallel-park artists need light to operate, but the MKS can and does park itself in a situation where it’s too dark to see the curb.

I will readily admit my personal biases here. Not only do I thoroughly approve of the D3-platform Fords, I also find that after a long weekend of club racing in cars with 800-pound springs and open headers it’s a genuine pleasure to drive home in a car like this. It’s no BMW wannabe. It’s not even a sporty sedan, Lincoln’s aggressive “starship” marketing aside. It’s a big, comfy, wickedly fast cocoon, with a kick-ass sound system and cruise control that effortlessly slows the car on its own when some mouth-breather swings into the left lane. In other words, it’s a convincing American luxury car, and that’s enough for me.

Overall rating: 4/5 stars


One of the fastest sedans you can buy for the money.

RIDE: 5/5

It would need a longer wheelbase to be any better.


It’s not a sports sedan.


I like the bird-of-prey front end, but it’s an awkwardly-proportioned car.


Easily a match for the competition.


Panel gaps are big in places.

TOYS: 5/5

It parks itself!


MKS owners will still have to do some explaining to the neighbors.

PRICE AS TESTED: $53,600 (approx.)

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Review: Yank Tank Comparo: Cadillac DTS vs. Lincoln Town Car vs. Chrysler 300C. 3rd Place: Lincoln Town Car Tue, 26 May 2009 13:50:36 +0000

Top Gear fans know that Europeans treat large American cars with contempt. Although they love our finned Cadillacs and suicide door Lincolns, they view modern "Yank tanks" as large, thirsty, ill-mannered dinosaurs that only escaped extinction thanks to government-sponsored petrochemical profligacy and car buyers' lack of environmental awareness, taste and brains. With American car companies struggling for survival, with entire U.S. car brands disappearing, this criticism begs a question: has the Yank Tank finally met its comeuppance? Price aside, can America produce anything to compete with BMW's mid-sizers (never mind their luxury flagships)? To answer this burning question, I tested a trio of America’s finest luxury cars for a week each; the Cadillac DTS, Lincoln Town Car and Chrysler 300c. First, the standard to which these cars should aspire.]]>

Top Gear fans know that Europeans treat large American cars with contempt. Although they love our finned Cadillacs and suicide door Lincolns, they view modern “Yank tanks” as large, thirsty, ill-mannered dinosaurs that only escaped extinction thanks to government-sponsored petrochemical profligacy and car buyers’ lack of environmental awareness, taste and brains. With American car companies struggling for survival, with entire US car brands disappearing, this criticism begs a question: has the Yank Tank finally met its comeuppance? Price aside, can America produce anything to compete with BMW’s mid-sizers (never mind their luxury flagships)? To answer this burning question, I tested a trio of America’s finest luxury cars for a week each: the Cadillac DTS, Lincoln Town Car and Chrysler 300C. First, the standard to which these cars should aspire.

“American luxury” is all about size and style, boldness, brashness, blingness and soft rides. An American luxury car should be equally at home cruising between square states as it is motoring around downtown San Francisco or New York City. It should suit anyone over 45 (or 400lb) while inspiring—or at least not alienating—more youthful admirers. Engine-wise, it’s got to be a V8. Period. [Out goes the Lincoln MK anything.] The transmission has to be a silky smooth automatic. It doesn’t have to be the proverbial “armchair on wheels,” but it doesn’t not have to be one either.

From first glance, the Lincoln Town Car is a solid miss. It’s main affliction: a distinct lack of style, American or otherwise. The TC has a lumpy aerodynamic design that’s so “90s” you expect to hear the bass line of “Boombastic” every time it drives by. Nothing about the Lincoln Town Car says luxury or style; it manages to look more geriatric than generic (no small feat). There’s no bling, no zing, not even a hint of wow. In white, the Town Car looks as classy as a patent leather loafer with gold buckles. In black, it’s only at home at airports, funeral homes, in mafia garages or on Warren Buffet’s driveway. Style factor? Zero.

Once inside the Town Car, the observant among us will notice the other reason the car is so well suited to livery service: there are no driver amenities what-so-ever. Sure, the seats are large and plush, there are rear bun warmers and some leather oh-shit handles, but other than that it’s as Spartan as a base model Kia. Nerd Factor? Zero.

This lack of electronic gee-whizardry makes total sense in the Town Car’s market, no need for your rent-a-Jeeves to get distracted by a beeping nav system or too many extra gauges. The person paying for the ride ($40 from the airport to the hotel, please) doesn’t care if the car has a nav system, or real wood trim, radar cruise control or a multi-media interface. They’re only in the car for a few minutes and they expect a quiet comfortable taxi ride with some flair. The only problem with this thought is that the Town Car exudes no more flair than a taxi, which is exactly what it is. Snob factor? Zero.

Under the long hood of this portly American contender churns an aging 1991-vintage V8. With 4.6L of displacement, this engine rounds out the bottom of this trio with 239 HP and 287 lb·ft of torque. On the positive side, you might not want rent-a-Jeeves to get too hot and heavy on the go pedal, pulling 4,500lb of Detroit steel around is no easy task. Making this even less of a driver’s car is the dimwitted and ancient Ford four-speed auto that everyone else forgot about a decade ago. While the transmission will outlast the end of days, it will annoy eternal with its lumpy shifts. In a modern luxury market, a quad cog swapper is almost worse than no transmission; even the Asian competition offers twice the number of forward gears.

The portly dimensions of the Town Car coupled with the softest set of springs this side of the Slinky factory make for a ride that could either be described as ponderous or sea worthy. Steering feel is less than zero and makes a 1980s Cutlass Cruiser seem like a road carver. Toss a corner at the Town Car and the inevitable happens, it leans like cheap prom date after a bottle of tequila and then passes out from the effort. Performance Factor? Zero.

I know: criticizing the Lincoln Town Car plays straight into the hands of foreign car snobs. But the car is not without its admirers or virtues. Namely, the correct number of cylinders, its size and rear-wheel drive. These three characteristics form the American large sedan holy trinity, and qualify the Town Car for recreation. Meanwhile, well, what else can a traditional American luxury car buyer favor with his or her patronage? Do you really want to know? See you tomorrow.

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Review: 2010 Lincoln Navigator L Tue, 21 Apr 2009 13:27:46 +0000

As a recent family reunion proved, there are times when nothing less than a Lincoln Navigator L will do. In theory: I relied on inferior modes of transportation during my time of need, and the little voice in my head never stopped reminding me of that fact. What wouldn’t I do for a fully independent suspension with air ride, three rows of seating and a suitcase swallowing 42.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row? Yes, this vehicle is everything that’s wrong with America. It’s the rolling embodiment of Wall Street greed and “easy credit” arrogance. But the guys getting bailout dollars and megabuck bonuses can afford a fleet of Navigators: I just want one, dammit!]]>

As a recent family reunion proved, there are times when nothing less than a Lincoln Navigator L will do. In theory: I relied on inferior modes of transportation during my time of need, and the little voice in my head never stopped reminding me of that fact. What wouldn’t I do for a fully independent suspension with air ride, three rows of seating and a suitcase- swallowing 42.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row? Yes, this vehicle is everything that’s wrong with America. It’s the rolling embodiment of Wall Street greed and “easy credit” arrogance. But the guys getting bailout dollars and megabuck bonuses can afford a fleet of Navigators: I just want one, dammit!

If it’s painted black. The Navigator wears a face so contrived that even P-Diddy couldn’t sample it for a remix. While the hood’s extra chrome is an option, there’s no escaping the door-mounted spizzarkle and Anime smile at the rear. Even without the twin plankton filters found on other Lincolns, the Navigator’s Mojo-Jojo is a hulking, sour-faced beast ready to battle the Power Puff Girls.

Yet, as Lincoln’s own website admits, the interior has “as much presence as its imposing exterior.” But shock and awe makes way for surprise and delight: the number of servo-assisted gadgets and electronic distractions boggle the mind. Yet somehow it transcends into a high-dollar urban lounge of gathered leather with contrast piping, decent polymers, ebony-toned oak and the obligatory faux aluminum paint.

Combined with the overwrought door handles (a constant reminder of why people vilify this vehicle) the retro Ford Econoline gauges and the shameful lack of wood trim on the rear doors, this is still the place to be. Well done, Mr. Jeff Sanders.

The F-150 Platinum has nicer touches than the outdated ’Gator, but there isn’t a bad seat in the house: even the power-fold third row has bountiful padding, never feeling like a penalty box. If the cooled seats don’t take the edge off a summer’s Heatwave, plug your iPod into the THX-infused SYNC audio system and those Boogie Nights will get Too Hot to Handle. This has been the Navigator’s promise since the beginning, Always and Forever.

And it stays that way, even when it moves. The Navigator is a rolling library, a blank canvas for your funky music, a child’s DVD, or an enlightened conversation on what non-SUVs the government shall build with the remains of General Motors. Or perhaps discussing what idiotic alphanumeric name Lincoln should apply to the Navigator to screw up their last bastion of American luxury?

Still, everyone stays happy. But more importantly, the driver never falls asleep. The latest Navigator sports firmer steering and better controlled body motions than its predecessor. If taking a sweeper in a Boxster is like Dancing with the Stars, the Navigator L is akin to a warm hug from Santa Claus: it still feels good.

While improved dynamics compromise the ever-important highway waft, emergency maneuvers don’t require a diaper for adult-sized accidents. The optional 20″ wheels may help turn-in, but their banging on pavement joints say the 18″ hoops are better for this rig’s modus operandi.

Which is like living amongst Lotus Eaters: always suspended in a state of bliss. Relative to the Escalade’s small block beast, the Lincoln’s 5.4L V8 fails to impress. But with 310 horsepower and a reassuring 365lb·ft of torque mated to a buttery smooth 6-speed autobox, this SUV never runs out of breath. While great for stoplight launches, the short first gear translates into effortless SeaRay retrievals from any boat ramp. And towing? Yeah, it’s got that too.

Load up the Navigator and let the air suspension equalize the load. Prodigious disc brakes keep an overloaded Navigator in check, but fuel economy in the double digits is not a foregone conclusion. At the other extreme, I hyper-miled my way to 22 mpg with the cruise control on, the A/C off, and the cooled seat in super-chill mode.

So Lincoln’s premier SUV is still exactly “what a luxury car should be.” And given the tumultuous times, that might be enough: a post Chapter 11 GM won’t have the stones to make a Cadillac Escalade in this political climate. Maybe the full size SUV is a low volume niche that will be filled by the last man standing?

Surprise! If Ford’s (silent) commitment to the unbelievably profitable Panther chassis is any indication, will the Navigator own this niche like the Town Car after the Cadillac Fleetwood bit the dust in 1996?

If so, I’m down. The Lincoln Navigator L is an eminently comfortable, capable and unbelievably luxurious machine. Both Lincoln and Cadillac survived The Great Depression, so maybe our current recession is no match for one of America’s best examples of automotive escapism.

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Lincoln BPS (Originally Published in 2003) Thu, 15 Jan 2009 13:15:16 +0000 Rick Bondy waits silently as the PR guy and engineer pile into the back of the Lincoln Town Car Ballistic Protection Series (BPS). Bondy’s booked track time at Ford’s Dearborn Proving Ground; the look on his face says he’s not going to miss a single minute. Sensing his urgency, I point to the radar detector nestling in my camera bag. “I’ve got one of these if you need it.” “No thanks,” Bondy replies, thumping his Secret Service badge on the armrest. “I’ve got one of these.”]]> Rick Bondy waits silently as the PR guy and engineer pile into the back of the Lincoln Town Car Ballistic Protection Series (BPS). Bondy’s booked track time at Ford’s Dearborn Proving Ground; the look on his face says he’s not going to miss a single minute. Sensing his urgency, I point to the radar detector nestling in my camera bag. “I’ve got one of these if you need it.” “No thanks,” Bondy replies, thumping his Secret Service badge on the armrest. “I’ve got one of these.”

If I had any doubts about the seriousness of Ford’s first foray into the armored car market, Rick Bondy is rapidly dispelling them. The company may have spent two years and millions of dollars transforming the limo version of their august Lincoln Town Car into a “rifle level” armored car with “blast protection,” but the BPS is Bondy’s baby. And it’s clear that Ford’s number two security man, the company’s vaguely titled “Associate Director of Executive Operations,” approached the challenge with the same single-minded determination he used during 23 years with the Secret Service.

“The BPS came to being for one simple reason,” Bondy says, wheeling the big Lincoln through suburban Detroit. “I was the most dissatisfied armored car customer in the world.  All the cars I’d seen were crap: poor fit and finish, no durability, horrible ride, zero handling, lousy performance and unsatisfactory armoring. I wanted to build something better.”

The statement raises dozens of questions about Bondy’s experience with presidential security, kidnapping and terrorism— none of which are going to be answered. In fact, interviewing Rick Bondy about the new Lincoln BPS means stumbling through a maze of “we’re not going to go there’s” and “I can’t talk about that’s.” What he can discuss is the car itself, more or less. But first, to the consternation of Chief Engineer John Jraiche, Bondy wants to “beat the shit out of it.”

After depositing Jraiche and PR man Mike Vaughn trackside, Bondy wheels the BPS onto Ford’s driving course and hammers it. Unsurprisingly, the 6220 lbs. armored limo is slow off the mark. The BPS’ engine bay contains the exact same 230hp 4.6-liter V8 that powers the 1851 lbs. lighter donor car. Bondy must use every ounce of the powerplant’s 287 ft. lbs. of torque to build our speed through the twisties. A few corners later, and he’s finally got the BPS’ 17” all-season Michelins (with run-flat inserts) squealing in protest.

“How well do you think most people drive when someone’s trying to kill them?” Bondy demands. He swings the lumbering limo through a hairpin, balancing the chassis on the throttle like a race car driver. “We made the car’s handling as safe, progressive and predictable as possible, so a novice driver can get it completely wrong and still maintain sufficient control to leave the kill zone.”

When we switch seats, I try to drive like an incompetent limo driver suffering from a bullet-triggered panic attack. I brake mid-corner, choose the wrong line through a switchback, yank the wheel violently left and right and mash the stoppers from 65mph. Despite my best efforts to unsettle the beast, nothing particularly dramatic happens. Bondy is pleased. “When you’re being attacked, there’s one simple rule: you crash, you die,” he says. “Escape and evade. That’s the key.”

Bondy is adamant on this point. As far he’s concerned, armoring is simply the best way to help a mobile target— “the principal”— find extra escape time. That’s why we start at the track and work our way back to Roush Engineering, the BPS’ birthplace. The car’s design team, a combination of Ford product guys and the armoring world’s “best and brightest,” has disbanded. We huddle in Jraiche’s lonely-looking office to discuss the BPS’ engineering.

I ask what makes the BPS different from all the other armored cars. Jraiche hands me a small, well-thumbed booklet listing federal safety standards for motor vehicles. “The BPS is the only NIJ category three armored car that meets every regulation in this book,” Jraiche says. He turns to his computer to manipulate a seemingly endless spreadsheet. “Obviously, we started with a fully developed Ford product. Even so, once the ballistic solutions were in place, we put it through all the usual tests: crash test, door slam test, heating, cooling, wiring…” The list goes on.

Bondy nods proudly, but begins to lose patience. “Take a look at this.” We wend our way through deserted cubicles to contemplate a cutaway car door mounted on a display stand. “Most armored cars use motors to push the ballistic glass up,” Bondy reveals. “The glass weighs a ton. The motors tend to burn out. Think about that: if the window’s down, an armored car is worse than useless.” Bondy runs his hand over a pair of miniature gas struts holding up a “ballistic transparency” that’s an astounding 40mm thick. “Our window’s default position is up. The power shouldn’t fail, but if it does, the window stays up.”

We return to Jraiche’s office to check lunch arrangements. I spy a brightly colored wall chart displaying all of the over 700 bespoke “armoring solutions” that protects the BPS’ passengers from any ordinance up to a 7.62mmX51mm caliber bullet. “Can I photograph this?” I ask. “No,” the two men chorus. Even to my untrained eye, it appears that every possible weak spot— from the engine bulkhead to the window frames— has been examined from an assassin’s point of view. Bondy confirms my suspicions.  “We used a 3D computer program to simulate ballistic strikes from various weapons, from every possible height, distance, angle and position.”

And then they did it for real. We make our way to the parking lot to examine a white BPS that’s faced a carefully-coordinated barrage of high-powered rounds. The car is riddled with 109 bullets. The window glass is fractured in some places, shattered in others. The sheet metal has been ripped open like a cheap tin can. Each strike is identified by a small white tag chronicling the ballistic sequence and type of round fired. We’re talking heavy duty firepower, including a 9mm submachine gun, .308 Winchester and 5.56mm high velocity assault rifle.

Bondy digs his finger into the space where the front windshield meets the driver’s door. The glass has just about disappeared from the leading edge. “This is where a trained assassin would aim. Or right here,” he says. Bondy points to the opera window behind the main rear passenger window. Ballistic transparency can’t maintain its integrity in such a small space; the opera window has been replaced with normal glass mounted over aramid fibers and ballistic steel. A few wispy fiber strands and an almighty dent are all that’s left.

My perspective on the BPS project instantly changes. I suddenly see Lincoln’s non-descript and lardy (if benign-handling) armored limo as a deadly serious piece of kit. It’s hard to imagine sheltering inside a Lincoln BPS while determined attackers fire round after round at your head, but it’s not impossible. One look at the bullet-ridden test mule is sufficient reminder that there are plenty of bad people out there with big guns and nothing to lose.

Vaughn and I hop into Bondy’s well-thrashed Mazda6 S and drive to Lile’s Sandwich Shop. In between bites of the mother of all ham sandwiches, I ask if there are enough customers to justify the enormous expense of developing such a comprehensively armored car. “We’re in it to make money,” Vaughn states flatly. “The market’s been growing for the last 20 years and it shows no signs of a slowdown… We’re confident we can sell 300 cars in the first year.” “I suppose a lot of those will go to Ford executives,” I suggest. Bondy’s eyes say one thing, his words another: “I couldn’t possibly comment.”

Bondy is less tight-lipped on the necessity for maximum protection. “Why would anyone buy a handgun level car?” he asks rhetorically, practically inhaling a mountainous pastrami sandwich. “The .308 Winchester is a hunting gun down South. They’re everywhere.” Even so, how many drivers actually need to worry about an attack? “It doesn’t matter,” Bondy counters. “It’s largely a matter of perceived threat. If you don’t feel safe, you can’t perform to the best of your abilities. You can’t enjoy life.”

The Lincoln Town Car BPS will be available from 12 certified Lincoln Mercury dealers this fall ['03]. The car will cost about $145,000, with two options: back windows that can be lowered and a rubber-coated gas tank that “reduces leakage after a ballistic event.” Bondy says it’s a bargain. “A lot of our potential customers own corporations, estates, even countries. They’ll buy a Gulfstream jet for 42 million dollars. I ask them, ‘why aren’t you in a rifle-level car?’ And if you’re going to buy one, why wouldn’t you buy one from an OEM [original equipment manufacturer] rather than someone’s garage?”

It’s a sales pitch shared by Mercedes, BWM and Cadillac. But Lincoln’s BPS has Bondy behind it. After spending a day with the ex-agent, after listening to what he does and doesn’t say about security, you begin to understand why he describes buying an armored car as “an intimate decision.” It’s true. Even after the vehicle has left the dealership, your life is in the hands of the people who designed and built it. Security awareness and driver skill may make the final difference between life and death, but the more you learn about Bondy’s BPS, the safer you feel inside one.  In the world of armored cars, that’s about as good as it gets.

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2009 Lincoln MKS Review Wed, 04 Jun 2008 12:33:02 +0000 09lincolnmks_09_hr.jpgFord'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? 

09lincolnmks_09_hr.jpgFord'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.

09lincoln_mks_10_hr.jpgThe 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.

09lincolnmks_02_hr.jpgThe 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.

09lincolnmks_12_hr.jpgNeedless 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.

09lincolnmks_07_hr.jpgLincoln 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.]

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Lincoln MKZ Review Fri, 03 Nov 2006 13:28:59 +0000 07mkz_4730.jpgLast year’s Zephyr was the automotive embodiment of all that’s wrong with Ford and Lincoln. The barely badge engineered Ford Fusion hammered yet another cheaply gilded nail into the once mighty Lincoln brand’s coffin. So now Ford has given the Zephyr a new name, engine and front end; an MP3 audio jack and [available] all wheel-drive. Is it enough to lift the Lincoln into some semblance of dignity, or does Lincoln still need to reach higher?

07mkz_4730.jpgLast year’s Zephyr was the automotive embodiment of all that’s wrong with Ford and Lincoln. The barely badge engineered Ford Fusion hammered yet another cheaply gilded nail into the once mighty Lincoln brand’s coffin. So now Ford has given the Zephyr a new name, engine and front end; an MP3 audio jack and [available] all wheel-drive. Is it enough to lift the Lincoln into some semblance of dignity, or does Lincoln still need to reach higher?

Prince may have changed his image since you began the last paragraph, but not much has happened to the artist formerly known as Zephyr. Despite the MKZ’ redesigned waterfall grill, the demitasse Lincoln is still rental-car vanilla searching for some Turtle Soup for the Soul. Sadly, the MKZ’ new front/rear lower valences and iced-out fog lights do little to dress up a relatively hum-drum package. From the plastic C-pillar trimmings– designed to visually lengthen the window outline (or daylight opening in designerese) to more Lincoln-friendly standards without actually doing so)– to its frumpy posterior, the MKZ is still such a Ford Fusion it Hertz.

07lincolnmkz_14.jpgThe MKZ’ interior comes in three basic flavors: slathered in a bland tan so lifeless it cries out for Jackson Pollock’s alcohol-fuelled spastic outbursts, specced-up in Germanic-style charcoal or doused in French gray. All three designs possess a dour demeanor that's deeply disturbed by all the shiny happy plastic satin nickel silver buttons, switchgear and accents. MKZ owners can also spice up their wall o’ dash with maple or ebony inserts, carefully “figured” not to look like fake wood. South Florida condo taste or no, the MKZ’ cabin provides a welcome change from the cookie-cutter cockpits of its foreign and wannabe-foreign competition.

The MKZ’ 10-way (yes way) front seats are as supportive as a drill sergeant, but at least they’re plenty comfortable. Peep the minimalist gauges, soak up the THX stereo’s solid audio attributes, feel the reassuring wood-trimmed wheel and let the heated and cooled seats set your soul on a relaxing journey deep into the heart of American luxury. After all, that’s what makes the uber-Fusion price worthwhile, yes?

07_mkz_2957.jpgNot entirely. The Lincoln MKZ is almost somewhat sort of entertaining to drive. It’s true: the name’s been changed to protect the innocent. The 3500-pound sedan gets a brand spanking new 263-horse 3.5-liter Duratec V6, mated to six forward gears, corralled by [optional] all-wheel drive. The powertrain turns the once sleepy Lincoln sedan into an automotive sleeper. With a first gear shorter than Tom Cruise proposing to Katie Holmes, the bigger motor’s ample torque reserve (249ft.-lbs.) pushes you back in your seat with genuine authority, while the high rpm punch keeps your eyes darting towards the speedometer.

The MKZ’ 6.7 second zero to 60 sprint time means that Lincoln’s finally given Commander Cody fans a hot rod worth singing about. Younger pistonheads (Commander Who and the What?) may despair. Quick as it is, the MKZ serves-up great heaps of body roll, “you’re not the boss of me” downshifts and a boingee suspension. Even so, it’s fun to throw the MKZ a tight curveball, punch it at the apex and rocket out of the corner. 

Clearly, this Lincoln is no sports sedan. But it’s the kind of car secondhand owners or short-term leasers can mercilessly thrash to an inch of its life with one hand draped across their passenger’s chair. In the care of less assertive folk, the MKZ also delivers decent enough ride quality: a happy medium somewhere between road feel and no feel. That and acceptable noise suppression make the MKZ a no-brainer for the grandmother of a Subaru WRX pilot.

07_mkz_3107.jpgIf you want this admirable powertrain in a cheaper, lighter, tighter, less ostentatious package, tough luck. The otherwise identical Fusion still rolls with the coarse, lackluster 221hp V6 as its top engine choice. Horsepower and refinement exclusivity may be a good thing for Lincoln, but it’s a bad thing for Ford. Instead of blowing away the competition with a big motor and AWD, the Fusion sees nothing but the taillights of V6 Camry, Accord and Altima drivers. In today’s market, not giving the goods to a Ford product in a competitive segment isn’t just a bad idea, it’s a silent killer.

I know: I’m complaining about a Lincoln model not sharing its good fortune with its Ford counterpart while complaining that the MKZ isn’t different enough from its Ford counterpart to justify its place in the Lincoln portfolio. How crazy is that? But brand differentiation is the retro-religion these days. Instead of creating a new, brand-specific automotive orthodoxy, Ford is busy robbing Peter to pay Paul– and they're both broke. The truth is Lincoln needs one no-compromise automobile that says this is who we are and what we do. No matter how you dress it up, the MKZ ain’t it, and never will be.

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