Lincoln just let us drive its new 2009 MKS. This handsome five-passenger sedan will be in dealerships in just a few weeks. Our burning question is, Will anybody care? We ponder this sincerely, especially after talking with members of Lincoln's marketing team who told us that "Lincoln" means nothing to the MKS target audience.
This is not a positive thing for one of America's most storied brands. Past leaders of Lincoln should be ashamed. The brand's new leaders have a formidable task ahead of them.
If the market pays attentions to the MKS's arrival, it'll discover a competitive mid-lux offering that Lincoln thinks makes a good alternative to the Cadillac STS, Lexus GS, and Acura RL. We agree.
The Lincoln's distinctive styling works in its favor. The MKS is the first production Lincoln to use the division's new grille design that the company previewed on the MKS and MKT auto show concept vehicles. The winged design reaches back to Edsel Ford's 1941 Continental, and gives the newest Lincoln a welcomed bit of character that's grounded in something other than a designer's imagination.
A new 275-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 powers the MKS. The engine is a larger version of Ford's corporate 3.5-liter engine, and it performs adequately with a high degree of smoothness and little noise or fuss. While premium fuel is required to hit the 275 mark, using regular fuel delivers a still healthy 265 horsepower with no change in fuel economy (17/24 mpg for front-wheel drive and 16/23 mpg for all-wheel drive).
The new Lincoln's six-speed automatic is seen in other Ford products such as the Edge, but has been thoroughly recalibrated for this upscale installation. In the MKS, the transmission includes a sport mode as well as manual shift capabilities. Throughout the hills of Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C., with the transmission in the sport setting, the gearbox shifted aggressively. Its performance was close to anticipatory and did an excellent job of keeping the Lincoln in the right gear at the right time—just what an automatic transmission should do.
Another bright spot for the 2009 MKS is its chassis. Gnostics know that the Lincoln is based on the current Taurus, which itself was loosely based on the Volvo S80. However, Ford just didn't plop a new body on an existing platform. The MKS features a totally new multilink rear suspension with coil-over shocks and a retuned front strut suspension, then bolts them both to a reinforced chassis that is 35 percent stiffer than the current Taurus. The resulting ride it Goldilocks taught: not too soft and not too hard, even with the optional 20-inch wheels shown on the car pictured here. Steering response is quick, and driving at street speeds, the understeer one expects from a largish front-wheel-drive sedan is totally absent. The MKS is also available with all-wheel drive.
Pricing starts at around $38,000 for a front-wheel-drive MKS without any fancy options--but including standard features as heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, SYNC, HID headlamps--and runs up to $46,000 for a decked-out all-wheel-drive edition.
Will anyone care? Is there hope for Lincoln? We hope so, but we'll have to wait and see.--Rex Roy