There are several American sedans that compete in the entry-luxury segment, some of them even "sporty." But as of 2002, there is only one legitimate U.S-built sport sedan: the $33,045-$39,395 Lincoln LS. It is the only American four-door that offers rear-wheel drive, luxurious appointments, an available V-8 engine, and a manual transmission option (V-6 only, natch) in the same package.
The coming 2003 Caddy CTS sport sedan, with its available manual transmission, will be the first domestic sport sedan to compete on more equal terms with the Lincoln LS — but it's not out yet.
So for now, if you want a sport sedan — the real McCoy, anyhow — and want to buy American, the Lincoln LS is pretty much the only choice there is. Luckily, it's not a half-bad choice by any means. The LS, which came out about a year ago and remains mostly the same for the 2002 model run, is remarkably competitive with class-leading European sport sedans in the entry-luxury price range. That includes models such as the Jaguar X-Type, BMW 3-Series and 5-Series, Audi A4 and A6, Mercedes C-Class and E-Class. Check the car out: It has comparable (even superior) power as compared with most of those cars, a similar level of refinement and features, and is also a larger car for the money than many of those other machines.
2002 Lincoln LS
For example, the wheelbase of the '02 Lincoln LS is 114.5 inches; the overall length, 193.9 inches. That makes the LS appreciably bigger than the cost-competitive BMW 3-Series sedan, which is much smaller at just 176 inches long, and with a wheelbase of only 107.3 inches. Even the 5-Series BMW sedan is smaller than the LS — just 188 inches long and with a wheelbase of 111.4 inches. And only the six-cylinder 525i ($35,950) and 530i ($39,450) are remotely cost-competitive with the Lincoln; to get a V-8 5-Series, you'll have to step up to the $51,200-$53,900 540i. It's a much more capable car than the LS, of course, but it's also priced at least $10,000 higher than the most expensive LS you can buy.
Also take note of the fact that the Mercedes C-Class (either the $30,550 C240 or the $36,950 C320) are likewise dinkier cars than the LS (with a wheelbase of just 106.9 inches and an overall length of just 178.3 inches). The C-Class Benzes also offer no available V-8, and their strongest available six — the 215-hp 3.2 liter engine used in the getting pricey C320 — is no more powerful than the Lincoln's base engine, and much less powerful than the LS's optional 252-hp V-8. And the bigger, more stately E-Class — at $48,450 to start for the V-6 equipped E320 — is so overpriced compared to the V-8 Lincoln LS that it's hardly equitable comparing the two. And the nearly $50k E320 is still smaller than the LS, too, just 189.4 inches long, with a wheelbase of 111.5 inches. And you still have only a 215-hp V-6, by the way.
Gamut of options
As before, the 2002 Lincoln LS can be ordered with either a V-6/five-speed combo or a V-8 with an automatic. The base car with the six and five-speed automatic starts at $33,045; the V-8/automatic, $37,220. V-6 models with the highly recommended sport option and Getrag five-speed manual transmission start at $35,055. The most expensive LS is the V-8 model with the Premium package; it tickles $40k at $39,395. Not cheap, but given the V-8 and the size of the car, it's not half-bad when viewed against what else is available for similar dough.
The Lincoln 3.0-liter V-6 offers 220 horsepower and is a good performer when backed by the manual five-speed transmission. Ford gets a pat on the hood for allowing this to happen at all. Shift action and feel is pretty decent, too.
The optional V-8, a 3.9-liter twin cam unit that generates 252 hp, would be even sweeter with the manual transmission, but if you choose this engine, you will have to accept the five-speed automatic. This transmission does come with a Sportshift feature that allows some manual control of gear changes (though as is the case with all these "automatic manuals," the meddling computer will override you if you try and downshift above certain engine speeds, or hold a gear longer than it deems appropriate).
2002 Lincoln LS
With the V-8, the LS can scuttle to 60-mph in a little over seven seconds, which is right there with most of the competition. The V-6 LS is a few tenths slower but much more fun to drive, especially when ordered with the optional Sport package that includes more aggressive suspension calibrations and bigger 17-inch wheels with performance-type tires. You'll be surprised how close Lincoln came to matching the ying-yang balance of excellent handling with the supple but comfortable ride quality that used to be exclusive to the German sport sedans. Blindfolded and tucked into the passenger seat, you'd be hard-pressed to notice much difference between an LS and the Teutonic sedans in terms of over-the-road chassis dynamics. Hit a corner really hard — like racetrack hard — and the BMW is still better. But few people drive like that in the real world -- and if you do, I hope you have good insurance!
The source of the Lincoln's surprising excellence, no doubt, is the result of the Ford-Jaguar partnership, and the fact that the Lincoln LS shares a great deal of its origins and engineering basics with the Jaguar S-Type. People in the know about these things can take advantage of the common platforms and get themselves a whole lot of the $45,000 car for a $35,000 price.
If there are flaws with the LS, they are relatively minor and easily fixable. For example, the interior needs more storage space for small items; the door-mounted map pocket is both small and hard to reach. There's no available GPS system. One-touch up and down windows would be nice, too. Also, there's not much room on the center console for more than your forearm. And the plain-looking dash cluster could be reworked to look less like something you'd find in a Taurus (just basic white numerals on an ordinary matte black background). A sport sedan deserves something with more jazz.
The last gripe is Ford's utterly loathsome Belt-Minder system, which is now included whether you want it or not on all new Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles. Basically, if you don't immediately "buckle up for safety," a loud, insistent tone bleats every minute or so, demanding that you do. Belt-Minder is hard to permanently defeat (the process takes up almost two pages of the owner's manual), and extremely annoying. It should be optional as well as easy to turn off.
More power would be nice, as would a stick shift option for the V-8. But both currently available drivetrain choices are comparable to those offered by major competitors — and remember, neither BMW, Audi, or Mercedes offer a V-8 in this class/price range. Neither do the Japanese luxury nameplates — models such as the Lexus ES300 or Acura 3.2 TL. And those cars are front-drive models, and thus closer in their layout to economy-type cars than to top-shelf luxury-sport sedans, where rear-wheel drive is the defining difference separating the men from the boys.
2002 Lincoln LS
Base price range: $33,045-$39,395
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6, 220 hp; 3.9-liter V-8, 252 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual or five-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 114.5 in
Length: 193.9 in
Width: 73.2 in
Height: 56.1 in
Curb weight: 3640 lb (V-6 w/manual); 3734 lb (V-8 w/auto)
EPA (cty/hwy): 18/25 mpg (V-6 w/manual); 17/23 mpg (V-8 w/auto)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags, ABS, traction control
Major standard features: Leather and wood trim, dual zone climate control air conditioning, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, AM/FM stereo with six-disc in-dash CD changer, power windows, locks, and mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
story posted 11/26/01
The Car Connection Consumer Review
in your area