2011 Lincoln MKS Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 8, 2010

The 2011 Lincoln MKS won’t win over the Town Car or the M5 crowd, but it’s blessed with smart performance, subdued good looks, and a roomy interior.

Ford’s Lincoln brand has won the survival sweepstakes. While sister division Mercury is being shuttered, Lincoln’s on a new-product roll. In the past two years, it’s added three new vehicles, including an updated version of the mid-size MKZ sedan—with a hybrid coming in 2011—and the big, bodacious MKT crossover.

The MKS sedan was new for 2009, and it’s a bit of a sleeper. Priced against the likes of the Acura RL, Lexus GS, and Infiniti M37, the Lincoln MKS has some substantial charms of its own that outweigh those competitors. For one, it’s offered with Ford’s turbocharged V-6 for swift acceleration on par with the M37, while it also has the well-damped ride to top the other Japanese competitors.

It falls short of the driving experience offered by these cars—and by the more expensive BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class—but the MKS plays up a traditional feel without the floppy compromises of the past intruding too much. The ride’s the beginning; not exactly nimble, the MKS still steers and responds to quick inputs well enough to carve a distinct niche out of the field of large luxury sedans.

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Where does the MKS excel? In features and cabin feel. The quiet, classy styling inside and out is a marked counterpoint to Cadillac’s brash CTS—and the MKS’s fit and interior finishes are a step beyond the Caddy’s pieces, too. The MKS’s handsome looks are matched with a very spacious cabin, particularly in the rear seat, and a capacious trunk. It’s also one of the IIHS’s Top Safety Picks. For gadget collectors, there’s all-wheel drive like the Acura RL has, as well as first-rate audio and telematics systems—not to mention Ford’s SYNC entertainment and phone controller.

So why’s it still a sleeper? It’s probably the Lincoln badges, but with well-executed cars like the MKS, that’s apt to change.

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2011 Lincoln MKS

Styling

The 2011 MKS is a groundbreaker for Lincoln: It shows a graceful command of luxury’s styling language.

Good looks, inside and out--so why’s the Lincoln MKS somewhat of a sleeper? It’s probably the slightly dusty Lincoln badges more than anything else, but with handsome, well-executed cars like the MKS, this is one brand image apt to change.

The MKS is essentially a cousin to the Volvo S80 from the floorpan to just beneath the skin, but few civilians would know it. The sheetmetal and cabin are wholly distinct—and distinctive. Ford’s married a classically handsome shape to the same chassis, with a few Lincoln heritage cues inside and out. On the front end, the newfangled Lincoln twin grille is its most recognizable touch; in back, the wide band of chrome wrapped around its tail has been a motif for decades. Somehow it melds together like a good quirk-free casserole into a unified whole. It may have passing resemblance to the Lexus GS and the S80, but especially in dark colors, the MKS snares an identity all its own—a triumph for Ford’s upscale brand and the company’s current quest to give Lincoln new life.

The quiet, classy styling inside and out is a marked counterpoint to Cadillac’s brash CTS—and the MKS’s fit and interior finishes are a step beyond the Caddy’s pieces, too. The cabin sports a linear, spare theme that Lincoln has been evolving all decade. There’s a wide dash wearing thin ribs of metallic trim, a callback to the Lincolns of the Sixties. White-lit electroluminescent gauges glow softly at night off its leather and wood trim, with noticeably closer attention to detail. It’s fine enough, and we’d pit it against the likes of the Audi A6, which has gotten more plasticky over time. The MKS would win, too.

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2011 Lincoln MKS

Performance

The 2011 Lincoln MKS swings for the bleachers with turbo power and cruises around the bases with a soothing big-car ride.

There’s a big V-6 under the hood, but the Lincoln MKS has a secret: a turbocharged edition that spins out enthusiastic, ersatz V-8 power to go with a buttoned-down chassis.

Ford’s stock 3.7-liter V-6 performs smoothly, but it’s just average in a car as long and hefty as the MKS. The same truisms apply as with the Lexus GS 350 and the Volvo S60; you’ll get through a 0-60 mph run in 7.5 seconds in a sedate, fuss-free way. It can be run with either regular or premium fuel, and the MKS delivers EPA-certified fuel economy of 17/24 mpg as a front-driver, or 16/23 mpg when equipped with all-wheel drive.

The real thrills come with the turbo-saddled EcoBoost V-6. The addition of forced induction does wonders for its attitude; the turbo MKS gains 82 hp for a total of 355 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, and it straps you in for a ride to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, as well as a top speed of 135 mph. All the while, it delivers a suitably ripe, refined exhaust sound--and better fuel economy than the base engine, earning 17/25 mpg.

With either engine, you’ll get a six-speed automatic. In the EcoBoosted MKS, the automatic adds paddle shifters that strike us as kitschy in a car of this size. That’s at first blush; a quick turn in the MKS proves the paddles are more useful than you might think. The gearbox does an excellent job of keeping the Lincoln in the right gear at the right time—just what an automatic transmission should do.

The turbo power carries the hint of European influence, but the MKS handles with a typically American feel--I’ll qualify that to “American, circa 2010.” There’s nothing at all wrong with the MKS’s pleasantly damped ride and responsive steering, though the electric steering on EcoBoost models feels artificial. It’s just a larger sedan that manages to drive a bit smaller than it is, not too soft and not too hard, even with the optional 20-inch wheels.

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2011 Lincoln MKS

Comfort & Quality

With big-car space and seating, as well as a finely fitted cabin, the Lincoln MKS is leaps and bounds past its own past.

The 2011 Lincoln MKS plays the part of big luxury sedan very convincingly—so much better, in fact, than Lincolns before, that we’ve spent more time in it than in other cars, trying to figure out how much has changed for the better at Ford’s interior design and comfort shop.

Being physically large doesn’t cramp the MKS at all, of course. The long-wheelbase four-door has plenty of room for front and rear passengers. In front, wide and cozy seats have taken a lesson from Volvo (they may even have been designed by Volvo). They coddle even big American backsides, though Ford still needs to work on the overly forward feel of its active headrests—which we choose to overlook in favor of the seats’ built-in heating and ventilation. Try that two-mode hybrid, and you’ll be ruined forever. We’d also like to see the MKS’s telescoping steering scope out more; it has a shorter travel than it should, which can force you a closer driving position than you’d like.

They’re not quite as fancy, but the MKS’s rear seats are more spacious and supportive than any Lincoln in memory. If you’ve been in a Town Car taxi lately, you’ll wonder if the same civilization—much less the same car brand—makes these swank thrones. Three across is not much of a problem, and two adults can be as distant as they might be after a couple of decades of marriage.

Small-item storage is all over the place. Ford fits enough niches to hide iPhones and netbooks in the MKS, with cup holders for every seating position and a couple of spare water-bottle slots in the doors. The trunk’s large, but caution on its opening—it’s shaped somewhat awkwardly, which limits its utility.

We’ve noted in the Styling section at the marvelous look of the MKS cabin and dash. We’ll reiterate here that this interior is among the best executed by Ford, period.

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2011 Lincoln MKS

Safety

The 2011 Lincoln MKS provides drivers and passengers with the best safety on the road.

When it comes to safety scores and features, the Lincoln MKS lords over all vehicles—not just passenger sedans.

It’s a nearly perfect report card. NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has given the MKS five stars for all crash tests, even a four-star rating for rollover resistance. Even more impressive and difficult to obtain is the insurance-industry-funded IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) Top Safety Pick designation, which the MKS gets for acing that agency’s crash tests and sporting standard stability control, while also meeting a new roof-crush standard.

Along with those high crash-test figures, the MKS brings out all the standard safety gear you’d expect in a pricier German-built sedan. The big Lincoln has dual front, side, and curtain airbags standard, along with anti-lock brakes and traction and stability control. A rearview camera, automatic wipers and front parking sensors also are standard, while adaptive cruise control is an option.

Techno fans will also want to order the optional Active Park Assist. It uses sensors and cameras to determine the optimal steering angle, and with the help of the driver on the gas and brake, it “parks” the car. It’s available only on the turbo MKS, since it’s the version with the necessary electric power steering.

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2011 Lincoln MKS

Features

The 2010 Lincoln MKS tops the entertainment index with easy-to-use tech features like SYNC and GPS.

There are few luxury four-doors that come with some of the Lincoln MKS’ standout technology and entertainment features. More likely, you’ll have to pay twice as much for a car that includes as many as the full-featured, $50,000 EcoBoost MKS.

The base MKS carries a lower sticker price, from about $42,000, and sports its own impressive standard-features list. It comes with an AM/FM/Sirius/CD changer stereo; Ford’s SYNC voice-activated entertainment controller; cruise control; ventilated front seats; heated front and rear seats; automatic climate control; and HID headlamps. Adding all-wheel drive boosts the price a few thousand dollars.

Step up to the almost $50,000 EcoBoost MKS, and Lincoln fits 19-inch wheels; MyKey (which sets top speed and seatbelt reminders for younger drivers); a power rear sunshade; push-button start; active park assist; ambient lighting; and automatic high beams.

It’s not simply that the MKS has these features—it’s that they work as well as they do, far better in some cases than the wonky roller-controller systems from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. Give us a touchscreen over any of these—and we’ll also take SYNC’s clear Bluetooth connections, though we recommend you test out your phone’s pairing with SYNC, just to make sure you’re able to connect to all its features.

The MKS has a few options to tempt. There’s a big dual-pane sunroof; handsome wood trim; an EcoBoost appearance package; adaptive cruise control; a simple, easy-to-use SYNC or touchscreen DVD navigation system; awesome THX-certified audio; and snazzy 20-inch wheels. For the 2011 model year, SYNC adds the ability to dispense turn-by-turn navigation with real-time traffic and personalized directions. And this year, the MKS adds HD radio to its substantial entertainment portfolio.

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