A few years back, after spending a week aboard the then-new, incredibly impressive, and beautifully named Zephyr sedan, I made the mistake of favourably comparing it to the Lexus IS. I say mistake, not because the car wasn't up to the task, but because in doing so I earned myself a three hour long conversation with my then-editor about the effects of such a comparison on the publication's credibility. After all, he claimed, how could what was essentially a Ford product possibly stack up against what was then considered the pinnacle of luxury automaking?
Meet the MKT
Although its nomenclature might not share any of the grace or elegance of the old Zephyr, that the Lincoln MKT shares in its successful DNA simply can't be denied. Looking quite similar to the previous years' MKTs, the 2013 model year witnesses a slight revision of the front grille, where the previously prominent front strakes are exchanged for a larger quantity of thinner, finer fins. “The effort behind the new look was to change the proportion of the MKT from the front view. We helped make it feel wider and a bit less tall, less vertical,” said Max Wolff, Lincoln Design Director. “The execution of the new MKT’s grille and the grille bars is a lot more refined and elegant. The new front graphic displays a lot of three-dimensionality, but it’s accomplished in a calmer, more restrained way.”
But it's not all refinement and elegance when you walk around the MKT. While the Flex it's based upon owns its real estate with boxy, masculine proportions, the Lincoln's a bit more flowing, and although it's certainly nice enough in profile, the rear end really leaves a lot to be desired. With nary a protuberance nor bumper to be found to break up the sloped rear end, it's got an undeniably slug-like feel to its look when viewed from behind; so much so that one almost wants to check below for some sort of slime trail. And it's not particularly well-assembled back there, either. While the grille and headlights share excellent panels gaps and uniform fitments, the rear liftgate and bumper cover fit is absolutely atrocious; poor enough that even the press fleet manager that handed me the vehicle mistook it to mean that the rear liftgate hadn't been closed properly.
The best parts are on the inside
However, it would appear that whomever was responsible for the poor fit and finish of the MKT's tail section had absolutely nothing to do with its interior, where there's not a problem nor issue to be found. Absolutely first rate in its assembly and materials, every square inch has been carefully thought out, and it shows. The door panels feature great soft-touch leather surfaces offset by some of the best door-pulls in the business (gigantic, rubber-lined pockets that are easily grabbed), and although requiring a firmer hand than most of my passengers expected, once those doors are shut its interior is imbued with the silent repose of a monastery.
And it's nearly as spacious as one too, with three proper rows of seats that can all actually be used to seat real, full-size people. Seriously. With the second row moved slightly forward from its rearmost position, even my own 6'1" frame fit within the third row with legroom that I'd describe as sufficient, if not ample. And should you not find yourself ferrying around a full complement of humanity, there's plenty of room for stuff too, as the second and third rows can be folded in such a way so as to offer up a nearly flat load floor that stretches from liftgate to the front row. Also, it's worth mentioning that all that can be accomplished in seconds with just a couple button depressions.
No scrimping on the tech, either
But if the news of a big, comfy, spacious Lincoln interior makes it sound as if it's only slightly removed from your grandfather's Town Car, there's an entire legion of technological drivers aids and interfaces to drive home just how far Lincoln has come. First and foremost, there's the capacitive control interface. Replacing the myriad of traditional buttons that would typically control things like the climate control and stereo, the MKT's touch-activated interface not only looks cleaner, but is also easier to keep cleaner. Working extremely well and accompanied by a little "boop" sound to confirm that a fingertip did actually accomplish the task at hand, most of the touch controls work as well as the buttons they've replaced, with the exception of the slide-to-control volume and fan speed controls. Not quite perfectly tuned, both sliders seemed to struggle at times to keep track of my fingertip's position, and the result was inconsistent control over the respective feature. Thankfully, many of the same controls are repeated on the steering wheel, so it's not too difficult to avoid blowing out one's eardrums while adjusting the stereo's volume.
And that doesn't even scratch the surface of the technological tour de force that is the MKT. First off, there's the new Lane Keeping system. Using elfin magic, cameras, and pixie dust, the big crossover somehow tracks the lines painted on the road surface, and both passively and actively works to keep you between them. As it detects the vehicle veering towards leaving it's lane, the MKT attempts to alert the driver of the looming transgression by vibrating the steering wheel. If that doesn't earn a response, the MKT takes active action and applies torque to the steering system to correct the MKT's path, while sounding a loud warning charm. Should all of this be accompanied by what the MKT determines to be the driving patterns of an inattentive or drowsy driver, it will play another chime, and the central LCD display will be replaced by a coffee cup icon. Finally, the MKT's safety suite is rounded out by the very-effective Collision Warning system that uses the adaptive cruise control's forward-looking radar to detect dangerous situations, and produces both visual (a big flashing red light) and audible (beeps and chimes) alarms as well as priming the braking system so as to provide additional braking force during initial activation.
However, like so many incredibly interesting safety systems, one hopes that all that technology has been installed for naught. After all, most would undoubtedly rather avoid situations in which their car's survival instincts prove superior to its driver's. But that doesn't mean the MKT isn't without at least a couple driver-accessible tricks up its technological sleeves. The first is a new feature that's just been introduced, and goes by the name Lincoln Drive Control. Altering throttle sensitivity, engine power delivery, shift behaviour, suspension settings, and traction and stability control intervention levels, the system allows the MKT to ride like a Lincoln should when in Comfort mode (activated by placing the gear selector in Drive), but tenses up the big six-seater's muscles once placed Sport mode. Admittedly not something I spent too much time playing with, I found nothing wrong with the relaxed nature of its standard Comfort mode, but was surprised by the dramatic change that occurred when put in Sport mode.
But if all that sounds like some pretty cool stuff, the truth is that I've saved the best for last, and it's called Active Park Assist. While Lexus may have been the first to offer a self-parking car, their complex control interface produced just as many headaches as it did headlines, and was recognized by many to be so complex as to be almost entirely useless. By comparison, the Ford system found within everything from the Focus to the MKT is positively brilliant, requiring the driver do nothing more than press a button, shift into reverse, and modulate the brakes. Once activated by a button on the centre console, the system begins to scan the road ahead for any available parallel parking spaces, and measures any possible spaces on its way by. When it determines that a spot is indeed big enough, the system chimes and prompts you to stop. From there, all you need to do is pop it in reverse, and use the brakes and the rear view camera to bring the vehicle to a stop. Should the spot selected requiring a little back- and forth action, all you need do is shift back into drive and ease up on the brakes. Furthermore, it will continue to allow you wiggle back and forth in the spot until it's determined that the vehicle is utterly parallel to the curb, at which point another chime sounds, the Sync voice tells you that it's finished, and the steering wheel centers itself.
I hate to say "I told you so..."
I'd like to say that I'm not one to gloat, but that'd be a lie... so, to my former editor, I'd like to simply say "I told you so." As Lexus continuously attempts to convince the world that they're capable of building smaller and smaller hybrids (does anyone even remember the HS 250h?) while simultaneously claiming to rival Ferrari and Lamborghini (the LFA is cool, but a $375,000 Lexus just isn't), Ford has been quietly going about the business of rebuilding Lincoln into a strong, cohesive, and recognizable brand that boasts a pointed and well-thought out lineup of vehicles. And within that lineup, the MKT fulfills a very large need for a big, versatile, and practical six-seater that doesn't demand it's owners give up on style nor luxury. Capable of accomplishing nearly any task one would ever put to a vehicle, it's a vehicle that simply makes things easier; you never have to wonder if you can fit those chairs in the back just as you never have to wonder if it'll fit in that parking space. Because when it comes to the MKT, the answer is pretty much always "yes."