Once upon a time, Lincoln’s were considered the crème de la crème of the automotive world. Placed on a pedestal shared with Cadillac, they’re gargantuan Continental luxury coupes and sedan utilized the very latest in technology and design, pioneering everything from bulletproof windshields and four wheel brakes for police vehicles as early as 1924, to massively armoured presidential limousines responsible of transporting from Roosevelt in 1939 to Reagan in 1981.
And then the 80s struck. Like so many other once-desirable objects, Lincolns grew overstuffed, transforming from gorgeous stately sedans to caricatures of their former selves. Velour, fake wire wheels, and ridiculous proportioning spelled doom for the famous brand. By far some of the ugliest cars every produced by mankind, the late 80’s and early 90’s Continentals have proven to be the brand’s proverbial Albatross, swinging from the neck of the familiar Lincoln emblem.
And this is the car that’s going to change all that. Although the relatively new MKZ did wonders for the brand’s image, and the success of the first American luxury SUV, the Navigator, has bolstered the brand’s image among the youth, the MKS is easily the most potent weapon in Lincoln’s arsenal for blasting the infamous 1979 Continental Mark V Cartier edition from our collective memories. An entirely new vehicle, the MKS represents Lincoln’s future, while harkening back to the past. Designed with a plethora of historic cues, the car begins with a split waterfall grill that draws from that found upon the 1941 Continental. Drawing the eye towards the rear, the beltline kicks up noticeably over the rear wheel in homage to the Continental’s of the ‘60s. And then there are the proportions. Properly Lincoln-esque, the MKS doesn’t betray its girth in photos, but it dwarfs most other road going vehicles in reality. With a full 112.9” wheelbase, it would be possible to park a Smart Fortwo between the axles, while the overall length of 204.1” actually surpassed even that of the seven-passenger Ford Flex crossover. However, thanks to a surprisingly high roof height (61.6”), the MKS manages to look properly proportioned; like a regular sedan that’s been scaled up 10%.
But all that length, width, and height provides an entirely different interior experience. Climbing aboard the MKS via the new keyless entry system is as easy as merely tapping the keypad that lies dormant behind the B-pillar. Appearing seemingly out of nowhere in glowing blue light, the familiar Ford keypad entry system recognizes the fob in your pocket and unlocks the door, which swings open easily after a tug on the handle. Pulling the door shut behind you, it swings home with a surprising heavy feel, while double weatherstripping provides a satisfyingly solid sound as well as superior sound deadening. Inside, the softest leather ever fitted to a Lincoln is supplied by Bridge of Weir, the same Scottish company that provided the hides for the Continental Mark II. Selected for their organic, chromium-free tanning process, Bridge of Weir’s environmentally sound product is augmented by the availability of ebony wood reclaimed from furniture builders and other sources; both parts of Lincoln’s “guilt-free luxury” environmental policy. And that’s a good thing too, since the interior of the MKS is simply slathered in wood and leather. A nicely stitched leather-covered dashboard is bisected horizontally by a swath of gorgeous chrome-trimmed wood that curves around onto the door panels before terminating stylishly at the door handles. Below the wood strip, the MKS’s center console cluster is surprisingly uncluttered, with just a few controls to manipulate the Sync system, stereo, and climate controls. Falling somewhere between the ironic complexity of BMW’s one-button i-Drive and the starship Enterprise control cluster of an Audi, the MKS is nearly perfect in this regard, providing the driver with easy access to absolutely every switch they could ever want, the most important of which sits on the driver’s side and is labelled “Start.”
The first time a keyless start system has been employed on a Lincoln, this button triggers the starter motor affixed to the Lincoln-only 3.7L V6 that lives beneath the long hood. Sharing its block with the 3.5L V6 found in the MKZ, the upsized version is noticeably huskier, with a granular quality that’s disappointingly rough as compared to the silky smooth powerplants offered by the car’s German rivals. Providing plenty of grunt (273 horsepower and 270 ft. lbs. of torque), it never feels as technologically advanced as the rest of the car, and for good reason. Equipped with every single toy your average BMW owner could imagine (automatic wipers, turning headlamps, rearview camera, parking sensors front and rear, and a capless fuel filler system, just to name a few), the 3.7L engine found in the 2009 MKS is truly a stopgap measure. Almost not even worth discussing, even Ford’s own 2,947-word press release only grants 269 words to the description of the 2009 MKS’ motor. However, flip to the 2010 MKS press release, and you’re rewarded with a lengthy diatribe outlining the first implementation of Ford’s Eco-Boost system next year. Encompassing an all-new 3.5L V6 equipped with a pair of turbochargers, the 2010 MKS will stealing a page from BMW’s book, drawing the MKS directly into the 535i’s line up fire. But, this new twin turbocharged six cylinder will increase fuel economy by up to 20%, while boosting horsepower to an awesome 355, with torque rising to 350 ft. lbs; both figures shattering those set by the Bimmer.
Which should make next year a very interesting one for the large luxury sedan buyer. For while the 2009 model year’s powerplant may make the MKS take a back seat to the 5-series, the rest of the vehicle is easily up to the competition. Riding on a stiff unibody platform, the MKS uses an interesting rear suspension system that allowed suspension engineers to move the dampers further outboard, decreasing the lever action of the suspension on the shocks and hereby allowing softer dampers to be used without softening up the ride. Furthermore, this new suspension design allows the fitment of larger wheels and tires, culminating in the availability of optional class-exclusive 20” wheels without any degradation in ride. The entire package develops tremendous levels of grip, but the steering does lack the artificially-created feel of BMW’s variable assist system, and as such, the steering comes across as somewhat more vague at speed. Likewise, the heavier MKS does throw itself into corners with slightly more bombastic feel that almost replicates that of the Audi A6; itself not a bad thing.
Of course, the MKS has a lot of things going for it that the German’s don’t. First and foremost is Microsoft’s excellent Sync system. Attractive, easy to use, and with excellent voice-recognition software, it takes some getting used to, but never disappoints. Doing everything from controlling your iPod to entering a destination, it’s incredibly intuitive, and the large, high-resolution screen provides you with a wealth of easy-to-read information on one display. Using a widescreen format LCD, the home screen displays the current climate control settings, time, stereo source and playback information (including full artist and song names when using the USB hookup) alongside a large map display that includes directions as well as points of interest. Likewise, standard heated and cooled seats are unique to the MKS, while available adaptive cruise control appears for the first time. Overall, the MKS is a technological tour de force that’s on par with any competitor, but provides a more comfortable, luxuriously appointed cabin. And with the addition of 2010’s Ecoboost powerplant addressing the MKS’ singular weak point, this is definitely one vehicle to watch out for.