When I drove Ford’s Flex last year, I came away with a pretty healthy respect for a car that was intended to do little more than give would-be minivan buyers a slightly cooler option. With seven comfortable seats, and enough attention to detail to satisfy an Olympic figure skating judge, the Flex’s level of refinement and poise was anything but expected.
So, when Lincoln announced a reskinned, rebadged, and slightly re-engineered variant of the Flex to call their own, I was understandably excited. The first conceptual drawings showed a sleek shooting-brake inspired concept with a profile that was as curvaceous as the Flex’ was blocky. Sadly, what arrived in my driveway months later bore little resemblance to those early sketches. With 20,400 hits on Google that pair the terms “MKT” with “ugly,” there’s simply no getting around the dismal design failure that is the MKT. Gone are the rakish details borne by the concept’s proud and prominent proboscis; replaced by what appears to a case of MKS mimicry. Parked alongside Lincoln’s flagship sedan, the MKT’s front end caricatures the handsome saloon’s in such a manner that you can’t help but wonder if the production version’s rhinoplasty didn’t come at the hands of someone who knew little about design beyond Photoshop’s Enlarge command shortcut. Seriously, Bobby Flay doesn’t have a grille this large.
And taking a walk around the perimeter will do little more than make you wish you hadn’t. The side profile is completely incongruous, with a rounded nose, a sloping poop deck, and a too-large, too-angular kink in between. Looking like the designers had switched their modelling clay for Silly Putty, the large crossover looks like it’s melting at either end. But that doesn’t detract from the rear end’s impact: it’s large enough to make even Sir Mix-A-Lot himself consider the benefits of moderation. Sloping, almost uninterrupted from the roof to the ground, it is simply hideous. Interestingly, the unique port-to-starboard taillight assembly (purportedly stolen from a Cylon spacecraft) almost does as much to improve the MKT’s night-time looks as does darkness.
But, clamber inside what a few friends referred to as The Slug, and you’ll be treated to a cocoon of luxury. The doors all rotate home with a reassuring thunk that’s the product of hundreds of pounds of sound deadening material spread throughout the MKT’s superstructure. Double layer glass in the front windows and acoustic glass in the windshield reduce wind noise around the A-pillars, while a “special” sound deadening agent was used in the bulkhead to keep powertrain noise out of the cabin. Additionally, the exhaust system was optimized and isolated to keep power and torque levels up without intruding into the driving experience excessively, while the familiar one-to-one shock absorber ratio implemented by the rear suspension allows the use of 20” wheels without the familiar thumping from the suspension. Inside, tons of soft surfaces absorb sound and give the expansive cabin a very hushed tone; something that will definitely appeal to those looking to fill all six of the MKT’s seating positions.
Of course, that in and of itself would be quite a feat. Although the first and second rows are best described as palatial in terms of square footage, the third row is comparably confining. With the same floorpan as the Flex, the MKT’s third row sits higher than the second in order to give the third row occupants a sort of stadium seating-style view ahead. The only problem is, unlike the Flex, the MKT’s rear roofline is steeply sloped, which in turn directed the cornice of my skull to lean about 45 degrees from parallel with the rest of my spine. It’s seriously claustrophobic and best suited for small children that don’t suffer from car sickness or a fear of confined spaces; if such children exist.
But, safely seated in the front row, it’s easy to appreciate the MKT’s luxurious appointments. Ford’s Sync system is still making other in-car navitainment systems look like SNES in an Xbox360 world, and the THX-approved 5.1 surround sound system is absolutely divine. Other accoutrements include automatic headlights and high beams, automatic wipers, and adaptive cruise control, all of which take the chore out of driving. And although the automatic parking system is still no replacement for human ability, it’s quite a bit better than Lexus’ fidgety failure of a system. But by far, the most entertaining feature is under the hood.
Available with either a naturally aspirated 3.7L Duratec V6 or a 3.5L twin turbo V6 from the EcoBoost family, you’d simply have to be crazy not to opt for the turbo motor. To put it succinctly, BMW wishes they built an engine this good. Delivering 355 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque from an amazing 1,500 to 5,250 rpm, saying the EcoBoost engine has a decent powerband would be like saying Metallica has a bit of a following. Prod the pedal with the slightest of effort, and there’s absolutely no untoward movement to indicate how quickly you’re accelerating. With such a prodigious amount of torque on tap, the SelectShift six-speed automatic is never in the wrong gear as the turbos spool up and send the MKT down the highway in the most smooth, drama-free way you’re liable to find this side of a V12-powered luxury sedan.
And the suspension is a large part of this unflappable attitude. While the engine seems inexhaustible, the suspension’s unique design allows it to follow the contours of the road without transmitting movement to the chassis. As I’d mentioned, a large part of this stems from the rear suspension layout that uses a one-to-one shock absorber ratio, meaning that the shock absorber moves one inch for every inch of movement at the wheel. This allows the engineers to use less aggressive damping than would otherwise be required by taller ratio system (twice the damping force would be required if the shock absorber moved half an inch for every inch of travel at the wheel), which in turn places less stress on the bushings and allows for better tuning of the suspension and anti-roll bars. The end result is a car that soaks up bumps without turning to sludge in the corners. In fact, around a corner, the all-wheel drive (optional on the 3.7L-powered MKT and standard on the EcoBoost model) MKT handled quite well, displaying nearly perfect body control without comprising the ride quality. The only fly in the ointment would be the car’s interaction with the driver, or lack thereof. With large, unbolstered seats and light steering that seems to have been sworn to secrecy, the MKT leaves you guessing as to how hard you’re really pushing it. To its credit though, I was surprised by the big crossover’s pace every time I glanced down at the speedometer, as it consistently attacked sections of road at 30 or 40 kilometres faster than I would have guessed it was travelling.
It’s hard to come to any sort of conclusion about such a vehicle. Looking like it does and yet endowed with a Millennium Falcon-esque propensity for surprising pace, its best compared not to other vehicles, but rather your favourite pair of sweatpants: you always wonder if you should have worn slightly more socially acceptable pants whenever you have to leave the house, but they’re just so damn comfortable you find yourself not caring within 15 minutes of putting them on.