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2009 Lincoln MKS test drive

About.com Rating 2.5 Star Rating

By

2009 Lincoln MKS

2009 Lincoln MKS

Photo © Aaron Gold

What do the About.com Rating stars mean?

The MKS is Lincoln's new flagship, a full-size luxury car brimming with technical features that, while not new to luxury cars, are at least new to Lincoln. The MKS represents a new direction for Lincoln in terms of style and technology -- but is it the hit Lincoln needs, or just a foul ball? Read on. $38,465 base, $46,300 as tested, EPA fuel economy estimates 16-17 MPG city, 23-24 MPG highway.

First Glance: Please don't kill the messenger

Larger photos: Front - rear - all photos

I'll tell you the truth: I haven't been looking forward to posting this review. I wasn't really crazy about the Lincoln MKS, and I'm sure I'm going to get emails telling me that I'm a foreign car snob and an anti-Detroit elitist and asking me why I hate America. I'm not, I'm not, and I don't.

What I am is a realist. American automakers have to build cars that are twice as good as their foreign competitors to get even half the recognition. That's just the way it is. If an American automaker is going to post decent sales, they can't just swing for the fences -- they need to hit one that goes out of the stadium and lands clear in the next state.

The MKS is far from a strike-out, but it's not quite a home run. Call it a triple: Okay styling, good road manners, great electronics. But don't expect the fans to be standing in their seats.

Let's start outside: The MKS is has some handsome details like the split grille (link goes to photo) and the rounded taillights. But they've been laid on top of a relatively anonymous shape. The MKS is handsome, but not memorable. To give the MKS a smoother look -- and to keep your trousers from getting dirty as you get in -- Lincoln extended the doors to the bottom of the body, eliminating the door sill. It's a nice idea that doesn't work all that well in the real world: I found it difficult to get in without tripping, and if you parallel-park next to a high curb, you can't get the right-side doors open. (Whoops!)

In the Driver's Seat: Lots of gadgets, little ambiance

2009 Lincoln MKS dashboard

Lincoln MKS driver's view

Photo © Aaron Gold

Larger interior photo

I didn't care for my test car's all-black interior -- I think the MKS' cabin looks much better in lighter colors -- but I was impressed by how roomy it was and by details like the split armrest (a real marriage-saver, that). But I thought there was too much plastic, some in shades that didn't match, and lots of bits that belonged in a Ford, not a Lincoln. (Lincoln is a division of Ford.)

Pricing for the MKS starts at $38,465 with front-wheel-drive and $40,355 for all-wheel-drive. For that price you get leather seats (heated and cooled in front, heated in back), dual-zone climate control, self-dimming rear and driver-side mirrors, 6-disc CD changer, electronic stability control, and the awesome SYNC system, which allows you to control your Bluetooth phone and iPod or Zune player via voice commands.

Ford has been trying to play catch-up on the electronics front, and the MKS shows that they are making progress. My tester featured options such as push-button keyless ignition, rain-sensing wipers, and a dual-pane sunroof. But my favorite feature, besides SYNC, is the optional navigation system with SIRUIS Travel Link, which provides real-time traffic information and gas prices -- very, very cool. Though absent from my tester, the MKS offers adaptive cruise control, which automatically slows down to match the speed of the car in front.

But all those gadgets drove my test car's sticker price up to $46,300, and while I may have been seeing $46k worth of gadgets, I wasn't seeing $46k worth of luxury. What I was seeing was more like a tarted-up Ford Taurus.

On the Road: Surprisingly good

The MKS is powered by a 3.7 liter V6 that produces 273 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Those aren't earth-shaking numbers, but they are enough to move the two-ton-plus MKS with authority. The engine pulls strongly and eagerly all the way to redline, and the six-speed automatic transmission, which has a Sport mode and a manual gear-change feature (about time, Ford!), does a good job of keeping the engine on the boil when needed. EPA fuel economy estimates are 17 MPG city/24 MPG highway for front-wheel-drive, 1 MPG less for all-wheel-drive. I averaged 18.8 MPG in my all-wheel-drive test car.

I took the MKS for a run on the About.com Top Secret Curvy Test Road, and again I was reminded of the Taurus -- but in a good way, this time. The Taurus and the MKS are built on the same platform, which also happens to underpin the Volvo S80. The MKS' steering is a little soft and imprecise -- well, okay, it's a lot soft and imprecise -- but the MKS gripped the road well (gotta love all-wheel-drive!) and refused to let mid-corner bumps and uneven pavement throw it off course, a real surprise considering how soft and comfortable the ride is. The MKS is talented, but it's not very involving. (That's no big sin. Some of my favorite luxury cars are dull to drive.)

Journey's End: The big picture isn't so pretty

2009 Lincoln MKS left-rear view

2009 Lincoln MKS

Photo © Aaron Gold

Let me guess what you're thinking: For a car he didn't like, Aaron sure has a lot of nice things to say about it. That's the thing about the MKS -- if you focus on the details, it seems like a nice car. But when you step back and look at the complete package, it starts to fall apart.

The MKS is more expensive than the Lexus ES350 and almost as much as the Infiniti M, both of which are nicer and better cars. But the real problem is the Hyundai Genesis, which is big, quiet, comfortable, and costs six thousand dollars less than an MKS. In fact, you can get a V6-powered Genesis with all the trimmings -- navigation, 17-speaker stereo, leather-wrapped dash, the works -- for just $1,500 more than an MKS with no options. Prefer to buy American? If you can do without some of the gadgets, I'd check out the Ford Taurus -- it's the same car under the skin, and you can get one with SYNC, leather and navigation for $7k less than an MKS.

If I had a job that involved spending many hours on long, boring interstate drives, I might consider the MKS. Its roomy seats, comfortable ride, adaptive cruise control, voice-activated iPod and phone controls, excellent navigation system, and access to real-time weather and gas prices make it an outstanding office-on-wheels. But other than that, I can't see a good reason to buy the MKS -- not at the price Lincoln is asking. Like I said, the MKS has to be twice as good as its rivals to really stand out. Unfortunately, it doesn't even come close.

Let the hate mail begin. -- Aaron Gold

Next page: Likes and dislikes, who should buy it, details and specs

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