New Car Review: 2003 Lincoln LS Premium Sport


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SEE ALSO: Lincoln Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

    In common with most luxury automakers, Lincoln has a problem 
a few years ago. The customers who made Lincoln successful in the 
past few decades, for the most part, reached the age where they 
were not going to buy another car. Younger luxury car buyers, 
``younger'' here meaning anyone not past retirement age, abandoned 
the traditional American luxury sedan for sport-utility vehicles and 
imports. And so there have been some major changes to the Lincoln 
lineup in recent years. Old names, such as the Continental, are gone, 
while SUVs like the Navigator and Aviator have proved popular. To 
appeal to people who would otherwise buy an import, the mid-sized 
LS sedan was introduced in the 2000 model year. It was an even 
more radical departure from the norm for Lincoln than trucks. 

    The traditional Lincoln is large. The Town Car is the best example 
of the Lincoln sedan. Neither the Navigator nor the Aviator can be 
called small. While merely mid-sized, not really small, the LS is the 
smallest Lincoln ever, and is the company's luxury sports sedan. Yes, 
there are two words in the preceding sentence not normally 
associated with Lincoln - sports sedan. While there have been 
Lincoln personal luxury coupes with an emphasis on performance, a 
Lincoln sedan with a European-style combination of comfort and 
speed has never existed before the LS. It has been successful in its 
mission, attracting new, younger customers to the Lincoln brand. 
Around 70 percent of LS owners have never had a Lincoln before, 
and their average is around 50, much younger than usual for 
Lincoln.

    As before, the LS is offered with the choice of a 3.0-liter V6 or 
3.9-liter V8 engine. Both get variable valve timing this year, for 
more flexible and efficient power. Both now have ``drive-by-wire'' 
electronic throttle control that works with the engine and 
transmission computers to optimize response. More importantly for 
import-oriented customers, the suspension has been firmed up, 
giving the 2003 Lincoln LS very European ride and handling 
characteristics. I've just finished a week with a new LS V8 and was 
thoroughly impressed. With no loss of its uniquely American 
character, it is the most European Lincoln ever. 

APPEARANCE: The smallest Lincoln has the discreet, tasteful style 
of a finely-tailored suit. And, as correct tailoring can make a person 
look slimmer, the LS looks deceptively small, although it is 
marginally larger than its European and Japanese rivals. Its styling is 
muscular without being muscle-bound, and conservatively elegant in 
the European mold. The front end treatment is new this year, but the 
difference is subtle. If the smoked-plastic covered headlights nod 
toward southern Germany (and California), the matte-black chrome-
trimmed grille and large chrome rear license plate garnish are pure 
Lincoln. 

COMFORT: Like its exterior, the LS's interior is tastefully 
distinctive in design. It has been freshened this year, with new soft-
touch material covering the instrument panel, aluminum-look trim on 
the center stack, and wood trim on the doors, dash, steering wheel, 
and shift lever. In this class, seat support and comfort are expected, 
and the LS exceeds expectations, especially with the new optional 
heated and cooled front seats. I faced exterior temperatures well 
over 100 degrees during my test week. The seat cooling aided the 
excellent climate control system to keep me cool and refreshed. The 
driving experience is heightened by standard adjustable pedals and a 
steering wheel that is power-adjustable for both tilt and reach. And 
comfort decreases distraction and so adds safety. If the DVD-based 
navigation system is specified, navigation and audio controls are 
through the touch screen, but climate control is separate, for faster, 
easier use. There are useful storage compartments around the cabin, 
and the rear seat fold with a 60/40 split when long items need to be 
transported. 

SAFETY: The Lincoln LS is designed not only for passive safety, 
with a rigid structure with front and rear crumple zones and standard 
front and side-impact air bags, but for active safety as well. Four-
wheel vented antilock disc brakes ensure quick stops, and the 
``AdvanceTrac'' active vehicle dynamics system aids driver control in 
dicey situations.



ROADABILITY: When I first drove an LS, back in late 1999, I 
found its suspension, even with the ``sport'' tuning, to be more 
American than European - softly-sprung with plenty of body 
motion. That wasn't too surprising - it's rarely a good idea to 
alienate current customers in the search for new ones, after all. And 
the 2000 LS behaved well in everyday American traffic. But import 
sport-luxury sedan buyers are used to a firmer suspension 
calibration, one that combines a compliant ride with minimal body 
roll in quick cornering. Ask and you shall receive...the 2003 LS 
feels like it was made in Germany, not Michigan. In Premium Sport 
trim, the fully-independent suspension is firm, but far from harsh, 
with springs and shocks well-matched. It allows the LS to glide 
smoothly down the road in the manner of an American luxury car, 
or to be driven with verve on a challenging mountain road. 

PERFORMANCE: With 280 horsepower and 286 lb-ft of torque 
from its 3.9-liter dual overhead cam 32-valve aluminum alloy 
engine wired to the driver's right foot, the LS V8 has plenty of 
good old American V8 muscle. Even better for driving enthusiasts, 
the rear wheels are the driven wheels. And the five-speed 
electronically-controlled automatic has ``Selectshift'' manual-shift 
mode, for total driver control in spirited driving. ``Spirited driving'' 
and ``Lincoln'' in the same sentence? Believe it. The LS V8 is a fine 
example of the ``iron fist in a velvet glove'' luxury performance car 
that was once the exclusive province of the Europeans.

CONCLUSIONS: The Lincoln LS blends American and European 
concepts of luxury and performance.

SPECIFICATIONS
2003 Lincoln LS Premium Sport

Base Price			$ 43,360
Price As Tested		$ 47,685
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 32-valve 
aluminum alloy V8 with variable valve timing
Engine Size			3.9 liters / 240 cu. in.
Horsepower			280 @ 4000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			286 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled 
automatic with manual shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		114.5 in. / 193.9 in.
Curb Weight			3755 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	13.4
Fuel Capacity			18 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P255/50 VR17 Michelin Pilot HX 
MXM4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / vented disc,
 antilock and traction control standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent unequal-length control 
arms with coil springs all around
Drivetrain			front-engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 24 / 20
0 to 60 mph				6.5  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Heated rear seats			$    400
Navigation system and THX audio	$ 2,995
Extended rear park assist		$    295
Destination and delivery		$    635
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