The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

Preview: New Lincolns For 2010

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2010 Lincoln MKT

SEE ALSO: Lincoln Specs, Prices and Comparisons - Lincoln Buyers Guide

By Carey Russ
The Auto Channel

You're excused if you haven't thought much about Lincoln when considering entry- and mid-level luxury cars in recent years. Few people have... and this has not escaped notice by Lincoln itself. Once established as the choice of older American luxury buyers, Ford's domestic luxury division has faced the same difficulty as some of its competitors in recent years: younger, up-and-coming luxury buyers don't want their parents' (or grandparents'...) car. And it can take a while for a company to revamp its lineup, and corporate culture, in response. Can you say "culture shift"?

But it has happened at Lincoln. With fine results.

To demonstrate that to the press, Lincoln recently held a technical presentation and ride-and-drive event in the San Francisco, CA area. If the thought of a Lincoln on scenic, twisty Highway One seems incongruous to you, reboot your thinking. The cars involved, the 2010 MKZ, MKS, and MKT, are not your great uncle's Town Car.

(Which is not to belittle the venerable Town Car. Limo drivers generally own the cars they drive, and are responsible for maintenance. Reliability, durability, and low maintenance costs are valued, highly. And every Town Car-driving limo owner-operator I've talked with has had nothing but praise for the car. Unfortunately, the livery trade is a small market.)

When it debuted for 2006, the Zephyr heralded the changes at Lincoln. Named after one of the most significant historic Lincolns, produced just before World War II, the `06 Zephyr was a car very much in the mold of its namesake -- an entry-luxury Lincoln aimed at a younger clientele than the company's larger sedans.

With changes in naming convention, the new Zephyr morphed into the MKZ. And the 2010 MKZ has gained the New Lincoln Look, highlighted by a bold grille heavily influenced by... the late 1930s Lincoln Zephyr. Inside, it has also evolved, with a cleaner and more upscale look, and materials and fit and finish as good as any other car in its class - meaning primarily the Lexus ES 350 and Cadillac CTS, with a bead drawn on BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. Power is from the 3.5-liter Duratec aluminum alloy V6, now with 263 horsepower and 249 lb-ft of torque driving either the front or, optionally, all wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with Select Shift™ manual shift paddles. Suspension is fully-independent, short-and-long arm in front and multilink at the rear.

To better compete with sport-oriented competitors, there is a "Sport Appearance Package" with interior upgrades and a sport-tuned suspension. I know what you're thinking: "sport suspension" and "Lincoln" in the same sentence? Yeah, riiiight... more on that in a bit, but yeah, absolutely right.

The MKS, introduced for model year 2009, gets some important updates for 2010. Chief among them is a new optional engine, the first in Ford's EcoBoost™ series. Ford took the existing 3.5-liter Duratec V6, strengthened it, exchanged the existing port fuel injection for direct injection, and turbocharged it with twin water-cooled turbochargers. Compression is a high 10:1 for efficiency in both power output and fuel consumption, and resultant low emissions. The result is V8 power with V6 fuel economy, 355 hp @ 5500 rpm -- and a nice healthy 350 lb-ft of torque from 1500 to 5250 rpm. On regular unleaded gasoline. EPA estimated fuel economy is 17 mpg city, 25 highway, not bad at all for a 4000-lb class, 350-horsepower luxury sedan. That power is transmitted to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with, yes, SelectShift manual mode.

Can you say "American Audi"? A tough target, but Lincoln is closer than you may think.

Other new additions to the MKS for its second year are structural reinforcements and additional sound-deadening materials, suspension upgrades, the MyKey™ programmable key system, a new instrument cluster, and available systems including Intelligent Access With Push Button Start, Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning With Brake Support, and Active Park Assist self-parking. The standard engine is the 3.7-liter naturally-aspirated Duratec V6, with 273 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque driving the front or all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.

And now for something different - the MKT. If the MKX five-passenger crossover is too small and a Navigator SUV is too passe', here you go. The MKT is an upscale and stretched sibling to the MKX, and more on the car side of the crossover divide. Did I hear the "wagon" word during the presentation? I believe I did... not that the MKT will be mistaken for your grandmother's old wagon. With the boldest interpretation of the New Lincoln styling, it makes quite an impression.

Inside, the MKT may be specified in either six- (2/2/2) or seven-passenger (2/3/2) configuration. Any contemporary comfort or entertainment feature you could think of is likely standard or optional, including Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Warning with Brake Support, Active Park Assist, and the radar-based Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert. Power is from either the naturally-aspirated 3.7-liter, 268-hp V6 or EcoBoost 3.5-liter, 355-hp V6, matched to a six-speed SelectShift automatic. A fixed-glass Panoramic Vista Roof™ with power sunshades is standard, with an opening power version available.

So, how do the new Lincolns work? Very well. In fact, much better than I had anticipated.

With three vehicles to showcase, logistics were a bit unusual. And even more so because San Francisco is not a driving town. On the afternoon of the first day, journalists were ferried across the bay to the technical briefing in Richmond, at what was once, before World War II, a Ford Model A assembly plant, then converted to making tanks during the war. Many journalists, fewer cars, so I ended up in the third row of an MKT.

No complaints. Rarely do I get time in any position of a car but the driver's seat. And at 5-5, I fit in the rear better than most. Plenty of room for me, although too much bigger may be cozy. The rearmost position also highlights any suspension deficiencies, as do California's maintenance-deferred highways. Again, no complaints. The ride was firm but supple, indicating that proper attention had been paid to suspension calibration, something previously unusual in Detroit.

After the technical presentation it was time to drive the MKZ and MKS. I started out in the MKZ, driving on the highway across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and then north on CA 101 to Marin and Sonoma County secondary roads. Mid-week, mid-day traffic was light, and except for a little time passing through Petaluma it was all rural driving. The MKZ was in its element, and with plenty of power, good steering feel, and a well-calibrated suspension that struck a near-perfect balance between sport and comfort in real-world driving it was a fine car for a fast touring pace on those hilly, twisting roads. Gone was the float and bloat that marked American cars of the distant past. Proper suspension setup is not rocket science, but does require some time (and money) spent on calibration and testing -- and quality components. It's good to see that Lincoln's engineers have gotten precedence over the bean counters!

From the MKZ into the MKS, for a drive down the coast and back into San Francisco. The S is noticeably larger and heavier than the Z, but still light on its feet. This one was with EcoBoost, so AWD. No torque steer, and strong power right off idle. 350 lb-ft from 1500 through 5250 rpm will do that... and that also explains Lincoln's fuel efficiency claims. Normally, a turbo is not going to help fuel economy. Most turbo applications encourage enthusiastic driving, meaning rev that engine! Foot to the floor and go! Power = fuel + air, and the more the merrier...

Here, there is all you need at low revs, and no need to rev the engine much at all. You can, and I did, just because. Same thing with the SelectShift - I could shift manually, but with the wide torque curve and the engine's "low revs are happy revs" demeanor, it worked just as well in D, even on the famous curves of California Highway One. The suspension setup made a semi-spirited drive on One a pleasure. Then to the highway, 101 South over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. And into the evening commute.

When stuck in traffic, comfortable seats and a quiet, relaxing cabin are sanity-savers. And, while large enough inside for four or even five, the MKS is small enough outside for good maneuverability in traffic, with the acceleration, brakes, and steering to make the most of that. The last three miles didn't take much more than half an hour...

The next morning was the time to drive an MKT south to San Jose, by way of the coast and ridge backroads. All available MKTs were premium all-wheel drive EcoBoost models. Impressions? While it is longer and heavier than the MKX (or sibling Ford Edge) suspension improvements make the MKT seem much smaller. The EcoBoost V6 is far more than merely adequate, no need for a V8 here. And the MKT is actually quite enjoyable to drive and does not feel like a 4900-pound crossover. It's as quiet and comfortable as expected of a luxury vehicle, with plenty of interior space and comfort. No, it's not meant for four-wheeling, but how many Navigator owners navigated the Rubicon? Or anything more treacherous than a snowy winter road or muddy stadium parking lot? As a real-world luxury people-mover, the Lincoln MKT is ideal.

The 2010 Lincoln MKZ and MKS have been available since mid-summer. The MKT should be in showrooms as you read this. MKZ prices start at $34,965 with front-wheel drive or $36,855 with all-wheel drive. MKS prices start at $41,695 for the 3.7 fwd and $43,585 for the 3.7 awd, with the 3.5 EcoBoost awd starting at $48,585. An MKT with the 3.7 and fwd starts at $44,995, or $46,990 with AWD. An EcoBoost awd MKT starts at $49,995.

SEE ALSO: Lincoln Specs, Prices and Comparisons - Lincoln Buyers Guide