Thursday

2009 Lincoln MKS

Fair disclosure – before I drove this car I wanted to hate it. I viewed it as nothing more than a rebadged, chromed up Ford Taurus. Plus Lincoln has made the seemingly fatal mistake of already announcing a more powerful engine to be put in it next year. It’s like they’re admitting failure from the start at a time when they cannot afford ANY mistakes if they want to survive. (Remember Pontiac did this with the new GTO too. Look where that got them.) But other reviews, most notably Car and Driver, had positive things to say about this car. It was said that the materials were almost up to Lexus standards, it drives nice if a touch slow, etc. The arguments actually were convincing. This is supposed to be the car that redefines Lincoln. Could my initial prejudice have been wrong?

Watching Lincoln and Cadillac whither away has been painful. Their cars were becoming also-rans and uncompetitive. In 2000 Lincoln introduced the LS sport sedan to wild applause. I drove that, and actually quite liked it. (To see my review click here) No, it wouldn’t dethrone the top names in the business, but it certainly was a ray of hope that they were trying and had the ability to make a product that gets noticed. A couple of years later, Cadillac introduced their CTS sport sedan. Things were turning around for the American luxury icons.

As we’ve seen, Cadillac has continued to redefine themselves and is doing a fair job at it (see Cadillac reviews here) Lincoln, however, has regressed by deciding that the best thing to do is rebadge almost every vehicle in the Ford lineup and stick a premium price tag on it. But what about the LS?
Like anything good, they let a promising vehicle that could have been the first step in redefining the brand die a slow, agonizing death. They then gave that platform to the Mustang engineers who did good things with it (see review here).

In any event, I decided to go ahead and give the MKS its chance to shine. Walking around it in person, it’s actually a nice looking car. Ford changed enough of the design cues from the bland Taurus to give the MKS its own classy, upscale look. Glances around the interior make it appear that Lincoln has carried the “chrome everything” theme inside as well. Looking at the gauges, the surrounds and needles glitter back in perfect silver. I suppose that was to differentiate the gauges from the Fusion, from where they appear to have been lifted. The leather is soft, and most other surfaces are soft to the touch. Backseat room is far more cramped than you would expect out of a large car. Also, the opening to the trunk appears too small. Those are strange oversights on what is supposed to be large sized premium car. Couple of just plain odd observations – the size of the rear doors is shockingly HUGE when they’re opened; it makes cargo van doors look inadequate by comparison. Also, from the inside, the rear window looks smaller than that seen on limos. It makes the interior feel small and confined.

As usual, the devil is in the details. Looking at the way the pieces are assembled shows that quality lags compared to their competitors. Plastic pieces don’t always fit flush, and have crooked cuts. Gaps between pieces are not hard to find. The door panels – all four of them on two examples – were flabby. In other words, they were not secure and did not fit flush to the door frame. What happens then as the car ages? I’ve seen better quality on nine year old Toyota’s. To compound these observations, immediately after being in the MKS,
I climbed in an Acura SUV and from there into a BMW – two other premium vehicles with comparable sticker prices that showed none of the same sloppiness. The quality difference is truly astounding. Lincoln cannot play in this league when turning out craftsmanship like what I witnessed in the MKS. Some things never change I suppose.

One of the MKS’ I sampled included Ford’s Sync system, their interactive voice system. It was ok. It recognizes full words, but many of these voice systems seem cumbersome to me. Not only do you have to speak the word, you then have to confirm the command with the system, while waiting as the computer regurgitates what you just said. Sometimes you have to speak from a menu on the screen. In other words, you end up taking your eyes off the road anyway to get the proper voice command from the screen to interact with the system. What is the point of that? Just give me a button. Lincoln is not the only one who falls short in this regard, and this might be something that improves with time as technology advances. Regardless, the Sync system isn’t any more or less outstanding than any other system out there. At least the MKS didn’t need a full reboot like you would normally expect with a Microsoft-designed product.

Sometimes I get déjà vu when driving cars from certain manufacturers, like I’ve had the experience before. And so it is with driving this Lincoln. Like other Lincoln’s I’ve driven, it’s slow, underpowered, and has miserable handling. But that’s the purpose of this car, right? It’s a cruiser and not a racer, correct? That’s true. I didn’t evaluate it the same way as I would a BMW. The MKS was evaluated in the context of its intended mission. But even as far as land yachts go, this was horrifyingly bad. If you execute ANY kind of quick maneuver, the MKS falls all over itself. Hitting the brakes suddenly and trying to change lanes on the highway - we’re not even talking full panic stop brake applications - causes the MKS to get wobbly and require serious course correction. The handling is entirely unpredictable in anything but a straight line. And worse, it happens in both FWD and AWD applications. This car drives TERRIBLE. If you drive it, hope and pray that you’ll never have to perform any sudden movements lest you find yourself as part of whatever you’re trying to avoid. Or even worse, you end up creating a second incident that those around you end up having to avoid as well. Yes, the handling truly is that bad. It feels like the same kind of handling that was common back in the 70’s when land barges roamed the highways. Where’s the progress? And Ford wants to put more power in this chassis? They better raid Volvo’s engineers and recalibrate that suspension - stat. This test was done on a dry, sunny day too. How bad would it be in rain or snow? I’m not interested in putting my life in danger to find out. Someone else can let me know.

So, what are we left with? A big car with a small backseat, terrible handling, underpowered engine, excessive wind noise on the highway (forgot to mention that earlier), shoddy build quality, all with the pretensions of a premium badge on the hood when it’s really just rehashed from a lower line. In other words, a typical, modern Lincoln. But I’ve saved the best for last. Load this car up and the price gets uncomfortably close to $50,000. It doesn’t take much looking to find better value when you have 50 large to play with. So let’s add overpriced to that list of sins too.

At the beginning I said I came in wanting to hate this car. And you know what? I do. Some of you will probably say that outlook clouded my judgment in this review. I disagree. I’ve driven a lot of cars, seen a lot of things, and I’m just telling it like it is. If this is the vision of the future for Lincoln, maybe their turnaround plan is better off just failing. There is absolutely nothing compelling in this car.

Photos property of Ford Motor Company

2 comments:

brad.westcott said...

I had a 1998 Lincoln Continental that I sold when I bought a new car late last year. I briefly considered the MKS, but only briefly. I did not consider it very attractive myself. The only strong point in the car was the interior and that was being generous. The rear door size really gave the whole car a bloated look that I could not overlook. Combine that with a lack of power and I quickly moved on to others like the Jaguar XK, BMW550i, MB E550, Lexus 460, Infinity M45, and Audi S6. My idea of a Lincoln is one the size of my 1998, same styling, 350+hp V8, larger rims and tires, a tighter suspension, and a seven speed transmission.

Chris said...

Hi Brad,

Thanks for visiting Melted Rubber. I agree with you on what Lincoln should've done with this car (powerful 8, tight suspension etc..) In fact I wish they had refined the LS into something with those same characteristics. They could've made something truly ground-breaking and reclaimed attention and admiration.

Definitely check into the 550i. Pricey - but it gives a fantastic driving experience for a midsize sedan.

Enjoy the drive.

-Chris Horner

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