Those of you that have been following me online for the past few years might know that I maintain a healthy interest in cars in
addiction addition to my tech obsession. It wasn't too long ago that I was in Detroit attending the North American Intl Auto Show, and it was just a year ago that I was on a roadtrip through New York to Washington, D.C. following 17 college teams that re-engineered SUVs to be more sustainable (I even got to drive a fuel cell powered SUV). I could go on and mention how I was at the SCCA Nationals last weekend at Road Atlanta or talk about my involvement with the Fiesta Movement, but I think you get the point. I'm a car nut. So when Lincoln called me and wanted to see if I would review their 2009 Lincoln MKS luxury sedan, I couldn't say no.
Disclosure: While I was provided this car on behalf of Lincoln as a loaner for 5 days, I was not told to present the MKS in any biased, false light. Everything you're about read is coming straight from the Paul you've been reading for 4 years.
Note: As usual, click on any of the pictures to load a high-resolution version. Photos taken on top of the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center parking deck in Midtown Atlanta with a Nikon D90 and a crappy tripod. Screen pictures cropped using the Photoshop CS4 perspective crop feature I now love.
MKS 101The MKS is Lincoln's mid-level luxury sedan, poised just below their flagship Town Car. Lincoln has been facing some steep competition in recent years and they have recently launched a new marketing campaign. I've been hearing endless MKS commercials on the local hip-hop radio stations recently. The MKS is at the core of this campaign, with their focus on pumping out new features to attract a broader crowd. Buick did something similar a few years ago with their Tiger Woods campaign, trying to breath new life into the staggering brand.
That being said, the 2009 MKS is now competitive with other entry/mid-level luxury sedan offerings. This review aims to show why.
Price as TestedThe loaner I was given had a standard vehicle price of 39,105 but that number grew to 45,570 with the included Ultimate Package and delivery. Here were a few of the interesting features included in this car:
- Microsoft SYNC with integrated navigation system
- Dual Panel Moonroof
- THX-II Certified Audio with 5.1
- "Intelligent Access" with push button start
- Adaptive HID Headlamps (headlights turn as you turn)
- Air-conditioned front seats
While not included in my particular MKS, adaptive cruise control is an available high-tech option.
The MKS competes with the likes of the Lexus GS, Cadillac CTS, Acura RL, Infiniti M and Volvo S80. While not in the price range of the Audi A8, it is roughly the same size.
ExteriorFor a car that is supposed to breathe new life into the Lincoln brand and bridge the mid-sized luxury sedan gap in their line-up, the MKS is aesthetically at a great start. The rear of the car was an instant hit with me. Why? It looks almost exactly like the rear of a last-generation Maserati Quattroporte. Coincidence? Maybe.
On the other hand the chromed-out front grill and chrome window trim is a lesson in gaudy that takes some getting used to. Big 19-inch (optional 20's) wheels help fill in the wheel wells and give the MKS a good overall road presence. The tires don't exactly produce the popular low profile look but I think Lincoln made the right choice here as anything thinner would have definitely made a negative effect on ride quality.
Unfortunately there's not much to see behind the wheels other than small, ugly brakes. The 2009 MKS is equipped with mediocre 12.25-inch front rotors with 2-piston calipers and 12.75-inch rear rotors with single piston calipers. Considering that the MKS only performed "ok" in various brake tests, it could use larger 4-piston front brakes. Lincoln should take a note from Acura - their competing RL has black 4-piston calipers adorned with the Acura logo.
I first heard about adaptive headlights in 2004 when they were the big feature in the Lexus RX330 (debuted in the LS430 first though) and featured a commercial with a guy driving around a winding road to see a deer in the road that he couldn't have seen if his headlights didn't turn with the car's steering. Needless to say, I don't live out in the country but adaptive headlights in the MKS are a joy to drive around with. The feeling is a bit creepy at first but a pleasant addition to the MKS. The quick video below shows off how they work, and as you can see the headlights turn considerably (realistically about 15 degrees) even given minimal steering input at parking lot speeds. It might need to be scaled back a bit.
Combined with automatic highbeams, I can say that the MKS is a breeze to drive safely at night. As the name implies, automatic high beams is a feature on the MKS that automatically flips on the HID high beams when the car does not detect any other sources of light on the road. When it detected other cars and/or street lights, the high beams turned off.
Angled tail-lights, a beveled license plate holder and not so subtle chrome trim screams Maserati styling.
PerformanceUnfortunately the 2009 Lincoln MKS does not feature the powerful 355 BHP EcoBoost V6 engine with direct injection and twin turbochargers that is purported to get 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. That engine will debut in the 2010 Lincoln MKS. The 2009 MKS I tested came with a 3.7-liter V6 engine (churning out 273 bhp at 6,250 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 4,250rpm) mated to a 6 speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel drive system. As for the engine's sound at full-throttle, well it wasn't exactly music to my ears. It sounded more like a hair dryer. My first thoughts were that this is a subpar powerplant for a car of this size, price and weight. After driving it around town for a few days, I still believe that it needs more power. The fact that the 2009 MKS doesn't even have a V8 option is shocking when compared to similarly priced, competing luxury sedans. Hopefully the powerplant in the 2010 MKS will put this engine issue to rest.
With a curb weight exceeding 4,200 pounds, this AWD MKS is roughly on par with the weight of Lexus GS and AWD-equipped Volvo S80 offerings. Combined with the underpowered engine and sluggish automatic transmission, the MKS did not do much impressing in the performance category. The transmission is laggy to upshift while downshifts are jerky. While the all-wheel drive system did a decent job of fighting understeer (oh and there's lots of it with the big MKS) and helping pull the car through turns, it was also plagued with torque steer under moderate to full-throttle acceleration, requiring the driver to keep steering in line.
Considering that the MKS is heavy (a typical AWD system adds 200+ lbs) and has a high center of gravity as it sits fairly high — 19-inch wheels (P255/45R19) and a tall suspension setup will do that — there's no surprise that the MKS is also a mediocre performer when it comes to the twisties. The MKS handling reminds me a bit of when I first drove a similarly-sized Chrysler 300C. I overestimated the 300C's abilities while running through a high-speed curve and oversteer took over and gave me some squealing tires.
Fuel economy is a bit on the low side, as one might expect with a heavy car with an automatic transmission, all-wheel drive system and underpowered Duratec 37 engine that must struggle to get that mammoth moving (that you can find rebadged in the Mazda 6 and CX-9). The MKS received an EPA fuel economy estimate of 16 MPG city and 23 MPG highway but after 5 days of city driving I got around 10.1 MPG with spirited driving and 14.8 MPG with me trying to drive like a normal person. The MKS has a sizeable 20 gallon fuel tank with 'Easy Fuel', which Ford describes as a "capless fuel filler that uses an integrated spring-loaded flapper door to eliminate the need for a fuel tank screw cap, saving time and keeping hands cleaner at the pump". The 2011 Ford Fiesta I am also testing has a similar capless fuel filler feature.
0-60 MPH in 7.5 seconds (7.4 with ~1600 RPM power braking) 0-100 MPH in 19.9 seconds 1/4-mile in 15.5 seconds @ 90.0 MPH
While I did not have the means to measure brake distances, there was noticeable room for improvement with the MKS. As mentioned earlier the MKS has 12.75-inch front rotors with 2-piston calipers. My 2002 Mustang GT had a similar brake setup, which I found so under-performing (on a car that weighed almost 1,000 pounds less at that) that I eventually upgraded to a 4-piston Brembo GT setup that I'm now happy with. But I digress, I would just really like to see 4-piston calipers on the MKS.
MKS ride quality is far from cloud-like but definitely acceptable for its price range, if a little firm. Ride quality felt very similar to that of the current-generation BMW 545i and M5 (in P400/non-M mode).
Moving inside the MKS I can see where Lincoln tried to garner itself some brownie points. Seats are made from "Bridge of Weir" leather from Scotland and are perforated. This allows heating or cooling to come through, and on hot days in Atlanta, the air-conditioned seats felt amazing. The front seats have 12-way adjustments including variable lumbar support where you can not only vary the lumbar pressure but also its vertical placement. One small complaint is that the seats did little to "hug" me and I felt like I slid around them while carving corners. It could really benefit from adjustable side bolsters found in other luxury sedans.
At highway speeds, the MKS cabin is eerily quiet thanks to copious amounts of well-placed insulation. Unfortunately, my praises end there.
The first thing I look at when entering a car is the gauge cluster, and the one in the MKS is disappointing. The needles are too fat, the typography says "I'm old and busted" instead of the "new hotness" message that I'm sure Lincoln is going for, and the chrome trim doesn't help. For an example of well-designed gauge clusters, Lincoln should look at anything recent by Lexus. Even their entry-level luxury sedans have excellent gauges, with their last generation IS sedans sporting terrific chronometric gauges.
The MKS comes equipped with an intelligent access system with push button start. That's a fancy way of saying you just need to have the key in your pocket to open the door and turn the car on; a feature becoming more and more common on all vehicles, not just luxury cars. Unfortunately, the implementation in the MKS requires a clunky, horribly-styled keyfob. It does not have pocket presence. Lincoln needs to take a step back and look at the keyfobs that BMW, Mercedes and Acura are selling with their sedans, because they don't look this cheap.
Other complaints with the interior include a small trunk opening, small compartments throughout the car (you'd think a huge car would have a huge center console and glove box.. nope) and generally sloppy fit and finish (for example, some of the gaps between panels were uneven) throughout. Also, the front cupholders are almost unusable. They cannot be individually adjusted and make it near impossible to use both at the same time. Adjustable cupholder technology has been present in minivans since the 90's, I'd surely expect it to make its way to a luxury sedan such as the MKS by now. I should give Lincoln some props though; the top dash cover is nicely stitched and not plastic looking as I've come to expect with domestic cars.
The dual panel moon roof in the MKS is definitely noteworthy. While the back section can't actually open, it still provides a beautiful view of the sky for your rear passengers.
All nitpicking aside, the MKS is a big car with loads of space. The word "boat" comes to mind. In this case, that's a great thing. Loading up the car with 5 adults was trivial and no one had any complaints about cramped leg room or a low ceiling.
Once turned on, the beautiful center display toting the THX certified audio system logo greets you.
Here we go, now this car is getting interesting. It's called SYNC by Microsoft and it's coming in more and more Ford vehicles. Even Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer drives a SYNC-equipped Ford car (2010 Fusion Hybrid) when he's not whipping around Redmond guzzling gas in his Range Rover.
In a nutshell SYNC ties together all the tech tasks one might need to do in a car — everything from navigation functions to phone and music — into one seamless system that can be voice controlled. Technically-speaking, the SYNC system is powered by an ARM 11 processor with 256MB of RAM, 2GB of flash memory (which the MKS in particular might have ditched for its hard drive) and Microsoft Auto OS version 4.0.
But SYNC isn't the only thing about the MKS that makes its technology so powerful. Hidden away under the skin of the car there are 16 speakers, including a 10-inch subwoofer, all powered by a 12 channel amplifiers for a total output of 600 Watts. But it's not all brute force with the MKS sound system - everything is tied into a digital signal processor within the amplifiers that keeps things from getting out of control. The result? A THX II certified car audio system that supports 5.1 surround sound and sounds amazing (unless you've heard a Bang & Olufsen system in a recent Aston Martin or Audi Q7 or A8/S8).
Want to know why the MKS has a stellar sound system? It was designed by THX themselves.
The THX II Certified Audio systems all feature the THX Configurable Speaker Array (CSA) and THX Slot Speaker technologies located in the center of the vehicle dashboard. The THX CSA is comprised of several small, powerful speakers, and uses dedicated amplifiers and THX digital signal processing (DSP) to widen the sound image before precisely distributing it throughout the car’s interior.
Almost invisible to the eye, the THX CSA and THX Slot Speaker allow for better control and directivity of the sound image, delivering a spacious sound stage throughout the vehicle cabin. The result? Music on CDs and MP3 files feel natural, like you are listening to the live performance or recording session.
The SYNC system can be controlled by the MKS's touch screen, buttons on the center console or via voice controls activated by a button on the steering wheel.
The image above shows some of the available voice commands. While I'm not a terribly big fan of anything voice controlled (I remain scarred from my foray into crappy voice-recognition/dictation software in the late 90's), the SYNC voice control implementation is pretty accurate but I can never get myself to use it when a simple tap or two in half the time would do the same. The biggest annoyance I found with SYNC voice controls is that most commands have a confirmation screen, requiring you to say (or tap) yes or no. That screams Microsoft innovation right there.
The navigation features of the MKS prove equally impressive, with the exception of one huge annoyance: you can't add a destination or change anything relating to your route until you come to a stop (technically less than 3 mph I believe). I know that is supposed to be a safety feature, but what if you have a passenger in the car handling that stuff for you? Since maps are stored on the integrated hard drive, route calculation is speedy and maps have sufficient detail. When you are nearing your destination, the screen splits vertically to display a close-up map of your exit and final turns. That is quite handy. Also, when the system speaks to you it cuts out other audio sources from using the front speakers so you can hear what it is saying.
GPS updates are fairly responsive so you don't have to keep waiting for the map to update before you start guessing if you need to take a left or right at the next intersection. However, one feature I have come to love in my Dash Express GPS unit is missing in the MKS system. I'm of course referring to the Internet connectivity that allows the Dash Express to communicate with Yahoo! Local Search and let you search for any business, restaurant or whatever, and get basic information about the destination, such as store hours.
While the MKS has basic points of interest stored on the hard drive, there's not much you can do without an address. That's where Lincoln decided it would be a good idea to add some extra functionality by integrating SIRIUS Travel Link. One of the coolest features about the Dash Express was that it could find fuel prices for gas stations near you. The MKS can do the same thing with Travel Link, in addition to accessing traffic and weather data. Sadly, my particular MKS did not have an active SIRIUS subscription (runs about 7/month) so I could not tinker with any of the Travel Link features.
Once you pair your phone with the SYNC system over bluetooth, it downloads your phone's address book and allows you to use voice commands to call people by name. The handsfree phone integration and call quality is flawless on both ends and I did not find the need to speak louder than usual for the person on the other end to hear me well. As a bonus, if you have a supported phone (my iPhone 3G wasn't) SYNC can read your text messages aloud to you as they arrive. It also has 15 common text messages (such as "Why?", "Too funny", "Can’t wait to see you" and of course "I’m stuck in traffic") stored into the system so you can quickly reply to your texts, as long as you are going "less than 3 mph (4.82 km/h)".
Another SYNC-specific phone feature: if you're walking to your car and you're already on the phone, you can tap a button on the steering wheel to move the conversation to the car's system. Not that I'm on the phone for more than 5 minutes a day but I'm sure there are some people out there that enjoy talking on the phone where this feature would come in handy.
Also, SYNC can automatically call 911 (technically not present in my particular MKS, but available through a software update) with a pre-recorded message after an accident severe enough to trigger an air bag. I have not been able to find too much more information on this feature so I'm wondering if it shares the vehicle's GPS location with emergency services. It's trying to provide capabilities found with GM OnStar, BMW Assist and Lexus Link services, each of which have their own call centers on the other end instead of going directly through 911.
Last but not least - the audio features of the MKS. There's the simple radio screen that pulls together station info via RDS. Nothing special here, no HD radio support (although Lincoln has mentioned that it is coming as a factory-installed option in 2009...) or anything of that ilk.
Oh but what's this.. a jukebox? Yup, the MKS SYNC system gives the driver access to 10GB of storage. You can actually rip CDs to the car (or transfer them from your mobile device) and it adds the proper CD track information with its integrated CDDB/Gracenote database. But if you're reading my blog right now that's probably not as interesting as just playing music off of your mobile phone or MP3 player.
If your phone supports stereo (A2DP) bluetooth, you're good to go (iPhone doesn't unless you have OS 3.0, so you'll need an adapter) and can play music in high quality over the THX sound system. Otherwise you can use the USB port or aux line-in jack. When playing over USB or bluetooth, SYNC also displays the proper track information. Regardless, the point is that wherever you store your music on the go, you can rest assured that the SYNC-equipped Lincoln MKS can play it.
If I may nitpick once again, I was quite disappointed with the audio visualizer. There were absolutely not style settings - just on and off. I would have loved to have it display some interesting visualizations. Also, for a THX-designed system it is shockingly devoid of advanced equalizer settings. It just has bass and treble sliders. For a person like myself that can end up spending 20 minutes at a time fine-tuning an equalizer preset in iTunes, the MKS left me a bit miffed.
Wrapping up, the THX system sounds fantastic once you feed it a proper digital signal. The center speaker ties everything together. Treble is crisp and clear, while bass remains powerful. However, I did notice that the system in general was too bassy even at lower levels and at anything near upper levels the trunk starts rattling, similar to the improperly insulated trunk subwoofer installs you might see rattling around your neighborhood.
VerdictThere are a lot of things I really don't like about this car, especially as a person that values performance over everything. However, the clean Microsoft SYNC integration is a strong redeeming factor with the 2009 Lincoln MKS. The interface isn't as polished as it could be, but it does everything as promised. If only they could invent a touch screen that wasn't a fingerprint magnet.
While the SYNC system is generally only a 395 option on other Ford vehicles, with the MKS it is part of the larger navigation package that will run you close to 3,000 USD.
Comfort: 8.5/10 Technology: 9.0/10 (leaves room for really cool BMW Night Vision/Mercedes Night View Assist) Aesthetics: 7.0/10 Performance: 5.5/10 Value: 8.0/10
Hopefully the 2010 MKS and it's powerful 355 horsepower EcoBoost engine will put the ball back in Lincoln's court. Until then, I would have a hard time recommending the MKS to too many people. I suggest Lincoln start by redesigning their keyfob because I wasn't getting any looks from girls at Starbucks as I was playing with my keychain while waiting for my latte... (of note are the Land Rover, Bentley and Mercedes keyfobs).
Thoughts? What do you think of Microsoft SYNC? and the MKS? Can you see someone in your family driving one?