Lincoln MKS With EcoBoost 2010 - First Out of the Gate

The arrival of the MKS sedan last year spurred hopes that it might revitalize Ford�s historically uncompetitive luxury brand, helping Lincoln to better compete with Cadillac, Lexus, and other aspirational marques. Most of the hype stemmed from the stunning MKR concept that debuted at the 2007 Detroit auto show; it floated the idea that future Lincolns wouldn�t be dowdy, livery-service specials like the current Town Car.

As it turns out, the MKS is indeed light-years beyond that ancient Panther-platformed barge in both styling and performance. But the production 2009 MKS came to market lacking the MKR�s exaggerated proportions, rear-wheel-drive chassis, and twin-turbocharged V-6�which then carried the aggressive TwinForce moniker. The reality of the MKS�s front-wheel-drive foundation (shared with the Ford Taurus) and naturally aspirated, 3.7-liter V-6 making 275 hp and 276 lb-ft of torque put it at a disadvantage with more powerful luxury sedans.

But Ford is now upping the big Lincoln�s game, as it will finally be available with a twin-turbo, 3.5-liter V-6 when the 2010 model arrives in showrooms in mid-summer. Although the engine carries the more marketing-friendly EcoBoost name, its 355 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque are for real and give the Lincoln the gusto to run with most V-8s. We recently had the chance to sample the new turbocharged model�as well as the 2010 MKT crossover�at Ford�s Michigan proving ground, where the company had a V-8 Cadillac STS and Infiniti M45x on hand for comparison.

Movin� On Up

Supported by standard all-wheel drive and a beefier six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and revised gear ratios, the EcoBoost MKS proved to be a far more compelling vehicle to pilot than the base car. However, it should be noted that, although the Lincoln handily outpaced the Cadillac and Infiniti in acceleration, technology, and refinement, Ford conveniently chose two of the oldest and least powerful vehicles in the segment for comparison.

With peak torque available as low as 1500 rpm, the direct-injected EcoBoost V-6 is flexible in its power delivery and motivates the near-4500-pound MKS with uncanny ease. Compared with the non-EcoBoost MKS�which takes 7.5 seconds to reach 60 mph and covers the quarter-mile in 15.7 at 90 mph�the twin-turbo car is a rocket. Away from Ford's proving grounds and on our test track, acceleration was smooth and linear up to the 134-mph top speed, with 60 arriving in 5.4 seconds and the quarter in 14.1 at 100 mph. Turbo lag is nonexistent and the exhaust note is hushed but noticeable, with a subdued growl that never gives the impression the engine is being worked too hard.

Although the prodigious low-end grunt tops that of many V-8s, Ford says the EcoBoost engine�s direct injection, compact turbochargers, and smaller displacement allow it to sip fuel like a proper V-6. Our short stint behind the wheel, with the throttle frequently contacting the floorboard, didn�t give us much of an idea about real-world economy. Still, the EcoBoost MKS�s city/highway mileage of 17/25 mpg beats the EPA figures for the STS and M45x�again, conveniently�which are rated at 15/22 and 14/20, respectively. The front-wheel-drive, 3.7-liter MKS is rated the same as the EcoBoost model; the all-wheel-drive base car gets 16/23 mpg. However, the Lexus GS460 with its 342-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 matches the economy of the boosted MKS, and the more powerful�and less expensive�Hyundai Genesis V-8 manages 1 mpg better on the highway. Although the Lincoln�s ratings are surely influenced by its porky curb weight and have yet to be verified by the EPA, we think it might have been better had Ford kept the cooler-sounding TwinForce name if the primary benefit of EcoBoost is performance.

Improving the Package

Along with the new engine option, all 2010 MKSs get revised suspension tuning for more confident handling and additional sound deadening to curb road noise. The 2009 model was by no means loud inside, but the revisions make the 2010 car truly serene, even at triple-digit speeds. Opt for the EcoBoost model, and the chassis gets electric power steering, stiffer anti-roll bars and front subframe mounts, and new shocks, springs, bushings, and upper shock mounts. The result is more responsive footwork with light yet communicative steering. Ford�s ride-and-handling loop showed the MKS to be well controlled and borderline playful when driven in anger, although the rear end has a tendency to feel a little light when the car is pushed hard. The changes don�t make the MKS ideal for assaulting sinewy canyon roads, but it does drive smaller than it is. Around the skidpad, the MKS managed to hang on at 0.83 g, while braking from 70 to 0 mph occured in 175 feet, with considerable fade after a few attempts.

Also available later this year on EcoBoost models is an appearance package ($2995) that includes unique 20-inch chrome wheels (18-inchers are standard); black-accented headlights and taillights; a revised front fascia; a small, chrome-accented trunk spoiler; and unique MKS badging with the S in red. The splurging carries over to the inside as well, with Sienna leather upholstery and trim, a metallic dash appliqu� with MKS badges, and special illuminated door sills and floor mats. As with every MKS we�ve driven, the cabin is comfortable, spacious, and well designed. The front seats are heated and cooled, and they�re supportive without being constricting. Rearward vision could be better, though, and the back seat isn�t exactly commodious. The gauges and the center-stack controls are attractive and easy to use, as is the infotainment system, complete with an eight-inch touch screen and optional THX II 5.1 premium sound system.

Although many of the technologies on the MKS carry over from last year, new for 2010 is active park assist, which employs ultrasonic distance sensors and electric power steering to find and guide the vehicle into a suitable parallel parking space. Press the button on the center console and drive past a potential parking space, and the system will tell you if the car will fit. If the spot proves big enough, slide the gear lever to reverse and work the gas pedal while the computer manages the steering and watches how close you are to other vehicles. The whole operation takes about 20 seconds, with training yourself to trust the car and let go of the steering wheel the biggest challenge. Active park assist costs $535 on the MKS and will be available on several other 2010 Ford vehicles.

First Out of the Gate

Starting at $48,585, the 2010 MKS with EcoBoost comes well equipped, with standard features including keyless access with a keypad and push-button start, adaptive HID headlights with auto high-beam control, rain-sensing wipers, ultrasonic parking assist, and Sync with Bluetooth. A front-wheel-drive, non-EcoBoost MKS is about $1200 more than the 2009 version, at $41,695, with all-wheel drive adding another $1890 to the tally. Option bundles, ranging from $2500 to $4500, are available for base and EcoBoost models and add stuff like 19- or 20-inch wheels, navigation, the THX sound-system upgrade, and a rearview camera, depending on the model. Adaptive cruise control with brake support ($1310), a dual-panel sunroof ($1695), and various paints and wood trims are stand-alone options.

Although the MKS will be the first Ford to go on sale with an EcoBoost engine, it won�t be the only one. The automaker plans to offer four- and/or six-cylinder EcoBoost powerplants in 90 percent of its models by 2013. The MKT crossover will join the EcoBoost roster when it goes on sale in late summer, and the Ford Flex and Taurus SHO will offer the 3.5-liter engine for 2010. Although the additional power of the new engine doesn�t transform the MKS into a sports sedan, it does make it much more competitive and gives the brand a better chance at reestablishing itself. We�ll have to wait to see how well the new MKS does in the real world�and if the updates justify the loaded-up price of $56,000�but we can definitely say this isn�t your typical Lincoln.

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