Lincoln takes a major step into the 21st century with the 2009 Lincoln MKS, blowing past the competition's cabin tech and leaving memories of the Town Car far behind. This new, large sedan features a unique grille, a high belt-line, and prominent Lincoln badges on the front and sides. Its comfortable ride makes it a great platform for an incredible roster of entertainment and informational technology. Need to fill up? The MKS shows you gas prices for nearby stations, searchable by price. Traffic and weather are available on-screen, as are movie times and sports scores. Add the Microsoft-built Sync voice-command system and THX audio, and the MKS takes a leap ahead of anything available today.
But where BMW, Cadillac, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz specialize in sport-luxury cars, Lincoln only aspires to luxury. The MKS doesn't try to be a sports car. Oh, its V-6 moves the car well enough, but power delivery is a little chunky, and handling is nothing to write home about. It's a car that you will enjoy on a long cruise, but want to keep in the parking lot at the track.
Test the tech: Gas price search
The 2009 Lincoln MKS is one of the first cars to incorporate Sirius Travel Link, a set of data services delivered over the Sirius satellite network. Movie times and sports scores seem a little frivolous, but gas prices make this service a killer application. To test out the system, we drove to a random location on the peninsula, south of San Francisco, and compared the accuracy of Travel Link's reported prices with the actual prices shown at the gas stations. Sirius actually keeps this information updated by monitoring credit card transactions, as each station isn't going to upload its daily prices to the Sirius database.
At our first stop, we pressed the Fuel Prices button on the Travel Link screen and were immediately treated to a list of nearby gas stations, along with the per-gallon price for gas. A 76 station at the top of the list had regular gas for $3.90 per gallon, so we touched that entry. The next screen showed the 76 station on a map, along with prices for regular, medium, and super. The screen also gave us the options to call the station using our paired Bluetooth phone, or set it as a destination. We drove the couple of miles to the station and looked at the prices.
For regular, the actual price was $3.87, 3 cents lower; medium was $3.97, 5 cents lower than the car's reported $4.02, and Premium was $4.07, 7 cents lower than the $4.14 listed on Travel Link.
Although there was a discrepancy between the actual and reported prices, the car covered that by showing when it had received its pricing data on the gas price screen, one or two days earlier for each grade. We repeated the test by driving to another location and checking the Travel Link screen for gas prices. This time we selected an ARCO that had a price of $3.88 per gallon. Going to the detail screen, the system only reported the regular price, unlike the listing for the 76 station, which had all grades. We drove to the ARCO, and saw that the actual price for regular was $3.85 per gallon, again a 3 cent discrepancy.
The MKS performed our test admirably. We weren't put off by these small discrepancies in price, and would imagine the system is even more useful for long road trips, letting you avoid the gougers. A couple of times we experienced delays when trying to access the fuel price information, with the screen showing an hourglass slowly turning as the system downloaded its updated fuel price information. The system can also display prices for diesel, which you can select in the settings menu.
In the cabin
Interiors of American cars may have suffered over the last couple of decades, but Lincoln does a good job of redeeming itself with the MKS, using soft materials on the doors and lower dashboard, and stitched leather on top of the dashboard. Flat, black plastic actually looks good on the console and instrument panel. The leather seats are perforated, allowing air flow for the heating and cooling mechanisms. The steering-wheel buttons are even backlit, making them visible at night. The only complaint we have about this interior is that the touch-screen LCD is prone to smudging.
Voice command works incredibly well in the MKS--even better than our previous favorite system in Honda and Acura models. First, Sync is the most advanced voice-command system available for cars, letting you call anyone in your cell phone's address book by speaking their name, and letting you ask for music by artist, genre, or album name. Of course, these are all things we've tested before. With the MKS, you can also enter destinations by saying the names of streets and cities. With other cars we've seen, you can enter destinations by voice, but you have to spell streets and cities one letter at a time. We generally found the voice recognition to work well, as long as we enunciated the city name. Impressively, the system properly recognized the 'J' in 'San Jose' as being pronounced with an H sound.
As the navigation system is hard drive-based, the maps are high resolution and calculations are quick. Under route guidance, the voice prompts read out street names, and graphics for upcoming turns show fine detail. The MKS is the first car we've seen with traffic information provided by Sirius, although it looks very similar to that provided by XM NavTraffic, even having the same local roads coverage, at least for the area we tested it in. The system shows traffic flow on major roads, along with incidents that affect traffic. If your route goes through an area with an incident or very slow traffic, the system will offer a detour.