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.
The MKS shows us detailed gas prices for a nearby service station.
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 actual prices at this 76 station are a few cents under what the navigation system reported.
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.
The graphic shown for an upcoming turn is incredibly detailed.
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.
Travel Link provides weather information--both current and the five day forecast.
We mentioned the information services provided by Travel Link above. Along with gas prices, movie times, and sports scores is a pretty detailed weather application, showing the one or five day forecast. There is also a weather map, showing storms and Doppler radar from around the country. Gas prices and movie times are associated with destinations in the points of interest database. You can easily place a call to any point of interest as long as it has an associated phone number, and you have a phone paired to the car. Sync's phone integration is also the best going, as it reads your phone's address book and lets you select numbers by saying the associated person's name. For compatible phones, it will also read text messages to you.
For entertainment, the MKS offers a huge number of audio sources, along with DVD playback from its disc player. There is a USB port in the console, useful for USB drives, iPods, Zunes, and other MP3 players. Space on the navigation system's hard drive is reserved for music storage, which you can fill by inserting a CD and pushing the record button. The MKS automatically tags albums, even attaching album art, from its Gracenote database. There is also, of course, Sirius satellite radio and a standard-auxiliary input, and the more exotic Bluetooth-streaming option. We have found with Sync, though, that the system has trouble using the same paired phone for music playback and standard telephone functionality. Although most of these audio sources can be controlled by voice, the onscreen interface is also very good, letting you view the entire music library on an 80 gigabyte Zune, for example.
The record button lets you rip a CD to the system's hard drive.
The icing on the cake is the THX audio system, the best system you can get for the money, and really only surpassed by the $6,300 Bang & Olufsen system in the. We were blown away by the clarity, how the audio system brought out details in songs that we had never noticed before. The sound of a horn section or the strumming of an acoustic guitar will bring tears to music lovers when heard through this system. Its 5.1 surround sound envelops the cabin in audio, yet creates admirable separation, placing individual instruments on a palpable sound stage.
The hardware that creates this experience includes 14 speakers, a center fill speaker, and a 10-inch subwoofer. These speakers are powered by a 600-watt, 12-channel amp. Beyond mere power, this amp uses digital signal processing to tune the music, keeping highs from being too bright or piercing, for example.
As for other cabin tech, Lincoln will make an adaptive cruise-control system available on the MKS, although it wasn't present in our test car. We also had adaptive headlights, which swivel into turns, and automatic high beams. This technology worked well in our testing, turning on the high beams on a dark road with no other cars present. It immediately turned the brights off when it detected the lights of another car, either head- or tail-lights, or when street lamps became visible.
Under the hood
As much as we liked the cabin tech in the Lincoln MKS, we were less impressed by the driving experience. It's certainly not bad; it's just not inspired. Last year we praised the Cadillac CTS for innovative cabin tech and impressive performance, but the MKS doesn't seem to care much about the latter. It uses a new 3.7-liter V-6, making 273 horsepower at 6,250rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 4,250rpm. Pounding the gas pedal, you get immediate thrust and some delightful front-wheel spin contained by the traction control, but torque steer punches in sporadically during acceleration, requiring a solid grip on the wheel and minor adjustments to keep it in line.
The MKS' 3.7-liter V-6 is transversely mounted, and powers the front wheels.
The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic with a manual mode. Mostly this transmission delivered smooth shifts, comporting with the cars luxury character, but occasionally it felt a little chunky. The manual mode will mainly be useful for engine braking on long descents. The suspension did an excellent job of absorbing road imperfections, maybe not up to the level of the much more expensive, but perfectly acceptable and competitive with cars, such as the , that cost 20 grand more. Interestingly, a few of our staff members commented that riding in the MKS felt like sitting in an SUV.
Of course, we couldn't help but try the MKS out on some of our favorite roads, thrashing it around corners just to see what it would do. When pressed like this, it wasn't bad, holding our line in the corners. Its front McPherson struts and rear-multilink suspension made the car behave reasonably well. There was body roll, but it wasn't excessive, and the steering was responsive enough to let us keep control and in our lane.
As for economy, EPA tests give the Lincoln MKS 17 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. In our testing, we saw 18.6 mpg, which is about what we would expect from a 3.7-liter engine. On the plus side, the car earns a ULEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board.
The 2009 Lincoln MKS bases at a very reasonable $37,665. Our car came with the two options that really count: the $1,115 Technology package, which includes a smart key, adaptive headlights, and rain-sensing windshield wipers, and the $2,995 Navigation package, combining the hard drive-based navigation system with the THX audio system. Along with $510 for 19-inch wheels and $800 for a destination and handling charge, the total for our test car was $43,085. By contrast, a Cadillac CTS will give you better driving performance and less impressive cabin tech for a little more. Likewise, the Infiniti G35 offers more sporting performance, but less luxury, for a couple of grand less.
For cabin tech, the MKS tops out our ratings, making superior audio and useful driving information affordable. Its performance rating takes a hit for the torque steer and the mediocre fuel economy, although we give it points for being generally drivable and having a comfortable ride. We like the exterior of the car as well as the on-screen interface, so it picks up points in design.