Every so often, a car comes along that surprises me. The 2011 Lincoln MKS smacked me in the face, took me by the lapels and showed me that I was wrong about Lincoln. My eyes are now open, and I'm entranced.
The smackdown started the minute that the MKS pulled up in front of my house. I had seen Lincoln's mid-size sedan in photographs, but I wasn't prepared for how elegant and composed it looks in person. BMW's 5-series was an obvious inspiration for MKS's design. That's praise, not criticism, Lincoln. MKS's proportions are just right, with a balanced overhang front and rear astride a 112.9" wheelbase. The platform is shared with Ford's Taurus, but the Lincoln sheetmetal is unique. Fit and finish are excellent. My test vehicle wore a coat of Tuxedo Black Metallic paint that was deep and rich, every bit the luxury car finish. My test vehicle also got a set of 20" polished aluminum wheels as part of a $2,995 "EcoBoost Appearance Package," an upgrade over the stock 19" wheel package. The big shiny wheels gave an extra shot of adrenaline to an already sporty sedan.
That same appearance package gave a jolt to the interior, as well. Broad metallic trim with a fiber finish added a contemporary, vibrant look to the dashboard and cabin. MKS's simple, straightforward instrument panel consists of three gauge pods united under one eyebrow. They are easy to read at a glance, without any high tech to distract. The dash itself is a little flat and far away for my taste, but that didn't keep me from being able to find a completely comfortable driving position. The steering wheel can be set for angle and reach at the touch of one button, and houses controls for telematics, cruise control and audio. Dual shift paddles rotate with the wheel -- push back to downshift, pull up to upshift, on either paddle. Both front seats are heated and cooled, a luxury feature that I can't live without.
Second row passengers reported that they were very comfortable, especially in the outboard positions where they were treated to heated seats. I was a little disappointed to find that the trunk opening was very short, which makes loading luggage and larger boxes a challenge. The trunk is voluminous at 18.7 cubic feet -- just be sure to pack in small bags.
Lincoln has thrown down the gauntlet when it comes to technology. First of all, they have teamed with George Lucas' THX for an optional ($3,500 as part of a package of extras) 5.1 channel surround system that is specially tuned for MKS. I got my $3,500 worth just by selecting the THX demonstration mode, which brings the famous THX logo on the navigation screen and reproduces the famous orchestral rising note that is THX's signature sound. The car sounds as good as any home theater I've ever put together, maybe better. Additionally, MKS gets Microsoft's excellent SYNC system, which integrates sophisticated voice control with Bluetooth, navigation and other services. SYNC is totally intuitive and powerful, and still exclusive to Ford and Lincoln products.
Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Warning with Brake Support (a $1,295 option) uses radar to maintain following distances while cruise control is engaged, and will slow MKS down if it detects an obstacle or traffic in the roadway. It won't bring the vehicle to a complete stop like the system in some Mercedes-Benz vehicles will, but it will give visible warning and pre-charge the brakes if it detects an imminent collision.
The really big technological gauntlet, though, is Active Park Assist, a $535 option on MKS. Press a button on the center console, and MKS identifies an appropriate parking space. A small readout on the instrument panel tells you to stop, put the vehicle in reverse and remove your hands from the steering wheel. You control the throttle and brake, and electric power assist steering controls the steering wheel. Parking sensors let you know when to brake, return the vehicle to drive and pull forward. It's one-try parking every single time, and it only takes minutes to learn how to use. Unlike Lexus's complicated and finicky automatic parking system, Lincoln's Active Park Assist really works, and works well. The feature has trickled down to some Ford vehicles, so it's not purely a luxury feature anymore, but who cares? Even if you're a good parallel parker, you'll use this system. It's that good.
Technology, luxury and appearances are worthless if the car doesn't drive well. I'm happy to say that MKS does not disappoint when the wheels hit the road, thanks in large part to the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine under the hood of my test vehicle. EcoBoost is Ford/Lincoln's forward-thinking technology, which exchanges large-displacement engines for smaller ones with twin turbochargers. The resulting output, 355 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque in the case of MKS, is delivered with greater efficiency (17 mpg city/25 mpg highway) and considerable punch. (MKS is also available with a 3.7-liter Duratec V6 that produces a very respectable 270 hp and 276 lb-ft of torque -- and slightly lesser fuel economy.) I didn't miss the V8 grunt one bit during my week with MKS. The turbocharged V6 motivates MKS's 4,275 lbs very nicely, and a sharply tuned suspension package delivers a sporty, controlled ride. All-wheel drive is standard with the EcoBoost engine, optional with the Duratec. I didn't mess with the paddle shifters very much, because the 6-speed automatic transmission in MKS was so well-matched with the EcoBoost engine. I just let technology take over, and concentrated on the road.
I didn't expect to be bowled over by MKS, but I was. I wasn't shocked by MKS's base price at $48,160 ($57,310 as tested), which seems entirely reasonable for the level of technology, sophistication and performance delivered.
I'd have to compare the 2011 Lincoln MKS with some very stiff competition: BMW's 5-series, Mercedes-Benz's E-Class and Lexus's GS are the leaders, and each will have its fans. Audi's A6 brings cutting edge design and technology to the party, and Infiniti's M56 can hit pretty hard. If price is the main concern, Ford's Taurus SHO (starting at $38,155) is a mechanical equal to Lincoln's MKS, though it lacks some of the available luxury features and prestige of a Lincoln.
Sometimes it's refreshing to have your expectations thwarted. That's why I drive -- to be surprised and delighted by ingenuity, luxury and capability. The 2011 Lincoln MKS did all of that, and more.