Sabtu, 07 Juni 2008



By Robert Farago

So there we were, barreling down the highway in a Lincoln Navigator. The music on the DVD suddenly swelled, filling the cavernous SUV with orchestral thunder. The kids were watching The Pirates of the Caribbean; the bit where Captain Jack Sparrow enters the harbor on a sinking skiff. Although the scene is played for laughs, the music is magnificent: grand yet lyrical, suffused with romance and adventure. Grasping the big Lincoln's wood and leather helm, I felt like the captain of a huge vessel heading for the open sea. At that moment, the SUV's enormous size and endless creature comforts made perfect sense. I was piloting a first-class ship of the line: safe, fast and well-provisioned. The only cloud on the horizon was…

The Sierra Club. SUVs may own the road, but Gaia's guys and their media minions have captured the moral high ground. Where unlimited consumerism was once considered a good thing, Americans are now instructed that their family truck triggers global warming, kills Bambi and endangers US troops. Never mind that many anti-SUV crusaders live in air-conditioned mansions with heated pools. SUVs are bad. The bigger they are, the badder they be.

If that's the case, the Navigator is b-b-b-bad to the bone. It's huge (5947lbs in 4WD trim) and thirsty (13mpg in the EPA's urban cycle, less in the real world). The Lincoln Navigator is full size in the same sense that videogame vixen Lara Croft is full figured. You wouldn't know it to look at it; the SUV's designers have worked hard to hide the heft. They've divided the Navigator's prow into two horizontal halves, each with its own set of headlights. Amidships, they've run a chrome strip underneath the first two windows (but not the third), carved a visual chunk out the lower extremities and fitted perfectly proportioned, black-on-black tires. The aft is featureless. Taken as a whole, the clever cladding makes the Navigator seem tall, rather than large.

Any doubts about the size of this beast are dispelled the moment you open the door. Provided you stump-up for the "Ultimate" options package (and why wouldn't you?), a gangway whirrs into place below the portal. The Navi's slide-out running board is surprisingly useful for both small children and fitness-challenged Baby Boomers. As is the key fob controlled power tailgate. We may be a nation of carb counters, but American luxury still means never having to physically exert yourself.

It also means never having to say "Your BMW has what?" These days, all luxury cars have all the toys. Lincoln's gussied-up Ford Expedition is no exception. The test truck came complete with sat nav, sat radio, wheel-mounted stereo controls, cruise control, heated and cooled power seats, dual zone climate control, kicking stereo, DVD, automatic headlights, rear power points, park assist, garage opener, autobox with finger buttons, trip computer, tire pressure monitor, etc. Industry insiders call this trend towards taken-for-granted gizmology "feature creep". We call it fun.

But the Navigator's biggest selling point is the final frontier. The $50k truck has enough space for seven adults in a leather-clad two - two - three configuration. Thanks to its newly acquired independent rear suspension, the Navi's back row offers proper chairs– unlike the kiddy shelves found in most seven-seat SUVs. Equally important, Lincoln has replaced the old model's coil springs and torsion bars with air springs. So there's no more back of the bus bouncing, with the attendant risk of roadside "relief".

Lincoln's big rig also received the benefits of an engine upgrade. Specifically, Ford's power brokers liberated an extra 20ft.-lbs. of torque from the 5.4-liter 300hp DOHC V8. With 355ft.-lbs. of twist on tap, the Navigator can now steam to 60mph in 9.3 seconds– despite adding 460lbs. In real world terms, the truck jumps off the line like a gigantic muscle car, then, thankfully, spreads its shove equally throughout the rev range. New brake calipers and larger rotors add to the user-friendly dynamics by supplying some serious (if wooden feeling) stopping power. In short, it's a truck your mother could drive.

Cornering? Let's not go there— at least not at anything more than a jogging pace. The Navigator's understeer-biased chassis and air suspension help keep the truck from embarrassing itself around the bends, but press-on drivers will quickly realize that the little tippy-over icon on the driver's visor ain't just decoration.

The worst thing about the Lincoln Navigator is its size. It's just not big enough. If you ferry seven people, there's only enough room for one lucky passenger's luggage. If you carry five or six kids, or one baby, well, forget it. This beast needs to be at least four feet longer. Extreme environmentalists might react to an even larger Navigator by firebombing dealerships, but, as Captain Spratt might say, "If you're going through Hell, keep going."


By Robert Farago

Badge-engineering. You know the drill: take a run-of-the-mill bog standard plain Jane vanilla sort of car, add some external bits and internal pieces, tweak the ride, slap on a more prestigious badge and jack-up the price. More specifically, the "new" Lincoln Zephyr is a Ford Fusion with a modified grill, wood trim, floatier ride, Lincoln logo and an inflated sticker price. So rather than badge engineer my Ford Fusion review, I'm going to tell you what Ford– sorry, Lincoln, should have done with this car.

The obvious answer is nothing. Lincoln needs a front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan like Hummer needs a camouflage SMART (unless they use it as an H2 escape pod). Even if we ignore Lincoln's illustrious past– first betrayed in 1936 by a funny-looking car called a Zephyr– the brand's recent history sets the standard. Exhibitionist A: the Lincoln Continental Mark IV: a huge, thirsty, poorly-built, foul-handling beast from a time when jeans had bells at the bottom. While the infinitely smaller [modern] Zephyr is so safe and reliable it Hertz and boasts twice as much everything room than the old Mark, Lincoln's '70's luxobarge holstered a 7.5-liter V8 with more swagger than Ludacris at a Kapp Alpha Theta. Now THAT'S what I'm talking about.

Here's the thing: if Lincoln was stuck with the po' faced Fusion, they should've at least re-designed it for gang bangers. But no; once again, street culture rescues a luxury brand from the dumpster and the suits go straight back to building boring cars for stupid white people. The official terminology for the Zephyr's 'waterfall' grill and tail lights (which make it look narrower than a Chevrolet Aveo) is "unpretentious luxury." News flash: stealth wealth went out of style around the same time MTV started showing rap videos and Gianni Versace sold his first $2000 silk shirt. Lincoln's coveted younger buyers crave "subdued luxury" about as much as they hanker after a Michael Bublé CD. Probably less.

Not that it's easy to bling-out a Fusion. For last year's SEMA tunerfest, Ford handed-out free Fusions like they were going out of style (as if). In terms of sex appeal… let's just say that finding the show cars on the tuners' websites is a bit of challenge. Anyway, Lincoln should have ripped the clothes off the Fusion– all of them– and started again. Or at least come up with something a little racier than a Lincoln LS mini-me grill. When your family face says airport limo, plastic surgery that leaves your design heritage in the bio-hazard bag is more than OK. It's mission critical.

Inside– oh c'mon; is that really the best American luxury can do? Wood that looks like plastic, plastic that looks like plastic, leather that feels like plastic and a redesigned dash that's the luxury car equivalent of the White Cliffs of Dover? Lincoln should have given the Zephyr to a proper pimper and let loose the dawgs of design. The Zephyr should have one of those wikkid touch-screen ICE deals that unfolds itself from the dash and hits you with some LSD graphic equalizer visuals and a bazillion watts of surround sound. I'm also thinking screens everywhere but the ashtray and a chilled glove box with Lincoln-branded water. Leather piping around the seats? Spizzarkle uber alles baby!

As for the drivetrain, Lincoln of all brands should know that mindless ease is the name of the luxury car game. Obviously, that's a gig requiring some serious shove and massive twist. Unfortunately, the Zephyr's 3.0-liter whiney six is both anemic and torquerexic. Speaking of American innovation, Lincoln should've transplanted the teeny-tiny Japanese V8 nestling in the nose of the Volvo XC90 into the Zephyr's engine bay. Or they could have stuck a supercharger or turbocharger or steam turbine onto ye olde Duratec. It might've made a Hell of a racket, but it might also have given customers both ancient and contemporary a reason to live.

Why Lincoln decided to plush-out the Zephyr's ride is beyond me; the Fusion's handling dynamics are the best thing about Lincoln's donormobile. As far as I can tell, the chassis guys simply added some nauseating horizontal waft to the equation and dialed out a bit of steering feel. OK, the lumps and bumps have been muted; but is the Macarena any less annoying at lower volumes? Lincoln should have either left the Fusion's ride and handling as they found it, or smothered all road feel, in the great Lincoln tradition.

Of course, money makes my plan unworkable. The Zephyr was built– I mean badge-engineered– to a budget. Doing anything interesting to the Fusion would have elevated the Zephyr beyond its "natural" price point. Yes, well, it's that kind of thinking that got Ford into this hole in the first place.


By Sajeev Mehta

Remember when the words 'luxury' and 'pickup' went together like "reality" and "television?" Well neither does Ford. These days, Ford offers the F150 in three levels of lavishness. There's the understated luxury Lariat, the b-b-b-bad to the bone Harley-Davidson and the steakhouse on wheels known as the King Ranch. So when Lincoln charged its badge engineers with creating a replacement for the ill-conceived, ill-fated Blackwood pickup based on a pre-swanked F150, they figured– sensibly enough– that the road to success was paved with bricks of bling.

To distance the Mark LT from its genetic twin, Lincoln's retrofitters substituted a gigantic version of their "waterfall' grill for the F150's demure nose. The end result is bold– in the same sense that a sledgehammer slamming through a plate glass window is aggressive. Just in case you missed the big Lincoln's spizzarkleprow, the LT also rolls with half-chromed side mirrors and chrome appliqués running from the front bumper along the entire length of the lower body sides. Ditto the oversized badges on the grille, fenders and tailgate. If you're a pickup driving homie who thinks that too much of a good thing is a good start, you can option-up 18' chrome wheels, shiny bed rails and dazzling step bars. It's OEM pimpery, Lincoln style.

Fortunately, Lincoln left the F150's elegant interior architecture alone, spending its entire makeover budget on materials. Thicker side windows and double-layered door seals hush an already stately cabin. The expensive looking wood-effect plastic trim of the F150 Lariat makes way for genuine ebony wood trim– that looks like wood-effect plastic trim. While the King Ranch's buttery Castaño hides score higher marks with leather-loving fetishists, the Mark LT's pillows are plenty soft; with a quilted pattern and contrast-colored piping that pay homage to the timeless classicism of the Barcelona chair, created by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the 1929 world exposition. No really.

Ford calls the F-150's interior design theme "tough luxury." Fair enough. Like many vehicles rolling out of Detroit, the interior trim looks luxurious but feels tough. While the F-150 can justify the paradox with its working class cred, the Mark LT's brittle polymers in high traffic areas are hard to tolerate, considering the Lincoln-sized bill arriving at your doorstep every month. The LT sounds brittle too. Crank up the Audiophile stereo and experience tinny treble, muddy midrange and boomin' bass. It's a far cry from the mad skills of the Navigator's beatbox. Speaking of which, where are the other Navigator hallmarks: HID headlights, power running boards, ventilated seats and in-dash navigation? Their omission hints of a tight, post-Blackwood budget.

Under the hood, Lincoln took one look at the F150's engine bay and broke for lunch. Hey, why mess with a good thing? The corporate 5.4L Triton V8 kicks out enough grunt to ensure breezy passing power, accompanied by a throaty growl that almost justifies its pre-pubescent fuel figures. Equally important, the Mark LT has enough torque to tow 8900lbs.– a vital stat given the likely number of Lincolnians looking to pull a Sea Ray in their automotive wake. Although the LT comes in either 2WD or 4WD (with a bespoke low-range control program for slippery surfaces), the four-speed autobox is a cog or two short of class leading. The LT's vented disc brakes provide terrific retardation for one so large, although panic stops induce Titanic nosedive.

On smooth tarmac the Mark LT's ride is luxobarge smooth; an impressive accomplishment for a rig that can carry 1620lbs on its unflinching shoulders. Over potholed roads, Navigator envy continues apace. With its conventional rear leaf spring/solid axle combo, an unladen LT bounces and crashes like any other working class workhorse, while fast maneuvers send the back end into a two-wheeled tango. That said, with its nicely weighted rack and pinion steering, outboard-mounted rear shocks and stiff chassis, the Mark LT is shockingly competent though the twisty stuff. Aggressive cornering yields moderate understeer with a lot less body roll than you'd expect from a 5600lb vehicle sitting over eight inches above terra firma. Of course, the same driving experience is also available at your Ford dealer with few sybaritic sacrifices and considerably less sticker shock.

Like the F150 it is, the Mark LT is an extremely capable all-rounder. By affixing bigger, badder badges, a whole lot of chrome and a few welcome standard features (e.g. a better warranty and free scheduled maintenance for a year), Lincoln has diversified its weak product portfolio with a highly competent, non-Mazda derived vehicle. OK, so Lincoln didn't exactly 'create' the Mark LT. They took a Lariat, put their 'mark' on it and didn't screw it up. While that's not the highest praise ever afforded a modern Lincoln, it's not the worst criticism either.


By Sajeev Mehta

Before these days of endless, shameless bling, V8 sedans of a sporting nature took their job seriously. Flat black trim outsold chrome and wood by a hefty margin. Intrusive electronic nannies, TV screens, time-wasting joysticks and promiscuous style were notable by their absence. Q-ships owners reveled in their car's ability to speak softly and carry a big stick. Fast forward a decade and the sporting sedan's standard bearers have been desecrated; tainted by electronic frippery and morphed into cartoon caricatures of their dignified selves. Even more improbably, the genre's sole survivor was made by the hand of Lincoln.

To see it is to know it. The Lincoln LS Sport's purposeful creases, beefy haunches, short over hangs, and wikkid fast C-pillars seem carefully crafted to win the hearts and minds of Bangle-aversive buyers. The car's hunky proportions and aggressive stance also make a strong case against chop-top chic, and for the design firm of Longer, Lower and Wider. Mind you, the LS' generic taillights and frumpy deck lid are reverse Viagra for anyone under 65. Luckily, squinting HID projectors, 17' chrome wheels and a timeless monotone paint treatment keep the Mitsubishi Diamante references at bay. A new front bumper with a drop-jaw intake, fog lights, and chrome accents lightly spices the plain Jane front fascia.

The LS' elegant 'approach' lamps shed unwelcome light on a different story within. Lincoln's trademark 'satin-nickel' bling-bling abominates the LS' dated interior like a chandelier in a doublewide. A farrago of trim elements fights for your attention with all the forced, misplaced charm of a Brady Bunch family reunion. There's enough walnut trim to panel an upscale rumpus room. The steering wheel places nickel, wood, and antiseptic beige polymers in inexplicable proximity. The oversize gauges look as dull and cheap as a motel lobby clock. Thankfully, mercifully, the LS' switchgear is elegant and functional.

Fight the urge to find an Audi, any Audi, and you'll discover that the LS bombards its occupants with surprise and delight. From the electric parking brake to power adjustable pedals, the LS knows the luxobarge drill: easy does it. The DVD-based navigation system offers the perfect blend of plastic and virtual buttons; it's a quick study compared to the perpendicular learning curve of I-Drive. The LS' air-conditioned thrones are a Dallas matron's best friend, though the short, thin seat bottoms will fatigue any long-legged Texans who happen aboard.

The LS' THX ICE features a trick motorized faceplate, but a choir of slowly roasting Wookies would sound more appealing (on many levels). George Lucas' crew fitted the LS' cabin with the audio equivalent of Jabba's jowels. Not to mix metaphors (much), but the woofers throw enough mud to win a mid-term senate election. De-power those drivers and have a look around. A bright greenhouse and large sideview mirrors afford excellent views of the scenery. Impressionist paintings are a mere eight cylinders away.

In case you Gen Y Botherers never clocked the whole "Hot-Rod Lincoln" thing, nail the LS' throttle. A bracing blast of torque and horsepower establish a welcome link to the brand's muscle car past. The LS' fierce intake growl adds to the drama. While there are plenty of more accelerative six-pots out there, a luxury whip with a 280-horse 3.9-liter V8 that wafts to sixty in 6.5 seconds in the great American style works for me. OK, that's almost two seconds slower than a V8-powered 5-Series, but you can console yourself with a lot of champagne with the money saved.

Or just go out and clip a few apexes. The LS V8 Sport (the only trim level) sits on the Jaguar S-Type's platform. Both the LS' chassis and its ZF steering box are ideally weighted for lateral fun. Firm but fair dampers keep body roll and understeer in check. The Select Shift auto-manual transmission keeps the power coming. Put it all together, throw the four-door into some bends and you'll soon long for more supportive chairs. Yes, sports-tuned imports can run rings around the LS through mad twisties, but the LS is no slouch and it does the cruising thing with far more comfort and class.

Old school sports sedans like this are an endangered species. The company that invented and perfected the genre has abandoned the path not Bangled. Infiniti's Straight-G sedan and the equivalently-priced Germans are off the mark by two cylinders. Lexus has yet to understand the relentless pursuit of performance. Even with infrequent and low-dollar updates over the past six years, only the Lincoln LS personifies all that was right with the last big-bore BMW sedan. Unfortunately, Ford's given-up on the LS. The almost vacant Wixom assembly plant (the brand's home since 1957) ceases LS production later this year. Meanwhile, there's a fire sale of old-school thrills down at your local Lincoln showroom.


By Sajeev Mehta

Ford’s in trouble. Headlines talks of cuts, cuts and more cuts; and new product that might bring the automaker back from the brink. Meanwhile, mad props are in order for the party responsible for not killing the venerable Lincoln Town Car. This website has long argued that Ford’s failing car business isn’t about new product. It’s about neglecting existing product. Whether or not a resurrected Town Car aids an ailing FoMoCo is an open question, but refraining from reinventing the wheel at every regime change is the short answer.

The original Town Car's architectural-grade sheetmetal met with approval from wannabe-Dolemites and Golden Girls. The current whip hosts a series of cartoonishly clumsy styling cliches on a bulbous, bloated body. The Town Car’s Cheshire cat grille and googly-eyed headlights elude style like Dennis Rodman in a Valentino tuxedo. Door handles lifted from a 1950's Frigidaire put function ahead of form, not to mention an inflated bustle sporting a sad array of across-the-pond design cues. Even with the right proportions and delicious dimensions, the American-hallmark of covered headlights, coffin noses and Continental kits are a thing of the past.

The American Dream machine continues to disappoint within. The Town Car’s front and rear butt-cushions fall flat, sit short and sport the slipperiest hides this side of a live python. Where's the old school, pillow-topped, sit-in-not-on velour decadence? Mouse fur rugs replace yesteryear’s plush, shaggy carpets. The once brash and unabashed color palette makes way for shades of white-bread boredom. The entry-level CD stereo tries to reach higher and lower— and fails. Other disappointments include an ashtray door that moves with all the arthritic fluidity of its core-clientele, and a front floormat small enough for a Toyota Yaris.

Contemplating the Town Car’s $43k asking price, its low rent Euro-style cuts to the bone. Still, the Town Car is no Corolla. Soft touch plastics perfectly complement its wood-effect trim, white LED lighting, fake nickel and frosted-bronze accents. The Lincoln’s interior may not give German car lovers a reason to linger, but it doesn't feel like a beat-up Manhattan-crazed taxicab either (even when it is). And the domestic barge’s rear storage compartment is enormous; suitable transport for full grown quadruplets awaiting cement shoe fitment.

Fire up the Town Car and the American dream leaves the retirement home; dual exhausts burble while the (pathetically small) hood ornament gets its shine on. The analog tachometer is a long-delayed, much appreciated addition, providing visual reinforcement of the 4.6-liter V8's hot-rod intake tenor. Though ancient, the big Lincoln’s powerplant is the automotive equivalent of the little black dress: an under-stressed engine with significantly more torque (287 ft.-lbs.) than horsepower (239hp). Take off is never less than smooth. Momentum is never less than serene.

Nimble its not, but it isn’t as lifeless as you’d imagine– for a vehicle that's only a hundred pounds lighter than a Ford Explorer. The rack and pinion steering is over-boosted, but accurate. Rear wheel-drive balance serves massive doses of confidence, while the Watt's-link axle, monotube shocks and hydroformed chassis keep it flat enough for drivers looking to recreate 70’s cop show tire squealing understeer. Bell-bottomed pedestrians no longer fear the flying hubcap, as the Town Car’s 17” rims and prodigious disc brakes provide surprisingly competent stopping power.

To say the Town Car's basic blueprint has aged well is like calling Eleanor Roosevelt just another stand-up lady. But in today's highly competitive luxury car market, the Town Car's tuning package owns an uncomfortable middle ground. It’s not surprisingly limber like the mack-daddy Ford Police Interceptor, and not stupid-plush like a proper Lincoln. Add in the Town Car’s dim-witted four-speed automatic and you have a severely flawed package. Therein lays the problem: instead of being true to itself, the Town Car tried to out-import its competitors.

Wrong answer. The Lincoln Town Car is the sole survivor of a generation of automobiles that ooze Americana like a juicy chomp into a fully-dressed hamburger. So why does the Town Car need more than one finger resting on the wheel? Where's the button-tufted seating? There’s only two ways for Lincoln to go here: WAY up market or back to its Earth Wind and Fire forefathers. We seriously question Ford’s ability to pull a Lexus out of its hat. Which leaves… playas.

Today’s homies empty their pocketbooks for the likes of Chrysler 300s and dub'd-out SUVs. This is the Town Car's rightful territory: rear-wheel drive machines with gangstolene style, epic space and a hint of grace. Now that their back’s against the wall, again, still, maybe Ford has the stones to put the real American Dream back on the road. Maybe it can change the Lincoln Town Car from an “old man’s car” to a “stickin’ it to da man" car. We shall see.


By Sajeev Mehta

What became of the ninth-generation Lincoln Mark series? Somewhere in the Lincoln brand's twisted nomenclature there is a missing link: a connection between the rip-snorting Mark VIII and Lincoln’s cute-ute Mark X. I mean MKX. While no one at Lincoln's brand-awareness roadshow bought this Houstonian's sly attempt to realign the disjointed Mark series, they still handed me a set of keys to their latest crossover vehicle and told me to go play. Well fair enough.

I came, I saw and I found the irony: the MKX’ waffle-iron grille harkens back to the much-loved suicide door Continentals; cars that transported Presidents with three-letter titles of their own. Just in case you missed the history lesson, Lincoln’s placed a gigantic star front and center. It reminds all and sundry that this luxo-crossover isn't a wannabe Lexus– it’s a rebadged Ford. Other than the tasteful front schnoz and LED lamps out back, there's little to differentiate the Lincoln MKX from its stable mate, the Ford Edge.

If the Edge didn't exist, the MKX's sheetmetal would portend a strong future for the Lincoln brand. But there is a Ford Edge, and it’s ready to overpopulate a dealership near you. Which leaves the newborn MKX wishing Toyota was more like Ford: give the mundane Highlander a nose job, slap on some "RX" badges and call it a day. And Lincolnians wishing Ford was more like Toyota: give me some new, distinctive sheetmetal, please.

If there is an upside to badge engineering, the MKX's interior is it. Lincoln’s added megadoses of near-luxury spizzarkle to the Edge’s elegant, capable and comfortable living space. Door panels blend soft vinyl, lustrous wood and chrome. An armrest crafted with genuine triple-stitched decadence encourages limb relaxation. The somewhat supportive seats are well padded for touring duty, aided by a posterior cooling system that's strong enough to give you the impression you’ve wet your pants.

The MKX’ dash gets the Lincoln brand's trademark combination of satin-nickel bling, blonde wood and delightful chrome accents. Aside from the less-than-Lexian leather on the steering wheel, the cabin looks and feels suitably posh. In true crossover style, the MKX’ mad quick D-pillar reduces storage space to traditional car standards (genuine SUV’s breathe easy). You could fold down the rear seats or… get someone else to drive, hop in back, open the panoramic sunroof shades, plug in the iPod, crank up the fourteen-speaker THX audio, and bliss out on soaring highs and full-bodied bass, as inclement weather passes you by.

Combining a high and mighty stance, 18" wheels, adaptive headlight aimers, all-wheel drive and a 265hp V6, the MKX boldly goes wherever the Hell quasi-SUV’s are supposed to go– or not go. Although building a Lincoln without a proper V8 underhood remains an indictable offense in many southern states, Ford's latest Duratec dynamo makes respectable torque from idle to 4000rpm. Lashed to a six-cog automatic, the MKX is quick enough for government work (you can file your taxes in the time it takes to get from zero to sixty). While the MKX’ “luxury tuned” chassis and suspension err on safety's side, the CUV’s unitary construction allows a surprising measure of poise through the turns– you know, for a vehicle that weighs 4420 pounds with 60% of its weight over its nose.

Even better, the more-than-merely adequate driving dynamics don’t degrade the Lincoln’s luxury ride quality. The MKX is no Town Car, but its McPherson struts (front) and new four-link independent suspension (rear) murder most road imperfections with silent ease. The stoppers are equally impressive: willing disc brakes attached to a linear pedal pull the cute Lincoln down from speed with ample reserves of whoa Nellie. Aside from a smattering of road noise from the cargo area, the MKX does indeed feel like a proper luxury car. I mean, SUV. Er, CUV.

And you pay a proper price for the privilege. Lincoln’s MKX is roughly $4500 harder on your wallet than a comparable Ford Edge, which has the same powertrain, chassis and moonroof, and can be ordered with the same navigation system, up-rated audio and a fine leather interior of its own. So what's to love about the MKX? A retro grille, better warranty, woodgrain accents, A/C seats and luxury tuned (i.e. less sporting) dynamics. Yup, it’s the Lincoln Zephyr all over again.

Overlook the neglected Town Car (since it's still the top breadwinner even without promotion) and there isn't a single Lincoln that wears unique sheetmetal. After a few months’ fleet sales, profit-killing rebates and sweetheart lease terms, corporate spinmeisters will proclaim MKX's sales "increased market share and conquest sales by such-and-such percent.” But Lincoln's progression from absolutely nothing to almost nothing will hardly be a triumph. Lexus-style profit margins require plenty of masquerading metal and a bit of one-offsmanship. Anything less just ain’t gonna cut it. Anything more from Lincoln would be a surprise, and a long-overdue one at that.


By Sajeev Mehta

Last year’s Zephyr was the automotive embodiment of all that’s wrong with Ford and Lincoln. The barely badge engineered Ford Fusion hammered yet another cheaply gilded nail into the once mighty Lincoln brand’s coffin. So now Ford has given the Zephyr a new name, engine and front end; an MP3 audio jack and [available] all wheel-drive. Is it enough to lift the Lincoln into some semblance of dignity, or does Lincoln still need to reach higher?

Prince may have changed his image since you began the last paragraph, but not much has happened to the artist formerly known as Zephyr. Despite the MKZ’ redesigned waterfall grill, the demitasse Lincoln is still rental-car vanilla searching for some Turtle Soup for the Soul. Sadly, the MKZ’ new front/rear lower valences and iced-out fog lights do little to dress up a relatively hum-drum package. From the plastic C-pillar trimmings– designed to visually lengthen the window outline (or daylight opening in designerese) to more Lincoln-friendly standards without actually doing so)– to its frumpy posterior, the MKZ is still such a Ford Fusion it Hertz.

The MKZ’ interior comes in three basic flavors: slathered in a bland tan so lifeless it cries out for Jackson Pollock’s alcohol-fuelled spastic outbursts, specced-up in Germanic-style charcoal or doused in French gray. All three designs possess a dour demeanor that's deeply disturbed by all the shiny happy plastic satin nickel silver buttons, switchgear and accents. MKZ owners can also spice up their wall o’ dash with maple or ebony inserts, carefully “figured” not to look like fake wood. South Florida condo taste or no, the MKZ’ cabin provides a welcome change from the cookie-cutter cockpits of its foreign and wannabe-foreign competition.

The MKZ’ 10-way (yes way) front seats are as supportive as a drill sergeant, but at least they’re plenty comfortable. Peep the minimalist gauges, soak up the THX stereo’s solid audio attributes, feel the reassuring wood-trimmed wheel and let the heated and cooled seats set your soul on a relaxing journey deep into the heart of American luxury. After all, that’s what makes the uber-Fusion price worthwhile, yes?

Not entirely. The Lincoln MKZ is almost somewhat sort of entertaining to drive. It’s true: the name’s been changed to protect the innocent. The 3500-pound sedan gets a brand spanking new 263-horse 3.5-liter Duratec V6, mated to six forward gears, corralled by [optional] all-wheel drive. The powertrain turns the once sleepy Lincoln sedan into an automotive sleeper. With a first gear shorter than Tom Cruise proposing to Katie Holmes, the bigger motor’s ample torque reserve (249ft.-lbs.) pushes you back in your seat with genuine authority, while the high rpm punch keeps your eyes darting towards the speedometer.

The MKZ’ 6.7 second zero to 60 sprint time means that Lincoln’s finally given Commander Cody fans a hot rod worth singing about. Younger pistonheads (Commander Who and the What?) may despair. Quick as it is, the MKZ serves-up great heaps of body roll, “you’re not the boss of me” downshifts and a boingee suspension. Even so, it’s fun to throw the MKZ a tight curveball, punch it at the apex and rocket out of the corner.

Clearly, this Lincoln is no sports sedan. But it’s the kind of car secondhand owners or short-term leasers can mercilessly thrash to an inch of its life with one hand draped across their passenger’s chair. In the care of less assertive folk, the MKZ also delivers decent enough ride quality: a happy medium somewhere between road feel and no feel. That and acceptable noise suppression make the MKZ a no-brainer for the grandmother of a Subaru WRX pilot.

If you want this admirable powertrain in a cheaper, lighter, tighter, less ostentatious package, tough luck. The otherwise identical Fusion still rolls with the coarse, lackluster 221hp V6 as its top engine choice. Horsepower and refinement exclusivity may be a good thing for Lincoln, but it’s a bad thing for Ford. Instead of blowing away the competition with a big motor and AWD, the Fusion sees nothing but the taillights of V6 Camry, Accord and Altima drivers. In today’s market, not giving the goods to a Ford product in a competitive segment isn’t just a bad idea, it’s a silent killer.

I know: I’m complaining about a Lincoln model not sharing its good fortune with its Ford counterpart while complaining that the MKZ isn’t different enough from its Ford counterpart to justify its place in the Lincoln portfolio. How crazy is that? But brand differentiation is the retro-religion these days. Instead of creating a new, brand-specific automotive orthodoxy, Ford is busy robbing Peter to pay Paul– and they're both broke. The truth is Lincoln needs one no-compromise automobile that says this is who we are and what we do. No matter how you dress it up, the MKZ ain’t it, and never will be