By David Colman
Hypes: Handsome, Useful and Fun to Drive
Gripes: Tight Rear Seat
After Ford jettisoned its Mercury brand, they also allowed their Lincoln franchise to drift aimlessly for several years. The nameplate that once symbolized speed with its Zephyr in the 1930s and personal luxury with its Continental in the 1940s and 1950s, completely lost focus in recent times. But Ford has resolved to end the slide by refreshing Lincoln’s product line. Their latest effort is the MKS, a new offering for 2015 that brings Lincoln into the mid-price crossover SUV market with an upgraded and restyled version of the Ford Escape.
The best thing about the MKS is its explosively powerful turbocharged 2.3 liter EcoBoost inline 4. This engine package, which is not available on the Ford Escape, is worth every penny of the extra $1,140 you will pay. It absolutely rockets the MKS to the forefront of performance for this class of SUV. While it’s no gas miser at 21 MPG overall consumption, the extra fuel you ignite with the EcoBoost power plant yields 285hp and a whopping 305lb.-ft. of torque. With that kind of output running through a paddle-shifted 6-speed Select Shift automatic gearbox, the MKS becomes one of the liveliest mid size SUVs you can buy for under $50,000.
Given that kind of performance advantage under the hood, it is surprising that Lincoln engineers dropped the ball on other aspects of performance that should make such a vehicle fun to drive. Two areas of concern become obvious before you’ve driven the MKS a couple of miles. Steering effort is much too light to provide any sense of road awareness. The feather touch steering effort encourages imprecision through over control. Brake pedal response is so touchy that you’ll inadvertently perform a panic stop before you get the hang of where the threshold point is located. After a couple of drives in the MKS, you will learn to compensate for these idiosyncrasies, and driving it does then become rewarding. The optional 19 inch diameter, 5-spoke alloy wheels (a bargain at $395), mount 245/45R19 Michelin Latitude tires which contribute significantly to stability on twisting back roads. While you never entirely lose the bobblehead ride motion created by the elevated stance of the MKS, the compromise between ride comfort and sharp handling is well modulated in this Lincoln.
The central pillar of the dashboard contains the “My Lincoln Touch” screen which oversees most functions of the infotainment system, navigation needs, and ventilation controls. Unlike its Ford counterparts, the MKC dash also includes redundant buttons for air conditioning, fan and heat. This duplication makes it much easier for you to attend to the basics of climate control without the need to fiddle with a bouncing touch screen. The MKS’s center stack also presents a novel interface for gear selection. Along the left edge of the binnacle, you will find a series of oversized buttons that look like they belong on a ’59 Edsel, or on one of those phones designed for seniors with bad eyesight. The top button starts and stops the engine, while the rest control operation of the gearbox. These are arrayed in vertical sequence beneath the ignition button, with an “S” labeled pad at the very bottom which sets the transmission into sport mode for manual override driving. Even at the end of my week in the MKS, I found this start/transmission array difficult to operate because it never falls readily to hand or mind. I also accidentally caused the gearbox to slip into Neutral while fiddling with the adjacent radio selection screen. That made me wonder what would happen if the R button for Reverse was depressed mistakenly. One nice feature of this setup is its ability to automatically shift from Drive to Park when you simply turn the engine off. Another benefit of the button stack is that it opens up the entire floor console between the front seats to cup and oddment storage.
Lincoln outfitted our test MKS ($6,935)with Equipment Group 102A, which brightens the interior with an enormous panoramic, double pane sliding roof. It also adds folding exterior mirrors, navigation with voice recognition, heated and cooled front seats, rear cross traffic alert, and a nifty hands free rear lift gate. While you will benefit from these niceties, the Technology Package ($2,235) is kind of a mixed bag. Adaptive Cruise Control is handy for stress-free speed maintenance at 65mph, but the included “Forward Sensing System” which illuminates a bank of flashing red lights right under your nose, is a complete waste of time. It illuminated repeatedly when the system detected something as inert as a guardrail lining the outside of a sharp turn. Save your money on this option group.
2015 Lincoln MKC AWD
- Engine: 3.0 liter alloy V-6 with twin scroll turbo, CVVT and DOHC
- Horsepower: 325hp @5400rpm
- Torque: 354lb.-ft.@3000rpm
- Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $48,225
- Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars