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 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 Audi A8. 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 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 Mercedes-Benz S63, but perfectly acceptable and competitive with cars, such as the Jaguar XF, 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.
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