Wednesday’s Words: Thoughts on the “New” Lincoln

 

Lincoln is at the beginning of rebooting it’s brand, and with that the opportunity to position itself to stand out among all the other “premium” car brands.

It would appear that Lincoln is positioning itself to compete against brands like Volvo, Lexus, Acura, and Audi.  We think, to quote Don Adams, the original Maxwell Smart, they are missing it by that much.

“Premium Luxury” is the new black, everyone is doing it.  To stand out in that very crowded demographic, you have to do something different, and what Lincoln is bringing to market isn’t different enough.

Rather than compete against such a crowded field, we believe that Lincoln needs to look further up market, to take on former Premier Auto Group members Jaguar and Land Rover, the reasons are several.  

Number one, there is less to compete against. When there are few competitiors to draw your attention away, it’s much easier to be the point of focus.

Number two, pricing separation.  As it sits right now, Lincoln will continue to have the issue it has had for a number of years, and that is, it’s just a gussied up Ford.  Look at the Ford Fusion in Titanium trim, out the door it’s going to sell for between $34,000 and $36,000.  The new Lincoln MKZ starts at $37,000 and can go out the door, similarly equipped to the Fusion for about $42,000.  That’s not much of a premium.  The same goes across the board when you look at Edge vs. MKX, Taurus vs MKS and Flex vs. MKT.

While there is now more of a difference in both interior and exterior design, it doesn’t take much of a discerning eye to tell they share a common platform.

Number three, in moving further up market, you have much more pricing power and hence profitability, with the added benefit of having the ability to bring unique looks to both the exterior and interior of the vehicles.  The ability to use much higher quality materials in a more top shelf brand also would help distinguish it from it’s parent brand.

Lastly, in reaching to a higher demographic, Lincoln would have the opportunity to truly be an aspirational brand, rather than just another “premium luxury” brand.  They could redefine what an “American Luxury Brand” is.  Rather than some cliche’ from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, American Luxury doesn’t have to be “boulevard smooth” nor does it have to be the the latest in consumer electronics, rather than “custom” it should be “bespoke”  Most anyone can have “custom” few can have “bespoke”.

Lincoln should not get carried away with “gimmick” interiors that are all about the latest in technology.  As we are beginning to see, most interiors that but a focus on the latest in consumer electronics of the moment, are (a) 9-24 months behind the curve to begin with, and (b) don’t age well, both from looks and from function.  Classic and timeless should be the focus when it comes to interiors at Lincoln.  Simplicity is it’s own luxury.

If Lincoln is to be successful in it’s reboot, it will have to be something different than it’s competitors.  Pretty advertising is great for getting people in the door, but the product must, not match expectations, but far exceed them.  In rebooting the brand, Lincoln HAS the opportunity to place itself where it wants, as they try to start with a clean sheet, the question is, are they positioning themselves for success, or just to get lost in the crowd once again.

Autoline After Hours Tonight With Ed Welburn, VP of Global Design, GM

This week we peer into the future of automotive styling with the Vice President of Global Design for GMEd Welburn. We’ll be finding out more about the upcoming Cadillac XTS and ATS cars. And as the push for massive CAFE increases looms, we’ll get Ed’s take: does aero-optimization destroy expressive styling? We’ll also find out how GM studios around the globe compete to design vehicles the company has in the pipeline. We won’t forget the news of the week though: can OEMs shrug off the current market turbulence? We’ll also discuss John’s sneak peek at future Lincoln product and get into details of the brand’s turnaround plan. John McElroy is joined in studio by the one and only AutoextremistPeter De Lorenzo.

 

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Reviewed: The 2010 Lincoln MKT

 

When we tested the Ford Flex last March, we knew the Lincoln MKT would be arriving on deal lots soon. At the time we wondered if the new Lincoln would be/could be the new “Black Sedan” or maybe have a bit of that private jet feel to it for second row passengers.  Other than the motor in the Flex, the standard 3.5L V-6 which we found just a touch lacking, we loved the Flex, and knew that it would be hard for Lincoln to come up with something better.

Right off the bat the thing that smacks you in the face with the MKT is the styling.  As with most of the rest of the Lincoln line you either like the styling, or you don’t.  We dig Lincoln’s exterior look and have no problems with the execution of the design language here.  Pay attention when we say exterior. 

While the Flex looks like a giant MINI from the rear, you aren’t going to mistake the MKT for anything else.  Not only does it have Lincoln’s strong front facia, it has the kicked up shoulder over the rear wheel that gives it a more muscular look as well.  From there the rear part of the roof begins to slope down into the rear lift gate.  While it doesn’t have the elegance as it could have had if the Ford designers had used more of a French Curve, the rear treatments are for the most part successful. 

A straight-on rear shot does give you an idea of just how large this vehicle is though.  An interesting thing to note with the MKT is what a difference color plays here.  When you see an MKT in black, as our tester was, it appears much more substantial than when you see it in a lighter color.  Normally the fashionistas will tell you that black is slimming, however, on the MKT that’s not the case.

If you have been inside a Lincoln recently, the interior will feel vary familiar, just a little larger in scale.  The materials are very nice, though not quite to the Audi Q7 level.  Then again the MKT checks in about twenty grand less, so there you are.  There are soft touch materials where you would expect them, the center stack is well laid out, and of course you get Ford’s great SYNC system.

The second row of our MKT was equipped with captains chairs and the refrigerator in between.    If you are a mom from Westchester County hauling the boys to hockey practice, and the girls to their equestrian lessons the cooler does a good job of keeping their sodas cold.  If you are an executive using this as your “black sedan” then it does a passable job of keeping that Non Vintage bottle for Krug cold.  Second row passengers not only have plenty of leg room and their own HVAC controls, but also heated and cooled seats as well.       

Row three is where we see the largest difference between the Flex and the MKT.  In the Flex, two full sized adults can fit back there, for a time, and not be uncomfortable.  In the MKT, they can’t.  It isn’t so much the leg room, it’s the lack of head room in the MKT.  The sloping rear section of the roof of the MKT cuts in the cabin a great deal and the result is a serious lack of available headroom.  While at not quite 5’11” I can sit upright and have plenty of room in the third row of the Flex, anyone much over five feet tall won’t be able to sit upright in the Lincoln’s third row.

The major nit that I have to pick with the MKT’s interior is one that I think would be solved by a change in color.  By choosing the Olive Ash wood trim you aren’t forced into the rest of the interior being all black.  With the Olive Ash trim you can get what Lincoln is calling “canyon” which is more like a nice darker tan/camel color.  The other choice for the seating materials and some of the interior trim pieces is “light stone.”  While I would not call the all black interior of our tester oppressive or claustrophobic, it did feel a bit cave-like.  Even with the large double panoramic sunroofs teh cabin lacked the airiness of the Flex we tested almost a year ago, and I believe much of that has to do with the interior color choice.

Have a look at some of the interior pictures of the MKT that our friends over at Autoblog had about the same time we had our tester, and I think you will see the dramatic difference. 

There are a few things we’d like to see in the interior of the MKT in future model years.  First would be a heated steering wheel.  Grabbing the the wheel on some of the cold single digit temps we experienced while the MKT was in our driveway was not the most pleasant thing without gloves on.  Perhaps a switch of materials to Alcantera or some other micro suede would accomplish the same thing and give the Lincoln an even more upscale feel without a bump up in the price tag. 

My second suggestion for Ford’s engineers has to do with the MKT’s remote start function.  How about a system that remembers the last settings for the heating and cooling of the seat and cabin temps?  Again jumping into the MKT during temperature extremes can be unpleasant.  It’s a small thing, but one that would make a big difference in our eyes.  As Ford and Lincoln expand their “My Touch” and open the software for the Sync system to developers, perhaps we can have an app for our iPhones/Crackberries/Android’s that accomplish all of that together.

Under the hood of our Lincoln was the 355 Horsepower 3.5 liter V6 EcoBoost engine.  The added power and torque of the EcoBoost over the standard, non-boosted 262 Horsepower V6, easily solved our largest issue with the Flex, and that was needed just a bit more grunt in passing and merging situations.  Even with the added power of the EcoBoost and the extra drive line losses of MKT being an AWD model the difference in mileage between the two people haulers wasn’t much, maybe one or two MPG at most. That makes the EcoBoost well worth the trade off we think.

As for handling, well, at a curb weight just over 5000lbs, it’s no sports car, but the MKT is more than competent for anything you would ask of it. It handles predictably, there is no real tug from the front wheels in the AWD model when you apply power from low speeds around corners.  And the ride on the highway, even on Michigan’s bomb cratered roads was good.

While we really do like the MKT, we are left with one issue, is it fifteen grand better than the Flex?  Our immediate reaction is no, but then again maybe it depends on what you are looking for. And if it’s something quite peculiar, something shimmering and white, it leads you here, despite your destination, under the milky way tonight.   Where the Flex comes across as the tall wagon with hints of the Woodys of the 40’s and 50’s, the MKT does have a more substantial, more serious presence about it.  You can’t help but feel the interior of the MKT is a serious Hugo Boss suit person, while the Flex is more khakis and polo shirt kind of guy

If what you crave is most of the interior usability of the Flex in a package that projects a more upscale adult feel that the Flex might, then the MKT is for you.  While the interior is not quite up to the Audi Q7 level, it’s fairly close, and as we said earlier a twenty grand difference in price between the Lincoln and the Audi is fairly substantial.  The MKT might not quite be the four wheel Gulfstream G550 we had hoped it could be, but having to fly business class on Emirates Airline isn’t exactly a hardship.

Reviewed: 2010 Lincoln MKS with EcoBoost

Ford is attempting to reboot and redefine it’s Lincoln brand in about one third the time that General Motors took to reboot Cadillac.  They are doing it with new or refreshed vehicles and an cohesive (though maybe not with a Zen like theme™ RoundAboutShow)  Much like Cadillac’s Art & Science look, most people either love or hate the new front end design of Lincoln.

For a brief moment in time Lincoln were drawing inspiration from the ‘62-’65 Continental’s which was most pronounced in the MKX which we tested back in May, and the Navigator, which, like the Town Car, might not be long for this world.  Like it or not the “Waterfall Grill” look for Lincoln at least makes a statement, you aren’t going to mistake it for any other brand, and in this day and age when sometimes it’s difficult to visually distinguish between brands this is important.

Now channeling my inner Dennis Miller from his old HBO show, “I don’t mean to go off on a rant here,” but this continuing naming convention of MK(insert letter here) is beyond dumb.  I know in theory that by going in this direction it’s easier to avoid trademark issues, but with the history of name plates that Lincoln can draw from it’s own portfolio, or borrow from Ford, give me a break.  MK is supposed to reference the “Mark” brand, problem is the Mark brand was always attached to a two door coupe going back to the 1950’s.  Then you have the problem with the third letter and what is it supposed to represent.  OK “X” from Crossover, “S” for Sedan, but shouldn’t “T” be for Truck or Town Car, Lincoln says the T is for “Touring” and someone help me out what “Z” is for.  OK I know the MKZ was originally the Zephyr, but shouldn’t that be “M” for Mid Sized or “E” for Entry Level? Then you have the issue of your two outliers the Town Car and the Navigator. Until they are killed off you have two different naming conventions with the brand, thus avoiding that Zen like theme. 

Do you change up the Navigator to MKR? The “R” being for Redundant with the MKT now in the lineup?  After all the MKT, which we have had in for review and will be posted in the very near future, hauls five to seven people in more style, comfort and mileage than the Navigator.  Do you call the Town Car the MKA?  The “A” being for Airport car since that is what you see picking up people at the airport.

The problem with these lettering naming conventions is they are generic.  Cadillac and Acura to name a couple companies have gone down this path and hit still boggles my mind.  Acura less so because they only have 25 years to draw upon, but with the two American luxury brands they have 80+ years of names to draw on and distinguish them.  It seems the bolder and further out they go with their styling, the more they balance that off with throw away name plates.

What’s so wrong with calling the Z the Zephyr, and drawing upon Lincoln’s history for others.  The MKT could easily be the Premier, the X could have taken the Aviator badge since it’s basically replaced that vehicle, and the MKS which I guess we should get to talking about here could and should be the Continental.  

Lincoln needed some mid level luxury car to fill in sales figures with the Town Car all but relegated to Airport Black Sedan duty’s and gasolines sharp movement north in 2008 killed Navigator sales.  Thankfully Ford was hard at work at the replacement for the 500/Taurus and Lincoln was able to jump on board with a version for themselves.  

This is not a straight badge engineering job, there are many differences between the two cars, yet if you know it’s based of the new Taurus, and you’ve driven the new Taurus, the linkage us undeniable.  The MKS feels like the big substantial sedan that it is, but it does hold a few surprises.  Rather than being some luxo-barge that one might think a Lincoln would be, it’s actually handles quite well.  While the road off of Highway 68 that leads you up to Laguna Seca Raceway may have more curves than all the roads in South East Michigan combined, we did find a few spots to push the general handling of the car and it was borderline shocking how well it tackled them.  Off ramps with posted speeds of 30 were no problem at almost double that speed! While it’s not as light as feet as a Lotus Elise, or an Elise carrying another Elise on it’s roof, it’s better than you would expect for a 4200lbs car.  Clearly some of the suspension upgrades that that SHO Taurus got made there way onto the MKS.  

Steering communication, more like a string and two styrofoam cups connected by a string clarity rather than a fiber optic one.  You turn, it goes, but feedback is not there, you just have to trust it.  Granted the MKS isn’t likely to pull people interested in a BMW 5 Series away, nor those looking at an E Class Merc, strangely though I could see the Lincoln people targeting the A6 Audi crowd.  It’s not a European like firm ride, maybe a touch softer than the CTS SportWagon we drove right before this.  What this car will do, much like it’s brother the Taurus is suck up highway miles by the hundreds.  

The big thing for the MKS is the power plant.  Ford has deposited the 3.5 liter twin turbo EcoBoost motor under the hood.  With 355 horsepower and a torque number equalling the horsepower, with a curve that looks like the Mesa’s in a John Ford Western, equals a lot of fun.  The motor ticks all the right boxes for a modern lump, twin quick spooling turbos with direct injection that allow for a much higher compression ration of 10:1 and variable cam timing make turbo lag almost non existent.  Ford claim a 20% improvement in fuel economy over a similar V8.  While we didn’t notice any lag per se, when the tach was north of 2500 RPM you felt the power really build, not that it was missing below that area.

On a two lane highway or a four lane one, point the MKS in a direction and it goes willingly.  The cockpit is comfortable, the seats give good support and the THX Stereo is fantastic.  Unlike out experience with the THX system in the MKX which we found greatly disappointing this one was quite good be it with audio, or with video.  We popped in “The Incredibles” DVD which is a THX 5.1 disc and right way you could tell the separation of channels.  The video screen which has a matte finish looked pretty good as well.  It’s not going to make you think you’re at home with your 50” Pioneer Kuro, but then again what are you doing watching a DVD while you’re driving!  

We do have to spend a minute or two on my favorite subject of late and that’s the choice of materials for the interior.  Lincoln’s have a very uniform interior look, which we don’t have a problem with, but the material used to cover them is a bit lacking.  It has soft touch surfaces, but the material has a plastic like leatherette feel.  There is a minor bit of fake wood trim in the car which on the dash is a nice contrast to the acres of black, but the minor bit of it on top of the steering wheel would be better off having not been added.  If you think grabbing a cold leather wheel on a 15F° Michigan morning is bad, just grab that bit of plastic on top of the wheel and it’s worse.  Is it too much for a car with a sticker price $200 shy of $55,000 to have a heated steering wheel?  How about remote start?  Shouldn’t a car which you don’t need to insert a key to start, just push a button also have the ability to unlock your doors just by the same proximity sensor?  My last gripe in this area isn’t exclusive to the Lincoln but if I had the seat heaters on when I turned off the car and the cockpit temp is sub freezing when I get back in, wouldn’t logic dictate that I might want the seat heaters on at least as high as I had them before?  Sorry one other thing, should it take almost three miles of stop and go driving before I can feel the seats heating up?  My girlfriends five year old Escape will have good heat on your back side within ONE mile!

Lastly I’d like to talk about the trunk.  It’s large, it’s deep, but the mail slot that you have available to load and unload items makes it awkward.  The opening has sufficient height, it’s the lack, as in almost zero, depth that causes the issues.  Fishing grocery bags out of there was a bit of a challenge.

It’s taken us some time to come up with a grade for the MKS.  We kept going back and forth between C+ and B-.  There are areas of the interior which we think need an upgrade in quality of materials or at least some materials that have better contrast in color and texture, the access to the trunk was also not the best.  To the plus side the car  drove much better than we expecting and was a genuine surprise in several instances.  We aren’t quite the target demographic for this car so we look at it differently then maybe we should.  On the other hand it’s the demographic that I’m in that Lincoln need to be reaching to grow their brand going forward.

This is a crowded space in the market right now with some very good choices to be had.  Does the MKS run with the leaders, no, but is it closer to that pack than you might think, yes, and that’s why it slides in with a B-.  If nothing else it’s worth a test drive to see how it stacks up against it’s competition and see if it breaks your current perceptions of what a Lincoln is.


RoundAboutShow #15 The Holiday Wishlist

Every week we hit-up the discount travel sites in search of the cheapest airfare around. During the hunt, we find a wide range of ticket prices and airlines, and maybe even a cohesive, Zen-like theme. All we want is to make it home for the holidays, and find a few off-putting news bites to fit the theme, but our flight was canceled due to bad weather and we’re stuck in the Minneapolis airport eating stale Cinnabons and sleeping on the floor. Meanwhile, visions of Spykers and Audis dance in our heads.

This week, with a few short buying days left in the holiday season, our esteemed panel assembles its holiday wishlist. Eric yearns for a Tag Heuer watch. Zach has a soft spot for an NSX. Craig asks that we donate to the Focus Fund. And Ben just wants a way to operate his iPhone’s GPS without freezing his fingers off. Plus, ourBlind Spot story, the Lincoln MKT is In the Garage and an atrociously styled G6 inthis week’s Highway Hearsay.


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Vehicle Review The Lincoln MKX

Over the last few years Lincoln has made a concerted effort to move away from the choice of the blue hair, early bird special crowd, and to a younger demographic and one with probably more money, and that is the Lexus crowd.

Lincoln’s were for many years cars to aspire to.  US Presidents were driven in them, and executives wanted to drive and be seen in them.  Somewhere in the late 60’s to early 70’s they lost their way and it’s only in the last couple years that the ship began to be righted.  

Our tuxedo black MKX review unit left a good first opinion visually.  It has just enough bright work, with the optional chrome 20” wheels to offset and highlight the body lines nicely.  Going down the road, parked in your driveway or being valeted at the Big Rock Chop House in Birmingham, MI the MKX has a presence that it belongs.

When you move to the inside of the MKX and the theme continues.  The materials are nice, and the fit and finish are good.  There are a couple of exceptions where the bean counters got in the way, the sides of the center console and the face of the instrument cluster are a hard plastic rather than the soft touch leatherette found in the rest of the interior.  Seems an odd place to drop some noticeably cheep materials, right where the driver can notice it, and they saved maybe $20, wrong decision.

After out time with the Flex and the Fusion Hybrid we had gotten used to the big display for Ford’s Sync system, however the one in the MKX was much smaller.  While not too small, the larger display in the other vehicles was less prone to fat fingering as you were going through the menus.  That said this install of Sync seemed to be just a bit zippier in voice recognition.  Our only real complaint in the past about Sync is that the delay in between the spoken command and it’s response was just about a second too long to fall into normal speech patterns. The delay here seemed shorter.  Or maybe we are just getting trained by it, hard to say.

For what seems like a smaller vehicle, the MKX is roomy on the inside.  Back seat passengers will have no problems with leg room even with the front seats all the way back.  Also ingress and egress are good for back seat passengers.  On far to many SUV’s the rear doors are quite short and it can make it awkward to get in and out, especially for tall people, and some older folks as well.  The rear area has much more room that you would think from the outside as well.  You would think that it would have less room than an Escape, but it is quite a bit larger.  A trip to IKEA for some shelving and other large items we needed to redo a room in the house were easily swallowed up.  This is good news for the target demographic for this SUV, not so much that they will be hauling stuff from IKEA, or Lowe’s, but that it will haul three or four kids and all their gear to hockey practice.

Driving the MKX is a what you would expect.  The real test for us was coming home from an announcing gig that went very long.  We rolled out of Milan Raceway just after 1:30AM.  The 58 mile drive home may have been the easiest, most relaxing drive home from the track we’ve had.  It was a long day, we were VERY tired, and yet with the cruise set at 70 the time seemed to fly by.  For those road warriors that would purchase this and pile on the miles, that I would think would be very welcome.  General handling is good as well, for such a heavy vehicle, it takes on/off ramps quite well.

There are a couple things that we did not like at all for the MKX in the driving experience however.  Because of the rear design and the sloping rear section, vision between the C and D pillars on the drivers side is not existent creating a MASSIVE blind spot.  The passenger side isn’t much better either.  This makes it difficult merging in traffic trying to judge the distance to vehicles behind you.  What would be very welcome on the MKX is the blind spot detection in the rear view mirrors that we had in the Fusion Hybrid.

Mileage in the MKX is about what your would expect, be got 19 in pretty mixed driving.  We tried to use some of the techniques we learned from Wayne Gerdes to help out the mileage, but by no means did we drive far outside what we would call “normal” driving habits.


A big deal was made when Lincoln began to instal THX Certified sound systems in their product line.  We were very interested to see if it would live up to the hype.  We ran a variety of music through the system.  Mingus, Pink Floyd. Kevin Saunderson, Pantera, Mazzy Star and Norah Jones just to name a few.  Sadly, to my ears, the system sounded no better than the systems in the Flex or the Fusion.  While we are no uber audiophiles, we are pretty sure we would notice a difference of quality, being accustomed to listening to uncompressed music over some nice headphones on a regular basis.

At the end of the day we come out with some mixed feelings about the MKX.  As Billy Crystal’s version of Fernando might say, “It’s better to look good, that to feel good.”  That, and Maxwell Smart’s classic line, “Missed it by THAT much.” sum up the MKX nicely.  The vehicle looks good, but it doesn’t feel special.  If you are driving a premium brand, at a premium price, just shy of $45,000, it should make you feel special, and the MKX didn’t,  It’s a nice vehicle, don’t get us wrong, it just doesn’t feel special.

What could Ford change to bring it to that level?  That’s the kicker, we’re not sure, and we thought long and hard about it.  There is no one thing that it is, it’s just a take away.  Maybe it’s better materials inside, we don’t know, we couldn’t put our finger on it. When we shared that thought with a number of people who rode with us in the MKX we got that silent head nod that tells you they were thinking along the same lines and were having trouble putting their thoughts into words.

At the end of the day how do we grade this?  We may be being hard here but 7.8 out of 10 is where we end up.  Again, not that it isn’t a fine vehicle, it’s just that it didn’t meet our expectations.