On Monday, November 6 Ford gave Detroit-area journalists a glimpse of the 2009 Lincoln MKS Mid-Luxury Car. We had reviewed the concept of the MKS previously in VehicleVoice and found the car lacking. In its first incarnation, the MKS came across as a JapoEuro design exercise without much American flair. It was bigger than it looked and that is not necessarily a good thing. Given the somewhat lukewarm reception that the MKS concept received, especially in light of the very positive reception of the MKR Concept at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, Ford’s product development team went to work on upgrading the MKS in subtle ways.
Production MKS Execution Now Has Presence
The production MKS now has the presence and ambiance that it should have had all along. The former blandonymous grille has been replaced by Lincoln’s new double wing face grille. There is a Lincoln logo mounted in the space between the grille wings. Character lines are crisper. The taillights are reminiscent of Maserati European taillights of a few years ago… with backup lights mimicking the boomerang effect of the Maserati pieces.
The interior is very upscale and continues Lincoln’s interior themes first seen on the Navigator, MKX and MKZ. Ergonomics appear to be excellent, but this is characteristic of Ford’s large entries produced at their Chicago Assembly Plant (Taurus/Five Hundred, Taurus X/Freestyle, Sable/Montego).
But… a “Flagship” It’s Not – Four Reasons
Ford describes the MKS as its “Flagship”. While it will be its newest passenger car entry, the venerable Town Car is Lincoln’s Flagship until Ford simply cannot justify continuing the Panther lineup (Crown Victoria – now fleet only, Grand Marquis, Town Car) produced at Ford’s St. Thomas, Ontario assembly plant. But, with such a high percentage of Town Car sales to the fleet and executive car business, maybe Ford is not counting Town Car any more.
Another reason we don’t buy into MKS as a flagship is the MKR concept shown at last year’s Detroit show. A wow piece if ever there was one, the MKR showcased all of the Lincoln design cues in one place. A stunning piece of work! Now, if they would produce the MKR on a RWD V8 platform, I’d buy it.
The MKS is V6 only. In the beginning, the MKS program included the 4.4L V8 found in the Volvo XC90 and S80. This Yamaha-built unit is terrifically expensive and I guess Ford decided not to pony up to add it to the MKS. Mistake.
VehicleVoice and AutoPacific have conducted several research projects on what makes an ideal $50,000 luxury car and the evidence is very clear that a V8 engine in the lineup is the price of entry for a car in this class. The V8 does not have to be standard, but it needs to be offered. Sure it may be a low installation rate – especially with $3.00 per gallon gasoline, but the image halo of a V8 is indisputable. Having a twin turbo direct injection V6 gives MKS some performance panache, but there is no replacement for numbers of cylinders and displacement.
You will be able to get into a base MKS for less than $38,000. This is not flagship pricing. Clearly, Ford is leaving room at the top of the heap for a premium priced flagship with the specifications necessary to really command price points over $50,000.
Let’s not forget Reason Five
: Nomenclature. Hopefully, once Jim Farley gets his feet on the ground he will review Lincoln’s present nomenclature plan and scrap it. Not clean or easy, but having Lincoln’s with alphanumeric nomenclature is folly. Go back to names!
Ford’s press release for the MKS is shown below the fold.
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The all-new Lincoln MKZ is a clear winner among its Luxury Mid-Size Car competition. The MKZ proves that Lincoln’s new cars (and trucks) are on target, meeting the requirements of Lincoln’s buyers. In fact, all of the vehicles derived from this Ford platform did very well in the IVA ratings in their respective classes – Lincoln MKZ, Lincoln MKX, Ford Fusion, Ford Edge and Mercury Milan. The MKZ beat the segment average in 14 out of 15 categories, winning every measure other than ease of getting in and out. The MKZ rated particularly well with respect to interior lighting.
For 2006 Lincoln got its own version of Ford’s latest mid-size sedan the Fusion. With specific sheetmetal at both ends and a unique interior the shortest car to ever carry a Lincoln badge was dubbed the Zephyr. A name for Lincoln’s illustrious past, the original Zephyrs were more modern than the KB-Series the company had been offering. They were also far more affordable carrying sticker prices a fraction of the essentially hand-built KBs.
While the latest Zephyr didn’t carry quite the same type of pricing relative to a Town Car, it did share the original Zephyr’s mission of bringing new customers to Lincoln. And while the new Zephyr sold beyond many people’s (and Lincoln’s own) expectations, a bit of Town Car style old-think found its way into the 2006 model… specifically its chassis setup. Timing constraints meant the Zephyr would have to carry over the entire drivetrain from the Fusion. This meant a modern but workmanlike 221HP 3.0L V6 and a pleasant Aisin-sourced 6-speed automatic gearbox. The Fusion’s front drive chassis was employed and received some minor, but as it turned out, rather unsettling tuning. Somebody decided that since the Zephyr was going to be a Lincoln it should ride like one. But apparently this was interpreted to mean Town Car rather than “Lincoln.” Compared to the original donor vehicle the Zephyr was softer with a far more “floaty” ride than the Fusion. The Zephyr was also shod with a V-rated “ride tire.” Biased for comfort and low-tread noise over adhesion, the Zephyr turned out to be a car better suited to riding in the passenger seat than sitting behind the steering wheel.
Ford has all but guaranteed the demise of its luxury Lincoln brand through a series of strategy, marketing and product blunders not recently seen in the American car industry. In effect, Ford has forced Lincoln’s suicide. While we would like to write the epitaph now, Lincoln’s death seems like a long, slow, painful trauma that will provide fodder for the business press for the next decade. VehicleVoice counts the various ways Lincoln has been killing itself over the past couple of years.
Lincoln Shoots Itself in the Stomach by Cancelling V8 engine on 2009 Lincoln MKS (pronounced Em Kay Ess, not Mark S): This guarantees Lincoln will no longer be a luxury brand but a premium brand like Acura or Buick. Maybe the MKS will be an OK car, but with AWD and only a 260-plus horsepower V6 it can, at best, be an “almost-Acura-RL” which is off-concept at best. Even rumors of a range topping Twin-Turbo V6 with well over 300 horsepower will not offset the lack of the needed V8.
Lincoln Shoots Itself in the Shoulder by Cancelling the Lincoln Town Car: The Lincoln Town Car has not pretended to be at the top of the luxury car heap for decades, but with few improvements over the years, Town Car devolved into the Executive Car loved by livery buyers. Few Town Car sales were for personal use. So Ford allowed the Town Car to deteriorate from any Luxury Car pretenses it may have had, and become a luxurious black taxi driven by cabbies with ties. Just think what Ford could have achieved if they had implemented a major major change on the rear wheel drive Panther platform. New Town Car, New Grand Marquis, New Crown Vic… all built in Canada. Now, put in the 300HP 4.6L V8 and you could have a something to talk about
When Ford announced its new 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6 engine, many were underwhelmed by its 250-horsepower output. After all, similar displacement modern V6s from Ford’s Japanese competitors have achieved that level of output for years. Gads, even Japanese Minivans were approaching 250-horsepower with the Honda Odyssey at 244-horsepower. The Acura MDX gets 253HP from 3.5L. The Nissan Altima gets 265 from 3.5L.
Those of us at AutoPacific and VehicleVoice were wondering if Ford just didn’t get it. Couldn’t they read competitive specifications?
Ford’s New 3.5L V6 Gets 265-Horsepower
Well, Ford finally has let the “official horsepower” number slip and it’s good news. The 3.5L V6 gets 265-horsepower on regular grade fuel. That means the first vehicles to get it should feel pretty darn nice. Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX and Lincoln MKZ all get the new powerplant. And, Ford says that the 3.5L will be its high volume powerplant of the future.
Hope it feels as good as it sounds.
New Naming System Gives Zephyr a Short Life
At the 2006 Detroit auto show, a mere month ago, Lincoln announced they would call the Aviator replacement (on sale in Fall 2006) the MKX. They also showed an expected direction for an LS replacement called the MKS, and indicated their intent to change to an alphanumeric naming strategy. At the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, Lincoln discreetly unveiled the 2007 model year Zephyr, except that it is now renamed MKZ. AutoPacific Vice President and VehicleVoice correspondent Jim Hall has commented elsewhere in this blog on Lincoln’s strategy twists and turns, so we’ll leave that to him and stick with an overview of the vehicle changes for you here. By the way, pronunciation has been settled. These should be referred to as Mark X, Mark S, and, now, Mark Z.
Though the Zephyr can be called brand-new, having been on sale for less than six months, it is renamed MKZ for the 2007 model year. Along with the name change comes a 3.5L V6, AWD, and some minor exterior tweaks. Suspension, safety features, and interior continue unchanged. The MKZ was introduced with comparatively little fanfare at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, with the new-for-2007 Navigator clearly taking center stage.
The Madness at Lincoln Continues.
Over that last two and a half months, Ford Motor Company has been misrepresenting its new naming strategy for future Lincolns. At an early reveal of the Lincoln MKS, Ford’s North American Supremo Peter Horbury called the car the “Mark Ess.” Yet at the Detroit autoshow a couple of weeks later, the model was verbally referred to as the “Em-kay-ess” by Ford management and P.R. types. Concurrently the Aviator replacing crossover utility was called the “Em-kay-ecks.” That’s MKX in badgespeak.
At the Chicago show this week, Lincoln unveiled a lightly restyled and reengineered Zephyr that will be called the MKZ. In the press release materials for the successor to the Zephyr, the car is identified as the “Mark Zee.” C’mon guys, make up you minds.