The cars we loved.
The big car pie is just starting to heat up. Unfortunately, it’s not hot for everyone. Ford is having some trouble selling Lincolns (mostly high-priced versions of the Taurus and Fusion) to premium buyers. Nothing against the Taurus or Fusion, but the Lincoln division has more holes in its product line up than Ford’s popular pair can fill. At the moment the top Lincoln is the full-sized MKS.
When shown as the MKZ concept car back in 2006, it caused a minor stir and gave show goers a glimpse of Lincoln’s bold new styling direction. When the MKZ became the production MKS, something got lost along the way. Not that the MKS is a bad-looking car. It’s actually quite striking. Aesthetically, the only questionable sore spot may be the large garish front end. It recalls the specter of 40’s era Lincolns, but carries the theme too far for some tastes.
It would seem that others have stepped up before Lincoln and have either reinvigorated their lineups or completely re-invented them. Cadillac for instance sells five times as many CTS sedans than Lincoln does its MKS. Lexus, the segment leader in near luxury sells a boat load more. Although there’s no single cause of the sales disparity, much of the blame lies in the packaging of the MKS and its close ties to its platform mate the Ford Taurus. When Ford decided to go upscale with the Taurus, it sealed the coffin and began to put the squeeze on similarly sized Lincoln products. Now that Mercury is gone, the Taurus may potentially cannibalize MKZ sales. Beyond outward appearances, the two are very similar mechanically.
Put another way; were buyers willing to spend more than $50k on a version of the Taurus that essentially has the same 350hp V6 engine, suspension and front or AWD configuration? If sales were any indication the answer was no. To make matters worse, recent Lincolns have received mixed reviews for the new corporate styling theme featuring a big wide grille. While the designers claim to first mimic the grilles of Lincolns from the 40’s, in the most recent refreshing they profess to channel birds. To most regular folk, the grille just looks like a Chester cat smiling.
Lincoln has a long heritage of luxury that Ford has begun to channel. Solidifying an image seems to be Ford’s first (and cheapest) priority for Lincoln. I’m not sure if the new MKS commercials featuring a President Lincoln actor in the fog will help, but it’s a start. The swagger of the suicide door 64’ Continentals were featured as well as other notable moments in Lincoln’s history, all leading to its current technological tour de force. The MKS went on sale in late 2008 with a version of the 3.7 litre V-6 Duratec that was good for 273 hp. That figure has risen to more flagship like 340 hp. To appease the ECO obsessed with money to burn, a 3.5L turbo direct injection EcoBoost V6 joins the lineup for improved efficiency. The MKS included features like a 6-speed automatic transmission, NAV system and 20 in wheels – all things available on the Taurus. With a weight hovering around 4200 pounds and 112 inch wheelbase, the MKS is as big as an Audi A8. Although attractive and well-respected in the automotive press, Ford did little to promote it.
The MKS‘s real problem might be that it lacks anything exclusive from Ford’s global toolbox. Sure, most of Ford’s universe lacks anything bigger than the Mondeo/Fusion, but the MKS needs more distinction in North America. The fact that the early versions of the car its lacked any real driving character sabotaged any chance of it sticking out in a crowded and highly profitable segment bent more on performance recently. Besides having probably more gadgets than any other car in its class, it’s still over looked. The MKS seeks to be a soft riding, comfortable technical showcase, much like the typical modern Lexus is. Toyota’s revamped Avalon seems more a match for the MKS spiritually than the Cadillac CTS. Unlike the once sleepy Avalon (or Lexus for that matter), performance and driving feel are missing from the big Lincoln. Lincoln clearly needs to go further than paddle shifters to add some sporting attitude. This is where sales seem to be hot at the moment in the performance luxury segment. In a time when mid-sized family sedans can blur the line between luxury and necessity, the MKZ needs an edge – fast.
That edge could come in the form of the 2015 Mustang oddly enough. The new platform for Ford’s popular pony car could be the basis (stretched of course) for the next MKZ. If this were the case, the top versions of the MKZ would have the potential to hang with the big boys in the segment like the Cadillac CTS and BMW 5 Series. Softer sprung entry trim versions might stack up well against the Lexus GS and Mercedes E Class. Ford’s challenge is to wait out the time between then and now as it struggles to save money in its ongoing effort to globalize platforms. Ford has done more than wait it out. For 2013, the MKS got better handling in an attempt to answer some of the critics complaints. It also revised the grille to reflect the new “soring bird” inspiration. In the meantime the MKS continues to suffer in the sales department.
The Lincoln MKZ is a striking large sedan that offers plenty of tech wonders and a smooth floaty ride that lovers of old school luxury seek. The problem is that at its price range, the expectations of luxury have changed and left Lincoln behind. Only time will tell if the MKS can catch up with Cadillac and Lexus while maintaining a level of distinction from the Ford Taurus. With Cadillac doing well on the low and higher ends of the luxury spectrum (CTS and the new ATS), Lincoln really needs to step up, otherwise it will lose its share of a hot pie.