The new MKT presents us with a tremendous decision to make. We're bound by the car-guy creed to hate all things "crossover" and love all things "awesome wagon," so naturally the MKT, like the Ford Flex upon which it's based, makes it difficult to draw a bead on where our preformed opinions should lie. We like the Flex, but the combination of too-small back seats and a relatively dear pricetag make it a tough proposition as a middle-class family standard. The MKT has its sights firmly set on a higher class of customer.
The MKT ups the fancy quotient in a number of ways, first and foremost is the inclusion of Ford's much anticipated
TwinForce EcoBoost twin-turbocharged direct-injection V6, the same high-end motor in the Lincoln MKS and the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO and hopefully in everything else Ford makes pretty soon. It offers better fuel economy, a mesa-flat torque curve and a much higher hell-yeah quotient than the base model 3.7 Duratec which we found profoundly adequate and nothing more.
The other avenue of differentiation is the styling, it's received a thorough revision inside and out. Since Lincoln is Ford's top-shelf brand, the car is predictably pulling from the parts bin marked "expensive." The body has so far been one of the most controversial pieces of the MKT. As opposed to the Flex's super-sized Mini Clubman form, the MKT goes about things with the nose coined on the MKS flowing to a bustle-back hiney. We'll be the first to say the shape doesn't translate well to photography. We like it, but we like wagons. The front is perhaps the toughest part to get on-board with, it's a little buck toothed, but it's handsome in person, try it in white.
The interior will be less polarizing. The various woods are flawless, the gadget load is heavy and the leather is supple. Other cars offer all the stuff this Lincoln does, but not all at once and definitely not with the same level of integration with the flowing shapes. It's gadget-heavy with Sirius Travelink, Bluetooth, power-whatever-you-want, acres of skylight, heated and cooled seats front and rear and the list goes on.The second row is akin to any first class airliner, especially with the optional mini-fridge/freezer. If there's any chink in the MKT's armor it's a third row that's still too small. Legroom isn't so much the problem as it is headroom. At six feet tall, I found the ceiling to be about six inches too low. We will say the other amenities are top notch all the way back, not like some three-rows (we're looking at you, Mercedes R-Class).
But what about the drive? What about that EcoBoost? We have good news to report. This thing is a rocketship. The MKT launches hard off the line and you're bumping up against the 120 MPH speed limiter before you can say "EcoBooooooooooost!" It's been a long wait to get behind the wheel of an EcoBoosted car and the MKT was a strange pick for first ride, but man, this engine is a gem. Zero turbo lag. None. Instant power at any RPM as the torque curve basically goes flat from 800 RPM all the way to 5500 RPM, this thing is a monster of a V6. In cruise control at 65 MPH we observed about 24 MPG, which is pretty standard V6 performance, but keep in mind this is producing a very V8-like 355 HP. It'll also run happily on 87 octane because of the direct injection. We do have one complaint to make to Ford though. Where did you put the turbo whine? You have two turbos so there should be twice as much of that zesty whistle, and yet there is none. So sad.
When you're talking great engines from domestic automakers, they usually get paired with stinkers for transmissions. Not so here. The MKT gets a brand new six speed automatic with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters actually capable of doing their job as advertised. Pop it into manual mode and you hit the rev limiter and the gear selection stays put, not to say it's lightning fast on the change once you do tell it to swap cogs, but it is acceptable.
We hit the twisty stuff at Ford's Michigan Proving Grounds and, by golly, the MKT actually handles. Well even. Drop it into manual mode, pop it in third and it drives like it isn't a huge crossover. Even plowing it through rough roads and heaves the car is well behaved. Body roll and wheel control are surprisingly good, jounce and rebound are damped for a nice mix of smooth ride, and good road feedback. We might even say this traditional suspension is better behaved than GM's active system in the 2010 Cadillac SRX. And did we mention the EcoBoost? It powers the 4,924 lb car out of corners with real urge
With a price point somewhere in the neighborhood of $45,000 to $55,000 and a well equipped model coming in around $50k, it's placed pretty well in the luxury crossover/three-row SUV market. The MKT will also be available with the standard 3.7 liter V6, but there's no reason to buy it, the EcoBoost is worth the extra $3,005. So we're back to the initial problem, is it a crossover or a wagon? We're going to declare the Lincoln MKT a wagon, because doing so makes it okay to daydream about the torque curve and the fantastic interior. Now excuse us, we need to draw little hearts in our notebooks around the EcoBoost logo.