Have you ever wondered what those guys in the Viagra advertisements drive? You know, the slightly overweight dudes dressed in the eternal mid-life crisis uniform of flannel shirt and high-waisted jeans sitting around singing Elvis songs rewritten in celebration of America’s favorite blue pill?
Neither have I, but now I know.
Every time I pulled the 2010 Lincoln MKT into a gas station or to the side of the road, paunchy, platinum-haired men failing to look the 20 years younger that they think they do were drawn to it the way my 3-year-old makes a beeline for every Thomas the Tank Engine DVD that enters his field of vision. Even as I was discussing this phenomenon with a colleague while the MKT was parked on Broadway in Manhattan, he noted a group of fiftysomethings nearby who were giving the big Linc the kind of tongue-wagging looks they would a Popular Mechanics swimsuit issue.
It’s no surprise. Lincoln’s full-figured luxury take on the boxy Ford Flex three-row crossover definitely wasn’t designed with the 20-year-old tuner crowd in mind. Its enormous split grille gives it the appearance of an art deco streamliner locomotive fitted with a cow-catcher. In lighter colors, the enormity of it all brings to mind words like baleen and beluga, but, dressed in black, the chrome trim dresses it up nicely. Bold? Yes. Attractive? Obviously the target market thinks so. It probably brings them back to the days they used to play with Lionels in the basement…like last week.
Sitting in the heated and cooled driver seat is like getting a big warm or cold hug. The leather is buttery, and the cushions just soft enough to keep the aches and pains away without straying too far into mushville. I have put many hundreds of miles on several MKTs now – because I just can’t say no - and wouldn’t once have been happier slouched on the couch at home watching someone else drive a car many hundreds of miles around a banked oval.
Maybe it was the aromatherapy provided by the vast expanse of hides covering the cabin that helped lull me into this state of bliss, including two big slabs on the dashboard that could be used as saddles if they had stirrups attached to them. All of the available wood trims are top notch, too, but a woven metal option toughens up the look in a way that impressed the investment banker Harley gang that cornered me at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike for an impromptu review.
Rear passengers are treated just as well. At least two or three of them are. The MKT has one of the best second rows in autodom. Legroom is NBA-grade, and even small ottomans are standard, with or without the split bucket seat option. A huge panoramic sunroof is available, as is a refrigerator/freezer that fits in the center console. Granted, it’s only big enough to fit a baker’s six-pack (that’s seven cans), and, for $895, costs about as much as you’d pay for a full size one in your home. But at what price a cold one?
Sadly, folks way back in the cheap seats don’t have it as well. The chairs themselves are great, and legs are treated well if the passengers in the middle of the MKT cooperate, but the sloping rear roofline means anyone over 5’2” is not going to be happy, as my 5’3” wife can confirm. (Please don’t call the spousal abuse hotline, she had to climb back there to feed our 6-month-old in the second row when we got stuck in traffic. Since his brother was next to him, she really didn’t have a choice. It’s one of the drawbacks of not ordering the bench, but at least that fridge kept the formula cold.)
They’re much more useful folded down, opening up a large cargo bay with a floor that slopes slightly upward toward the front of the car, so watch out if you are loading bowling balls, coconuts, or any objects that can roll and create a potentially humorous situation. You can also flip the seats so that they face backwards when the MKT is parked with the rear door open.
Of course then you’d be looking away from where the real fun is: under the hood. Base MKTs get a perfectly adequate 268 hp 3.7 liter V6 with front or all-wheel-drive, while top line models, like the one I have now tested on three non-consecutive occasions, come with the Ford family’s EcoBoost 3.5 liter twin-turbocharged V6 cranking 355 horsepower to all four wheels. With an efficient direct fuel injection system, the motor’s claim to fame is that it delivers eight-cylinder power with six-cylinder fuel economy. For what it’s worth, it does, but that means 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, same as 3.7-liter.
Full up with, or pulling a 4,500 pound tender, the extra oomph provided by the turbos will surely be welcome, but on a solo run the mill is a marvel, turning this two-sliding-doors-away-from-being-a-minivan into…well, I’m not sure, but it is a blast.
Power is available right now, and whenever you need it. The engine and exhaust even sound muscular, much better than the ones in the SHO as best as my quickly aging mind can recall. A six-speed automatic transmission is well-matched and has a manual mode that will actually hold gears all the way to redline and stick them there. It even let me shift into 2nd at 60 mph. Express is not an inappropriate word to use to describe the MKT.
It turns nearly as well, with a stiffer suspension than the non-EcoBoosted models, and electric assist power steering that’s luxury light, but puts the MKT right where you point it. Ride comfort is hardly diminished, though the rear suspension is slightly rough at times, with a relatively archaic feel compared to the rest of the car.
On the other hand, safety is absolutely cutting edge, with top crash test ratings, full-length side curtain airbags, and an optional collision warning system that sets off an alarm and pre-charges the brakes when you’re on the verge of rear-ending someone. Good thing, because they can be a little overwhelmed by the nearly 5,000-pound curb weight, and the extra split second or two of stopping distance doesn’t hurt, as I found out first hand when I ended up in the middle of a Talledega-style ‘Big One’ on the freeway, coming to a halt just inches from the car in front of me.
Nevertheless, I can’t think of any vehicle for under $50,000 that I’d want to drive from point A to point B if they both happened to be exits off of a major interstate, rather than the top and bottom of Mt. Washington. This thing eats up federally-funded highways as effectively as Washington collects the taxes to pay for them. The only way it could be more effortless is if it drove itself. And it kind of does that, too.
One of the available options is Active Park Assist, which uses radars mounted around the car to locate parking spaces, and then steers the MKT into them while you work the gas and brake pedals for the benefit of the lawyers.
Unlike a similar system in the Lexus LS600h, which uses a Rube Goldbergian touch-screen interface that’s overly time consuming and rarely gets you into the spot anyway, the MKT’s set up is so simple and effective that it probably works at least as quickly as if you did it yourself.
Unfortunately, it will only parallel park, so you’re still on your own at the mall. For only $595 dollars, though, it almost seems like a bargain as these things go, especially when you compare it to something as mundane as a rear seat DVD system that costs $1995.
All told, the MKT may be Lincoln’s and, for that matter, Ford’s most impressive vehicle. The problem with the MKS and SHO, excellent cars both, is that as capable as they are, they’re only 9/10ths as good as the European benchmarks that they actively try to be counted among. Despite a similarity to the Mercedes-Benz R-Class, the overall effect of the MKT is that it runs its own branch line.
What concerns me most about the MKT is how much I like it. Not because it isn’t deserving of praise, but because I’m worried about what it means about me. Am I getting to the point where I may have to consult my physician, and watch out for side effects that can include blurred vision and a certain biological function that requires immediate medical attention if it persists for more than four hours?
Ugh, I wonder what those Rogaine guys drive.
2010 Lincoln MKT AWD EcoBoost
Base Price: $49,200
Type: 6 or 7-passenger, front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-door crossover
Engine: 3.5L twin-turbocharged V6
Power: 355 hp, 350 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG: 16 city/22 hwy
Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.