At one point not long ago, bulky, V-8-powered sport utilities were the darlings of the industry. Now, economic realities and higher fuel costs have conspired to slow the drum beat. Ford Motor Company's Lincoln Division retired the V-8-powered rear-drive Aviator SUV a few years back after a short stay, but retrains the iconic full-size, truck-based Navigator.
New for 2010 is Lincoln's MKT, following in the footsteps of the successful launch of the Ford Flex (2009 debut). Both share the same full-size (207.6 inches) underpinnings with three-rows providing very stretchable interior space. Don't call these two SUVs, as Ford prefers the terms crossovers or wagons. Flex sports a flat-roof design available in colors different than the body; MKT opts for a more traditional arched ceiling with body color hues.
Don't let the size fool you, MKT utilizes a car-like platform which translates into a surprisingly smooth and quiet ride. It certainly performs more nimbly than its 4,900-pound weight would lead one to believe. Since it's a Lincoln, expect a variety of up-level features combining with high-tech gadgetry.
Lincoln retains its hard-to-recall, letter-based names for recently introduced vehicles, so it's imperative to understand the method behind the naming madness. In days of yore, Lincoln had success with the "Mark' name, adding Roman numerals to designate different models and years. Mark VII and Mark VIII became iconic in Lincoln circles. Flash forward to the 2007 model year when Lincoln introduced the MKZ sedan and MKX five-passenger crossover (the Aviator replacement). The first two letters (MK) recall (in abbreviated fashion) the glory days of "Mark" while the last letter signifies a specific model. The "Z" indicates Zephyr and "X", crossover. With the 2010 introduction of the all-new MKT, think of the final "T" alluding to "truck." Lincoln also offers the MKS, where the "S" signifies up level sedan.
Lincoln MKT is a posh seven-passenger crossover/wagon featuring front wheel or sure-footed, Chicago-area-friendly all-wheel drive. Head and leg room are more than generous in the first two rows and the standard 60/40-split second row easily accommodates three adults. The two-person third row, however, is best left for pre-teens because of restrictive headroom. Power front bucket seats with heated backs and cushions come standard. Optional is a six-seat configuration with two bucket seats in row two. Optional in the six-passenger model is a second-row refrigerated console holding up to seven 12-oz cans.
Two modern, high-efficiency V-6 engines are available starting with a 3.7-liter Duratec V-6 cranking out 268 horsepower. For more punch, opt for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost generating a generous 355 horses. Both are connected to an electronic six-speed automatic transmission. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine comes standard with all-wheel drive while the Duratec V-6 offers both front and all-wheel drive. The engines recommend premium fuel in the 18.6-gallon tanks for best overall performance, although regular, 87-octane fuel may be used. Both engines register 16 miles per gallon city and 22 mpg highway in all-wheel drive while the 3.5-liter front drive version kicks in with 17 and 23 respectively.
Our tester included Ford Motor Co's technologically advanced EcoBoost powertrain, which directly injects highly pressurized fuel directly into the combustion chamber of each cylinder, bypassing an air-fuel mixture port and lowering emissions with more precise fuel delivery. Think of it as a fuel-efficient V-6 touting the horses of a V-8. Both engines boast superior fuel economy numbers when compared to the full-sized, V-8 Navigator. When choosing EcoBoost, smooth- maneuvering electric power steering is standard in place of rack-and-pinion steering found in the 3.7 Duratec.
Our EcoBoost tester started at $49,200. With options including the Elite option package (voice-activated navigation, Power Vista Sun Roof-$4,000), Active Park Assist ($595), Woven Metal Appearance Package ($195) and adaptive cruise control ($1,295), the bottom line ended at a hefty $56,080 including a $795 destination charge. A front-drive MKT starts at $44,200. A second-row dual headrest DVD entertainment system is available for $1,995.
Waltzing into row three is made easier thanks to long rear side doors providing a large entry way via the power folding right-side seatback (the smaller 40 side of the 60/40 split). With the push of a B-pillar button, the seatback folds forward and the entire unit flips forward. The unit needs the human touch when returning to a prone position. If desired, the seat manually folds forward. With row three prone, plenty of room remains (17.9 cubic feet) for stowage thanks to a scooped floor well. This well absorbs the manually folding the 50/50 third row (power folding third row is a $595 option) during folding. With assistance from well-designated pull straps, each lightweight seatback folds forward, then the entire unit flips rearward into the well. Folded rear rows form a long, large even-floored cargo space.
While blind-spot indicators flash a small amber dot in the side-view mirrors when traffic travels along the vehicle's side, optional convex corners help visually view what's currently IN the blind spot. A great extra that should be standard in long vehicles like MKT.
For a large vehicle, the MKT's rear window is proportionately tight. The narrow design makes it difficult to view what's closely tailing MKT when checking the rear view mirror. Headlights especially escape view when MKT travels on a downhill plane and the rear region is higher.
The soft-touch, two-tone dashboard incorporates a center "Y" structure with a standard, 8-inch audio and climate control touch screen atop. Voice-activated navigation is extra. A rear-view camera feed (when MKT shifts into reverse) comes standard. Satellite radio comes standard with 10-speaker AM/FM and MP3 capabilities.
The instrument panel includes three medium-sized, circular, analog, deep-set gauges with a digital message window along the bottom of the center speedometer display. A sun shade extension situates above the IP cutting down glare. Both the circular headlight dial and power hatch button are left of the steering column. Standard push-button start is right of the column. The parking brake is foot operated, opening up the center region for a large storage bin and side-by-side cup holders. Two vista sunroofs (first and second rows) come standard. A power sliding option is extra. Cruise control and secondary audio buttons are mounted onto the steering wheel. Side curtain air bags for all three rows come standard as do front row side impact air bags.
Lincoln's MKT's exterior is polarizing to say the least. While Ford Flex is funky, Lincoln takes the same frame and adds "curve" appeal. The MKT smoothes out the right angle hatch door of Flex. In front, narrow band-like headlights flank a huge split waterfall- grille with vertical Lincoln logo front and center. In back, band-like tail lights are very high on the hatch. The standard power lift gate opens high enough so those six-feet two inches and shorter have nice head clearance. The cap less gas tank utilizes a self-sealing barrier translating into one less item Ford has to manufacturer saving time, money and yes, weight. Chrome trim surrounds side windows. Strap-like door handles and side mirrors are body colored. Adaptive headlights swivel when turning the wheels, increasing visible range at night; a nice touch.
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is handy for feet and toes when traveling along an open Interstate (which during this run was outside the Chicagoland area in southern Wisconsin) as it activates the brakes when approaching a vehicle ahead, and then automatically speeds up the MKT to the pre-arranged setting when the situation demands. Drivers automatically override the system, if desired, simply by applying foot pedals. It's recommended over the hands-free Active Park Assist option (utilizing radar technology found in ACC) where the driver must still brake the vehicle during the maneuver. Parallel parking is an art that should be mastered by all competent road warriors.
Lincoln's closest domestic rival, Cadillac, sports the full-size, three-row Escalade SUV and five-passenger SRX crossover. The Lincoln Navigator competes more directly with the Escalade. Mercedes-Benz markets the GL Series (GL350 V-6, GL450 V-8 and GL 550 V-8). Probably the closest upscale rivals are the seven-passenger Acura MDX and Audi Q7. Of these, the MKT is by far the fuel economy leader; although that may not be enough for die hard Caddy or MB enthusiasts to switch loyalties. If value is a priority, the well-equipped MKT has the most economical comparative price.
The MKT's powertrain warranty is good for six years or 70,000 miles. Lincoln assembles MKT in Ontario, Canada.