Test Drive: 2010 Lincoln MKT

Latest large-scale luxury crossover model exudes smoothness, but abundant dimensions give it a rather bloated look, while performance/handling falls a bit short of stimulating

by James M. Flammang

2010 Lincoln MKT with EcoBoost engine

When Lincoln adopted its new three-letter model-designation nomenclature, plenty of potential customers had to be confused. MKS, MKZ, MKX. Which was which, anyway?

Rather than clarify that question, Lincoln has added yet another "MK" model to its lineup, for a total of four. Loosely related to the Ford Flex, the new Lincoln MKT is a full-size luxury crossover model that looks a lot more like a stylish station wagon, and a lot less like an SUV, than most of its competitors. Resemblance to the Flex is virtually nonexistent, even though the underpinnings are closely tied.

Lincoln calls its MKT a "three-row tourer," noting that the "signature" design features a split "waterfall" grille, a beveled chamfer along the shoulder line, full-width horizontal taillamps, and a magnesium liftgate that saves weight.

Two engines are available in the MKT. The standard 3.7-liter Duratec V-6 develops 268 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 267 pound-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. For even more enthusiastic response, the available EcoBoost 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 generates 355 horsepower at 5700 rpm, and 350 pound-feet at 3500 rpm. Both engines work with a six-speed Selectshift automatic transmission that includes paddle shifters.

Lincoln claims a fuel-economy estimate of 17 mpg in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway for the 3.7-liter model with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive drops the estimate to 16/22 mpg. The AWD EcoBoost edition gets that same 16/22 mpg rating. The 3.7-liter V-6 runs on regular-grade gasoline, but Lincoln recommends premium fuel for the EcoBoost, to ensure best performance.

Seating either six or seven occupants, the MKT is 207.6 inches long overall, on a 117.9-inch wheelbase. Standard tires are 19-inch, but 20-inch rubber is available.

Safety features include AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control. Ford's Safety Canopy system includes side-curtain airbags. Adaptive headlamps with high-intensity discharge lamps offer enhanced night visibility.

Most cars and trucks appear to have a purpose of some sort. Deducing the purpose of the MKT is an exercise in fantasy, because this curious vehicle fails to fit neatly into any current category. Neither does it break truly new ground, establishing a niche all its own. Except for the pleasantly-shaped rear liftgate, the MKT looks like a rather nondescript four-door; and the allure of that rear end is offset by the massive grille up front, its vertical bars gleaming like a giant's set of spanking new dentures.

To some eyes, the MKT is a stylishly handsome vehicle - something to covet. To others, it's a weird-looking monstrosity with no discernible purpose: expensive to own and to operate, led by that grotesque grille, which looks like it belongs in an earlier era. The back end, in contrast, is quite aesthetically compelling.

If the MKT's role is ambiguous according to appearance, how about performance and handling? Here, too, nothing stands out nearly as much as one would expect from a vehicle with a sticker price past $56,000. That's the price of an amply-equipped EcoBoost model, whereas the base vehicle starts at a more moderate $44,200 (plus $795 destination charge). The basic AWD model with EcoBoost stickers for $49,200 (plus the destination charge). Adaptive Cruise Control costs $1,295 extra. Optional Active Park Assist uses ultrasonic-based sensing to provide hands-free parallel parking.

Acceleration with EcoBoost is sufficiently enthusiastic, and the MKT (like its Ford Flex cousin) clearly behaves better on the road than a conventional SUV would. Steering is easy enough, though handling essentially qualifies as nondescript. The ride is satisfying on good pavement, but even moderate rough patches make it feel almost like a domestic truck of the past: not quite held together securely enough.

The MKT's engine delivers plenty of energy to pass and merge. The automatic transmission operates well, though shifts are noticeable. The Start button is in a somewhat inconvenient position, to the right of the steering wheel. Gas mileage is awful; we managed only around 10 mpg in city driving.

Front occupants enjoy plenty of space. Gauges are too deep and fancy ,with bright markers that seem like they would impede readability, but actually improve it. for easy reading. Though pleasantly quiet, the MKT isn't totally silent while running.

Like Ford's Flex, the MKT is surprisingly easy to enter, featuring almost a step-down design. Second-row seats are roomy and comfortable, with a tolerable center position. Cargo space is modest with the third row upright.Though reasonably luxurious, the interior isn't dramatically elegant.

A couple of aberrations on our test MKT marred the driving experience a bit. Every time we entered the driver's seat, for instance, the left-hand mirror had moved upward about 30 degrees and had to be adjusted before proceeding. Nothing else was out of position; only that single mirror. Rain-sensing windshield wipers were annoyingly lacking in sense, often working rapidly when little or no rain or drizzle was falling, and stopping when the rain increased and functional wipers would have been handy. Minor issues, true; but they shouldn't happen on a vehicle in this price class.

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Text and photos by James M. Flammang