The Lincoln LS may be a Lincoln, but if you think it's a rolling sofa, then you're way off the mark. This is Lincoln's most youthful car and it's no cushy-mobile. In styling, style and performance, the LS is fashioned in the image of a European sports sedan. The LS is aimed squarely at the import competition, and in a broad sense it covers the mark. One indication of that is that it uses rear-wheel drive, the first mark of a sports sedan, like those from Mercedes and BMW.
Last year, the Lincoln LS benefited from major revisions, involving more than 500 new or redesigned parts. As a result, the LS feels more refined and more comfortable. Its V8 and V6 engines are more powerful and more sophisticated, benefiting from the addition of variable valve timing. The interior was improved substantially and now features an attractive platinum-colored center panel that has a look and feel of quality. Comfort and convenience were enhanced with power-adjustable pedals, increased center console space and an electronic parking brake.
The biggest benefit was in the area of suspension tuning and a reinforced chassis, which improved handling and ride quality. The LS feels firmer, sportier, more European than before.
The 2004 Lincoln LS is further improved. The five-speed automatic transmission has been upgraded for smoother shifting and engagement. Additional chassis improvements reduce noise, vibration and harshness in the cabin. And satellite radio is now available.
Even the least expensive LS comes very well equipped. In the midsize sport-luxury market, few sedans can compete with the LS on the benefit-per-dollar scale.
Lincoln LS V6 Luxury ($32,120); V6 Appearance ($35,890); V6 Premium ($36,520); V8 Sport ($39,720); V8 LSE ($43,115); V8 Ultimate ($43,120)
With its long wheelbase, short overhangs and chunky rear end, the Lincoln LS presents a classy profile. Its angular lines share little with the rest of the Lincoln family, apart from the badges and waterfall grille.
The LS underwent some significant exterior styling changes for 2003. The grille, front fascia, exterior mirrors, rear deck lid, tail lamps, license plate trim and wheels were all redesigned, resulting in a cleaner overall look. The difference is most obvious from the rear, where smooth lamps replaced rippled taillight lenses. Little has changed for 2004, though there are two new colors: Cashmere TriCoat (essentially white) and Light French Silk metallic (light gold).
Our favorite LS is the V8 LSE. Its bright wheels and color-keyed grille, rocker panels and license-plate surround suit our idea of a sporting luxury sedan nicely. It looks clean, aggressive, classy.
The Lincoln LS interior is understated, in the European fashion. The feeling is cozy, almost cockpit-style, and there are no gaudy trim pieces. The leather seats, nonetheless, feel cushy in the Lincoln tradition. They're comfortable, but not as supportive as the seats found in a Mercedes-Benz or BMW. The driver and front passenger seats offer power adjustments with three-way memory for the driver on most models. The power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel and exterior mirrors are tied to the memory buttons, and when the ignition is switched off the driver's seat automatically moves back, which makes getting in and out easier.
The interior trim is high quality and everything fits together nice and tight. Lincoln offers two new interior color combinations for 2004: Dark Stone/Medium Light Stone and Shale/Dove. A canopy shields the instruments. On Premium and Ultimate models, real burled walnut trim brightens the doors and the area around the controls, giving the cabin a warm, rich ambience. The platinum-colored center panel is a high-quality piece. Stereo and climate controls are clustered in a large center stack that's easily accessible for either driver or passenger. The climate system is easy to operate. The seats feature seat heaters for those cold winter mornings and fans for hot, sultry summer afternoons. We liked the seat fans; you can hear them.
All controls have a satisfying feel, thanks largely to upgrades made last year. The headlamp switch, for example, can be turned to the right to turn on parking lights or headlights, or it can be turned to the left to the Auto setting, which automatically turns the lights on or off, depending on available light. This is much nicer than having to switch through all the other settings like you do with GM products. The LS features a power electronic parking brake, similar to that of the BMW 7 Series. Both front power windows feature Auto-up/down. The ignition switch is on the dash, which is nicer and easier to use than having it on the steering column.
The center console is deep and offers good storage room. Two power points are provided along with a great pair of rubber-lined cup holders. The sliding center armrest moves back and forth, adjusting for the position of the driver's seat. The remote key fob will open all windows for quick ventilation on hot days. The driver can easily program functions; for example, the auto-locking feature can be turned off.
The navigation system worked well, better than many others, and we found it easier to use than the Mercedes system. Adjusting the volume on the navigation system can be challenging while driving, however, annoying when you want the voice commands to shut up.
The audio system uses the system's touch screen display; it has a feature allowing the driver to adjust the sound for optimum balance according to the number and seating position of your passengers. Sirius Satellite Radio is now available for the LS. You can listen to the FoxNews and CNN 24-hour news stations, dedicated sports channels, or CD-quality music without having to search for new stations as you drive across the country.
Rear-seat passengers are taken care of nicely. The rear seats are firm and dished, yet raised slightly for a better forward view. Rear-seat headroom is among the best in class. Legroom is adequate for most adults, as long as the front seats aren't pushed too far back, but hip room is a little lacking.
Cargo space can be expanded by a feature rare in the luxury class: A 60/40 split folding seat, which is very convenient for carrying long items. With 13.5 cubic feet of space, the trunk offers reasonable cargo volume, though not as much as most cars in this class.
Driving the Lincoln LS is more than pleasant. It's quiet and offers an excellent balance of crisp handling and a smooth ride. The suspension is tuned more like a Mercedes than a Lincoln. In many situations, it feels as good as a European sedan.
This sedan performs well when driven aggressively. The rear-drive layout means pure steering and balanced, sure-footed handling, helped out by the suspension improvements that were made starting with the 2003 models. Control of noise, vibration and harshness has improved steadily since the LS was introduced, creating a smooth, quiet environment inside.
The V8 engine works great and we prefer it. The increased power improved this Lincoln's credentials as a sports sedan. With 280 horsepower and 286 pounds-feet of torque on tap, the LS V8 will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in the low 6-second range. A decade ago that was hot-rod performance and it's still very quick. Moreover, the V8 accelerates quickly at any speed when you jab the gas, whether you do so at 20 mph or 70 mph. Its relatively small displacement compared to other V8s in the class pays dividends, too. Reported at 18 mpg city and 24 highway, the LS V8 has some of the highest EPA mileage ratings among V8-powered luxury cars. The throttle is a bit sensitive at tip-in, so you may need to get used to using a gentle foot when accelerating away from a standstill. Also, there's not much engine braking, so you may find yourself using the brakes a bit more than with European cars.
That said, the LS V6 is no slouch. It has one of the highest specific outputs of any V6 available. That means it delivers more power for its size. With 232 horsepower and 220 pounds-feet of torque, it beats BMW's vaunted 3.0-liter straight-six.
Last year we complained that the five-speed automatic gearbox had a tendency to shift a bit slowly, particularly under hard-throttle downshifts. The LS could still use some improvement here, but refinements to the transmission have smoothed the shifting for 2004. In particular, the improvements are intended to soften the shock when the driver shifts quickly from reverse to drive after backing up.
The Select Shift on the V8 models helps address the shift-speed problem, because it allows the driver to manually change gears by pushing the gearshift lever forward to shift up or by pulling it back to shift down. Yet enthusiast drivers may find a gripe here as well. Similar systems in some other cars will hold the selected gear no matter how high you rev the engine. Run the engine to close to the redline in the LS, and the transmission automatically shifts up whether you want it to or not. On the other hand, that's a savior when you forget you're in the manual mode and forget to shift.
We like the balance between ride comfort and sharp handling the LS delivers. For starters, this sedan has a nearly perfect 50/50 weight distribution. To help achieve this balancing act, Lincoln locates the battery in the trunk and uses lightweight aluminum for the hood and front fenders. As a result, it doesn't lean back and lighten the front wheels under hard acceleration (squat), or dive excessively under aggressive braking. We felt some road vibration on the 2003 model we drove and it didn't handle big bumps well, but improvements made to the 2004 model address this. As mentioned, the LS sends its power to the rear wheels rather than the front wheels. While many manufacturers went to front-wheel drive to reduce costs and for packaging reasons, rear-wheel drive is better for high-performance applications and for luxury cars. That's why Formula 1, Indy cars and NASCAR stock cars are rear-wheel drive.
Steering feel is excellent, among the nicest of any car on the road, and steering effort increases smoothly with speed, though sometimes we found we needed to make small corrections at high speeds.
The brakes are excellent and easy to modulate, whether stopping hard or in everyday driving.
Dearborn got this one right. The Lincoln LS benefited from major updates for 2003 and has been refined further for 2004. Trim choices have been simplified, the transmission has been refined and buyers get more color choices inside and out. With improved switchgear, nice leather in all models and high-quality soft plastics, the LS interior meets luxury-grade expectations.
The Lincoln LS remains the sportiest car in Lincoln's line-up, and the one best suited for enthusiast drivers. In any trim level, the LS offers good acceleration and balanced handling, without riding too stiffly. Its rear-wheel-drive layout gives it the feel of a European luxury sedan, and delivers strong value when compared with comparable cars from Europe and Japan. The LS is a solid car irrespective of price; factor in the money left in your pocket rather than the manufacturer's, and it looks even better.