One glance at the huge, toothy shark smile on the grille of the all-new 2010 MKT tells you Lincoln wants your attention. And no wonder; this sporty, crisp-handling new crossover SUV is worth a second look. For many families these days, clunky truck-based sport utilities are being recognized for what they are: clunky trucks. By contrast, sleekly styled crossovers like the Lincoln MKT, with car-like amenities and agile, well-balanced performance, beckon to more and more buyers.
In that context, the impressive new Lincoln MKT is a star at first glance. With its distinctive, slightly hunchback lines behind the rear door, it will be instantly recognizable in the traffic flow. Powered by a 3.7-liter V6 or the stellar new 355-hp twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, and enhanced with all-wheel drive, the MKT boasts the forceful performance and athleticism of all but the hottest performance sedans.
Of course, anyone can put a powerful engine in an SUV and achieve good acceleration, while guzzling too much gas. But the new EcoBoost engine achieves decent EPA City/Highway ratings of 16/22 mpg, while providing full-size, three-row seating and a full list of amenities.
Where the MKT leaves the competition behind, however, is in its over-the-road dynamics. We drove the twisting, hurtling New York State backcountry for a day, and the MKT proved itself completely at home on what would otherwise have been called sports car roads. Our EcoBoost MKT showed a minimum of body roll in curves and its shock-absorber tuning and live-wire electronic rack-and-pinion steering flawlessly communicated road-surface information. Competing full-size Cadillac Escalade, Acura's MDX and the Audi Q7, all variously competent, can't hold a candle to the agility of this three-row sports car.
But MKT buyers aren't looking for a sports car. Why is agility so important? Simple: sudden accident-avoidance maneuvers require exactly the same extreme vehicle dynamics as high-performance driving. In a crisis, family SUVs need the safety option offered by agility.
In addition to exhibiting excellent handling, the Lincoln MKT is a comfortable, lavishly appointed luxury crossover. Its interior is part living room on wheels, part wood-lined room at the club. It even features power second-row seats that leap forward at the touch of a button for easy access to the third row. The second row can be comfy twin buckets, yielding seating for a total of six, or bench seating with seating for seven. You can even choose an available second-row refrigerator to keep family beverages cool and crisp.
Finally, MKT offers the full variety of cyber-connectivity expected from Ford products. A voice-actuated Lincoln Sync communication and entertainment system can be combined with two separate seatback DVD screens. There will be no backseat fighting over what to watch. And Sirius satellite and Travel Link provide entertainment and all relevant traffic, weather and local information, including full listings regional gas stations, arranged by nearness or price per gallon.
A full inventory of airbags is standard, and the MKT received a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Additional safety equipment includes blind-spot warning, cross-traffic and rear alert for use in parking lots, a rearview camera, gap-sensitive adaptive cruise control with collision warning and brake support and much more.
The Lincoln MKT is a prime example of the design phenomenon that smoothly rounded styling often makes a vehicle look smaller than it is. With the debatable exception of the MKT grille, the vehicle has a graceful, attractive, and declaratively chrome-y American presence. Its toothy grille seems a bit overbearing, purportedly a latter-day restatement of the timelessly elegant 1939 Lincoln Continental prow.
In profile, the MKT's hunchback character line at the aft side windows adds interest, though the dramatic narrowing of these third windows is fair warning that third-row headroom and space is limited.
The distinctive, somewhat bluff styling of the rear end and power hatch resembles the tail of a Chrysler PT Cruiser on growth hormones. Handsome 19- or 20-inch sport wheels and wide tires give the MKT a sportingly dynamic tone.
But make no mistake, this full-size crossover is figuratively and literally a whale of a vehicle. Bumper to bumper, it is longer than two of its primary full-size rivals, Acura MDX and Audi Q7. It also has a considerably longer wheelbase than either of these offshore entries. The MDX roofline is lower than either the Acura or the Audi, lending it a handsomely modeled and noticeably sleeker stance than its competitors. At 4925 pounds in EcoBoost all-wheel-drive form, it is slightly heavier than the MDX but a massive 500 pounds lighter than the heavy Audi Q7.
The prospect of parallel parking all this bulk in a normal parking space might seem an intimidating chore. For those who need help, and we all do, Lincoln offers an active park-assist option, which will handle all the backing and turning automatically, only asking the driver to operate the brakes. We've tried it and it works well.
From the moment you climb into the Lincoln MKT, you are struck by the bright, up atmosphere of its interior. Light colors, leather and bright blonde wood surround you, and the wood is real.
The steering wheel is trimmed with wood and contains all the expected buttons for cruise control and audio adjustment. The audio is powerful, excellent and easy to use. And what is this! The audio system is tuned with genuine, old-fashioned, functional radial knobs. Brilliant! The substantial chrome-and-leather shifter fills your palm, but for those who want to control their six-speed transmission more actively, paddle shifters behind the steering wheel offer gearshift-by-gearshift driving.
To the driver's right in the center stack of the console is a touch-screen monitor, delivering all the countless cyber-communication virtues of navigation, weather information and so on included in Lincoln Sync. With available voice-activation, you can select whatever function you need without removing your hands from the wheel.
The leather-upholstered driver and passenger seats are extremely comfortable, and both feature 12-way adjustment and lumbar support. Your passenger has no grounds for complaining of second-class service. Both heating and cooling are available, and the front seating is an excellent blend of alert lateral support and well-tailored comfort.
Hand-stitched leather covers all the surfaces not already covered in blonde wood. Deluxe. Two indispensable cupholders are provided for each of the MKT's three rows, and the second row seats are provided with a separate climate-control system.
An available power folding mechanism for the second row seats flops them forward at the touch of a button to allow third-row riders easy access, though as mentioned, the dimensions of the third-row compartment are tight and best suited to mid-sized or smaller children. Yet even with all three rows full, there is still a small but serviceable stowage space aft of the third seat.
Generous interior courtesy lighting is provided, welcoming all passengers. The very roomy second row features available massive twin bucket seats, with adjustable lumbar support. Power takeoffs are distributed throughout the interior for operating personal electronics.
The MKT offers many pleasant surprises, but none can match its driving experience. First of all, consider the top-of-the-line EcoBoost model's 355 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of engine torque. The MKT is a family SUV, but power figures like that sound like they belong in a sports car!
Given the burden of the MKT's nearly 5000-pound weight, however, these power figures are well suited to delivering a full-size luxury SUV that has enough performance to match the luxury sedans around it. The MKT may not be a muscle car, but it's no truck, either.
In fact, driven vigorously, it blends smoothly with other competent luxury vehicles, and does so in the most surprising of ways. The MKT design staff is outright boastful about the handling of the MKT, and just for once, we buy every word of it. On back roads, this crossover exhibits extremely accomplished cornering and over-the-road controllability. Its excellent wheel control means the wheels follow the terrain of the road surface with a minimum of bounce, maintaining smooth, constant contact. Its steering is remarkably alive, feeding to the driver constant information about the road being traversed and how much traction is available. And entering a corner, the MKT has almost no roll or lean as it turns in. This encourages an undisturbed, calmly analytic state of mind in the driver.
Pushed harder through a corner, the MKT's front wheels grip tenaciously, closely following the steering wheel's turn commands, a characteristic lacking in most big SUVs. The value of this heightened cornering ability is, if you have to swerve out of someone's way very suddenly in an emergency, the MKT will do a better job of following your commands than some of its most prestigious competitors, including Acura and Audi. This crossover SUV's agility and predictability make driving it both very safe and honestly exhilarating. In fact, against all expectation, we found this Lincoln to be the best-handling large SUV we've driven. Period.
The 2010 MKT is a lavishly equipped full-size luxury crossover of the first order. It offers enormous interior capacity and comfort and a long list of deluxe standard and optional equipment. Driven in real-world conditions, this Lincoln is exceptional, a powerful, poised sports car of an SUV with agility and poise unmatched in its class.
Ted West filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the MKT.