A hot-rod Lincoln in black tie.

by Kevin Ransom

In the 40-odd years since its inception, Lincoln's Mark series has come to represent the marriage of driver-pampering luxury and potent sport-coupe road prowess.

When it was introduced in 1993, Lincoln's current incarnation, the Mark VIII, continued that tradition -- from the plush, landed-gentry refinement of its cabin to its highway-gobbling 280-hp V-8 engine.

Now, with a host of new features, restyled body panels, a new interior and some technological advances, the Mark VIII has once again topped itself.

Where do we begin? Let's start with the Mark's innovative new lighting system, including High-Density Discharge headlamps that deliver 2.7 times more reflective light than standard lamps -- meaning the driver sees things easier and sooner. And the Mark VIII's use of a neon tube taillamp system -- an industry first that was pioneered in the Ford Explorer -- allows following drivers to significantly reduce their stopping distance.

In addition, Lincoln designers have replaced the Mark's plastic hood with an aluminum one, enlarged the grille, modified the exhaust tips, and added new front and rear fascias, along with new quarter panels. There's more. The trademark rear-end tire hump, recalling the first Continental of 1940, is now more subtle, and six new hues have been added to the color chart.

The Mark's interior has also been redesigned, with several new touches -- a power-tilt steering column with memory, burled-walnut door trim, power-adjusted lumbar-support, luxury instrument panel, and leather-trimmed armrests.

Two trim levels are offered -- the standard Mark VIII and the sportier LSC (Luxury Sport Coupe). The hue of our LSC test model was dubbed Opal Opalescent. In less poetic English, it was a handsomely creamy off-white.

Our LSC tester's base price was $38,880. It came equipped with several options: a $1515 power moonroof, a $670 trunk-mounted CD changer, a $300 tri-coat paint treatment, $290 heated seats and two no-charge options -- front floor mats and electronic traction assist. The $670 destination charge boosted the total cost to $42,325.

Walkaround

On the standard Mark VIII, the grille, bodyside mouldings, and headlamp/taillamp trim are chrome; on the LSC, they're body-colored. Even though the new grille is larger than on the '96 Mark VIII, it's still smaller than the enormous wraparound headlamp housings. In fact, the lamp housings are the largest in the industry, and they cast a cool, bluish beam that's wider and longer than standard lamps.

The neon taillamps are also generously sized. The taillamp system is actually a single 48-inch wide neon tube, which extends the full width of the vehicle -- running across the top of a trunk-mounted light bar -- and wraps around the rear fenders. The tube, which is hidden by the molding, projects light downward onto a reflective surface, and then out through a clear acrylic lens.

According to Lincoln, the neon illuminates 198 milliseconds faster than standard incandescent bulbs -- which means that, at speeds of 60 mph, drivers following along behind can reduce their stopping distance by an average of 17.5 feet. The upshot is fewer rear-end collisions.

Integrated into the side mirrors is a security lamp that illuminates the ground when the door is unlocked using the keyless remote. On the bottom edge of the mirror housings, a line of red LED lights blink in tandem with the turn signals. These lights are visible to trailing cars, but are positioned so as not to distract the driver.

Although the hood, fascias and fenders have been restyled, the shape of the '97 Mark VIII is not radically different than the '96 -- except that its corners are more rounded, and its sleek, elegant lines are more sloping. And the vestigial decklid wheel hump has been downplayed to the point that it barely evokes the more prominent bulge of bygone years.

The Inside Story

As you might surmise, a luxury sport coupe with a $38,000-plus base price is bountifully appointed. The standard Mark VIII comes equipped with the following goodies: speed-sensitive variable-assist power steering, aluminum-alloy lacy-spoke wheels, air conditioning with automatic climate control, power windows/door locks/heated mirrors, message center with trip computer, burled walnut wood applique, leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift, power-tilt telescopic steering column, driver's seat memory with remote recall for two users, six-way driver and passenger power seats with Autoglide seating system, power-adjusted lumbar support, rear-seat heat ducts, speed control, remote keyless entry and universal garage door opener.

That's a long list, and it gives the Mark VIII an exceptional value quotient.

Inside our roomy LSC, the plush perforated-leather seats were accented in grand fashion by the burled-walnut trim on the door panels and console.

The new instrument panel is highlighted by brighter, more stylized gauges and a multi-function electronic message center that seems to keep tabs on everything but the New York Stock Exchange. In a somewhat amusing display of conspicuous driver-indulgence, the display distinguishes between "Vehicle" settings and "Personality" settings.

The Vehicle settings permit the driver to do things like turn on the traction control and monitor the distance to your next oil change. The Personality system performs functions like locking all doors when the the car passes three mph and tilting the side mirrors to reflect the curbside when the car is shifted into reverse.

When the key is removed from the ignition, the driver's seat eases back two inches while the steering column whirs upward -- allowing for maximum exit clearance (especially handy after consuming that massive slab of prime rib at the country club.)

The leather seats were so cushiony we were tempted to settle in with our favorite novel and a cup of herbal tea. And if you can't get comfortable in one of the many configurations offered by the various power adjustments, you're just too hard to please.

Ride & Drive

On a more functional level, the '97 Mark engine features a new air intake system, which has been relocated further away from the cabin. Those changes, in concert with improvements in body insulation and sealing, combine to significantly reduce engine noise.

Meanwhile, the new coil-on-plug ignition system -- in which each spark plug has its own coil -- helps extend tune-up intervals to 100,000 miles, presuming, of course, normal driving conditions and regular fluid changes.

The 4.6-liter twincam 32-valve InTech V-8 engine sends 280 horsepower to the rear wheels on the standard Mark VIII, and 290 on the LSC. That added up to plenty of launch power in our test car, as well as excellent response at highway-passing speeds.

And make no mistake -- when it comes to handling, cornering and weavy lane-changes, the Mark VIII is light years away from its floaty Town Car cousin. Thanks to its new speed-sensitive variable-assist steering, new all-speed traction control, larger front stabilizer bars and retuned shocks, the LSC proudly lived up to its sport-coupe credentials, as it nimbly and confidently negotiated twisty country roads north of Detroit.

Final Word

In the luxury sport-coupe market -- where the Mark VIII contends primarily with the Cadillac Eldorado and the Lexus SC400 -- designers are always looking for new ways to simultaneously pamper the driver, make an elegant styling statement and boost the car's sport-performance capabilities.

With its myriad changes and improvements for '97 -- the inventive lighting system, message center enhancements, more responsive steering, smoother ride, and further damping of noise and vibration -- the Mark VIII succeeds on all fronts.

Order our 200+ page magazine of reviews. Send $8.00 (S&H included) to New Car Test Drive, 2145 Crooks Rd. Suite 200, Troy, MI 48084

© 1997 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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