Pros: Roomy interior; powerful engine; available all-wheel drive

Cons: Generic styling; plasticky interior

If you can get past Lincoln's confusing insistence on naming every Lincoln model MK something, you can see the MKS as a pretty nice luxury car that falls just short of greatness.

The 2012 Lincoln MKS is the company's flagship sedan, cloaked in the new face of Lincoln and designed to compete with cars such as the Lexus GS, the Cadillac CTS, the Infiniti M and the Audi A6. The Lincoln looks good on paper, but when compared with these other cars in the flesh (or sheetmetal), it becomes apparent that there is something missing.

When viewed from the front, the MKS's huge double-winged grille is unmistakably Lincoln, but from all other angles you'd be hard pressed to discern this car from an Acura or a Hyundai. That's not a good image for any luxury brand, least of all one that was once considered the quintessential American luxury car. And therein lies the rub.

While Cadillac has taken a decidedly BMW-like approach to reinventing itself, Lincoln has chosen to equate technology with luxury. To its credit, the MKS is loaded with the latest innovations, but that same technology quickly trickles down to lesser cars offered at a lower price, leaving many consumers wondering why they should pay so much to get ventilated front seats or a voice-activated information and entertainment system when they can get these same items in a Hyundai or Chrysler product that costs less and may even look better? Luxury is more than just technology; it's design, both inside and out, that delights the senses and excludes lesser cars from comparison. It's what the Audi A6 does so well, and what the Lincoln MKS just can't seem to pull off.

Comfort & Utility

Lincoln loads the MKS with its best seats and most extravagant options. As a result, the MKS is a pleasant place to spend time, with more rear-seat head and leg room than the Audi A6 or Cadillac CTS and almost as much as the Hyundai Equus. For our taste, there is too much dull black plastic on the dash and center console, and the audio and ventilation controls look dated, as do the steering-wheel-mounted buttons. When the refreshed interior of the Ford Fusion looks better than Lincoln's top-of-the-line cruiser, there's something amiss.

We have high praise for the MKS's seat comfort. The two front seats offer heating and cooling as well as a 12-way power adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar support. Rear-seat passengers at the outboard positions have heated seats, rear air vents and a fold-down armrest that doubles as a pass-through for the trunk. When it becomes too hot in the back seat, a power rear sunshade can be deployed to block the sun's rays.

Optional luxury features of note include a dual-pane glass moonroof, dual-zone automatic temperature control, navigation radio with Sirius TravelLink and weather, a THX-certified surround sound system with 16 speakers and a 600-watt amp, a rear-view backup camera and an upgraded leather and wood trim package.

Technology

The 2012 Lincoln MKS has the SYNC information and entertainment system, adaptive front headlights, adaptive cruise control, push-button start, Intelligent AWD, blind spot detection and active park assist.

SYNC is Ford's voice-controlled system that allows for hands-free calling on a Bluetooth-enabled phone as well as the ability to call up music by song or genre from a portable device such as an iPod. When combined with the available navigation system, voice controls can be used to find a destination or locate nearby restaurants or gas stations. With the subscription-based Sirius TravelLink, you can get up-to-the-minute traffic, weather, sports scores, movie times and gasoline prices.

The MKS's adaptive cruise control can help maintain a safe distance between the MKS and traffic ahead, and its collision warning system can alerts you to an impending frontal collision by flashing a red warning light that displays on the windshield. The system also primes the brakes so that when you react, the MKS's stopping power will be at maximum force. Another adaptive feature of note features the front headlamps, which turn in the direction of the vehicle, helping to light corners that would otherwise remain dark.

One of our favorite high-tech features is Lincoln's touchpad locking and unlocking system. Unlike older versions that featured an exposed key pad attached to the door, the MKS's pad uses touch-sensitive keys hidden behind the door, integrated into the black plastic window frame. A swipe of the finger brings the pad to life, and the correct five-digit passcode unlocks the doors.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The 2012 Lincoln MKS offers two engine choices, but the more powerful of the pair is available only with the all-wheel drive version. The standard engine is a 3.7-liter V6, producing 274 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This engine delivers good power but somewhat poor fuel economy of 17mpg city/24 mpg highway. The MKS with this engine and all-wheel drive drops to 16/23 mpg.

The better but more expensive choice is the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, which employs twin turbochargers to deliver an impressive 355 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Despite its V8-like power, the EcoBoost engine returns better fuel economy than the front-wheel-drive MKS with the 3.7-liter engine, although admittedly by only 1 mpg. The EcoBoost engine is rated by the EPA at 17/25 mpg.

Safety

The MKS has a full array of standard safety measures including front and front side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. At the wheels, standard ABS is joined by electronic traction control and electronic stability control. In the event of an accident, the SOS Post Crash Alert System will honk the horn and flash the hazard lights.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2012 Lincoln MKS high marks in all of its crash tests and named it a Top Safety Pick.

Driving Impressions

Compared with the Town Car it replaces, the MKS is a far better driver's car. The ride is still smooth and the cabin devoid of noise, but where the old Town Car would float and wander about the freeway, the MKS stays firmly planted, handling curves with ease and offering the driver a good sense of the road via the variable-rate power steering. The AWD version sticks to the road better than its front-wheel-drive counterpart and is especially desirable with the marvelous EcoBoost V6. Where the standard 3.7-liter V6 provides good acceleration and passing power, it's the turbocharged rush of the EcoBoost that makes the MKS feel like the real deal. The engine's low-end torque isn't quite as strong as with the Hemi-powered Chrysler 300, but you won't find yourself bored with the acceleration, either. And, where mashing the throttle of a big V8 will likely earn you about 15 mpg if you're lucky, the EcoBoost consistently delivers fuel economy in the low to mid 20s, even with the gas pedal regularly pinned to the floor.

Other Cars to Consider

Audi A6 - The A6 is a much more refined and substantial luxury car, and its resale value far exceeds that of the MKS. But its base engine is a turbocharged 4-cylinder versus the MKS's V6, and it can get pricey when you add options.

Cadillac CTS - The CTS is a far better performer, especially in ride and handling. But the CTS's sporty suspension also creates a firmer ride, and its rear seat is not as spacious as the MKS.

Hyundai Equus - A comparably equipped Equus costs about $10,000 more than the MKS, but it offers a V8 engine, more high-end features such as a massaging extendable rear seat and console refrigerator, more interior room and a better warranty.

AutoTrader Recommends

If you are planning to drop $50,000 on a car, we think there are better choices in the luxury-car field. If you have your heart set on the MKS, go with the AWD and EcoBoost version, loaded with every option. However, if you can wait a few more months, we'd advise setting your sights on the 2013 MKS, which is due in showrooms this spring. The 2013 MKS is a vastly improved car with a new front grille and hood, a more sophisticated new dash and more premium features. Do yourself a favor and wait for it.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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