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2010 Lincoln MKT EcoBoost AWD: Redefining the large luxury sport crossover

Radical styling compliments technological sophistication
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Bold looks, sporty handling and twin-turbo power make the 2010 Lincoln MKT a real contender in the large premium SUV market segment.

Once upon a time in the Golden Age of American automobiles, Cadillac and Lincoln battled it out for the title of King of the Luxury Cars. The premium divisions of General Motor and Ford made large, opulent car with huge engines, soft rides and big price tags. Then came the Arab Oil Embargo of the early 1970s, decimating consumer demand for such land yachts. Cadillac and Lincoln responded with decades of smaller car that did not sell very well, either, in large part because manufacturing quality slipped as well.

The result was an increase in demand for foreign luxury cars, beginning with such German marquees as Mercedes and BMW, and then spreading to the luxury divisions of the major Japanese manufactures, Acura, Infinity and Lexus.

But Cadillac and Lincoln didn't go away. Instead, the two companies learned their lessons over the years, improving quality and introducing new generations of cars that slowly began to chip into the preference for foreign brands. Ironically, the greatest improvements came as the cars began growing larger again, including the introduction of the full-size Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator luxury sport utility vehicles.

Now the two companies are both offering world-class luxury vehicles that compete head-on with the best of the foreign brands. Cadillac is winning praise for its CTS sport sedans, including the CTS-V powered by an only slightly detuned version of the supercharged Corvette engine. A new station wagon version increases carrying capacity while maintaining the refined ride and precise handling characteristics.

Meanwhile, over at Lincoln, engineers are exploiting the capabilities of Ford's recent twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. Designed to offer the fuel economy of a V6 and the performance of a V8, the sophisticated power plant is getting good reviews in the Ford Taurus SHO sedan, seven-passenger Ford Flex crossover and Lincoln MKZ sports sedan. And now the company is offering the engine as an option in the MKT, a six and seven-passenger crossover based on the Flex but featuring sharper styling and a firmer ride. It is also available with all-wheel-drive, a plus for wet weather driving in the Pacific Northwest.

Our test model was a fully-loaded MKT EcoBoost AWD. Equipped this way, it is ready to do battle against such top-of-the-line foreign SUVs as the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, BMW M5, Land Rover LR4 and Lexus GX, all of which feature three rows of seats.

If anything, our MKT was more cutting edge than any of these competitors, beginning with its radical style. Audi has prompted the bold looks of its crossovers in a series of amusing TV ads. But the MKT is even more outrageous than the Q5 and Q7, beginning with the huge twin grill, continuing with the sharply angled fender and flank lines, and ending with a wide rear lift door completely crossed by the tail and back-up lights. While the overall look is controversial among automotive writers, we found it refreshingly distinctive, a sign that Lincoln is not afraid to shale things up.

The brash styling continued into the interior of our test vehicle, which featured a raised center console between both the front and second rows of seats. The console ends at the front seats in the seven-passenger version. Although we could only carry six people, the look and feel of four cockpits impressed our passengers. As usual, the two seats in the third row were best suited for children or contortionists.

Everything about the interior is clean and contemporary. Ours was outfitted in black leather, chrome trim and textured plastic accents. The effect was modernistic and functional. Lincoln deserver special credit for reducing the large and frequently confusion numbers of stereo, climate and navigation controls in most high-end vehicles to a few simple rows of knobs and buttons. The MKT includes every high-tech feature found on similar vehicles, including voice-activated controls, but does not overwhelm the driver with complexity. Luxury features included heated and cooled seats in both the front and second rows.

On the road, the MKT proved itself to be comfortable, sure-footed and plenty fast when needed. Driven gently the EcoBoost engine felt like any number of other modern V6, easily moving the admittedly large vehicle off the line and up to freeway speeds. Step harder on the gas, though, and the twin turbochargers work their magic, almost instantly generating V8-like power. The six-speed automatic kicked down promptly, resulting in exhilarating lunges, ground-closing sprints or white-knuckle top end runs, right on schedule. At the same time, we averaged over 18 miles per gallon during a week of frequently aggressive driving, which is better than several much smaller vehicles we've tested.

With some crossovers, the suspensions and brakes aren't up to the challenges of the engines, making it risky to push them to their limits. But the MKT handled well on twisty roads and through sharp turns. The ride was firm without being harsh, while the four-wheel-disc brakes proved capable of quick stops when freeway traffic suddenly slowed during late August rainstorms.

Cadillac and Lincoln have worked hard to regain their positions as America's top luxury car manufactures. They have taken slightly different routes but are now back on top and giving the foreign manufacturers a run for their money. Aficionados of each brand will argue over which is 'best,' a subjective argument that can never be settled. As evidenced by the MKT, Lincoln may currently have the edge on technologically-advanced, radically-styled crossovers capable of challenging the world. At least for now, there's nothing else quite like it on the market today.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 MKT.

• Manufacturer: Lincoln.

• Class: Full-size crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, front or all-wheel-drive

• Style: Five-door liftback.

• Engine: 3.7-liter V6 (268 hp, 268 ft-lbs); twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 (355hp., 350 ft-lbs.)

• Transmissions: 6-speed automatic with manual mode and steering wheel-mounted shift levers.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 17/23.

• Price: Beginning at around $44,200 ($52,000 as tested).