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2011 Lincoln MKS: World-class luxury and performance

EcoBoost V6 maximizes power and economy
by: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company Distinctive grill and sweeping lines characterize the 2011 Lincoln MKS.

When Cadillac and Lincoln woke up and decided to take on the world around 10 years ago, they followed two separate approaches.

Cadillac, General Motor's luxury brand, created the CTS, a radically-styled mid-size sedan. First introduced in 2003, the most powerful CTS-V version is now equipped with a supercharged 556-horsepower 6.2-liter V8.

Lincoln, Ford's luxury division, started out in 2000 with the more conservative looking mid-size LS sedan. It offered the company's first available modern manual transmission, a German-make Gertag five-speed.

Then in 2009, Lincoln introduced the full-size MKS sedan. Although not as eye-popping as the CTS, it can now be bought with a more sophisticated engine, a twin-turbocharged 355-horsepower 3.5-liter V6.

Both cars live up to their promises of competing against the best from Europe and Japan, including the offerings from Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes. They are solid, well-made vehicles that provide smooth, comfortable rides that pamper their occupants with luxury appointments and the latest technologies, including advanced navigation and entertainment systems.

The most powerful versions are stunningly fast but feel completely different. The CTS-V is basically a four-door Corvette with enough torque (551 foot-pounds) to easily smoke the tires and slam the riders back in their seats.

The turbocharged V6 in the MKS also has a lot of torque - 350 foot-pounds - but it builds as speed increases, creating the feeling of ever-growing and unstoppable momentum. Originally introduced as a fuel-efficient alternative to conventional V8 engines, Ford's EcoBoost V6 has won more praise from automotive writers for the smooth and immediate delivery of its power.

On the road, our fully-loaded test MKS proved to be a remarkably well-balanced vehicle. Although much smaller then Lincoln land yachts of the 1960s and 1970s, it was a still a large car by today's standards. But it was easy to maneuver through city traffic and parallel park, aided by the rear view camera that provided a panoramic view of everything behind it.

The ride is firm by big American car standards but not jarring. Our test car was equipped with all-wheel-drive, which gave us added confidence driving through heavy, early Spring rains. The grip on fast corners was also impressive, especially considering the Lincoln's heft.

The MKS is based on the current version of the Ford Taurus, which was also introduced in 2009. Although the Taurus is also available with the EcoBoost V6 and all-wheel-drive, our test car felt more substantial than the big Ford sedan, probably because of different suspension settings and additional sound insulation that all but eliminates outside noise.

Like the Taurus, the MKS is a sleek but understated four-door, except for the large grill that characterizes all Lincolns these days. It definitely draws less attention then the CTS, making it a good sleeper for those hoping to avoid speeding tickets. The MKS has a much large front air dam than the Taurus, along with different taillights and trunk-mounted spoiler.

As should be expected, the interior of the MKS is much classier than that of the Taurus. Everything in our test car was leather wrapped, much like a Jaguar. The trim is machined aluminum, a welcome change from the fake wood grain that once characterized American luxury cars. The gauges looked like they were designed by jewelers, while the entertainment and climate controls included a mix of easy to fund knobs for the major functions and push buttons from the smaller ones. The wide center console includes a storage compartment that doubles as a well-placed arm rest for the driver.

Compared to most sedans these days, the Taurus/MKS is quite tall, something that becomes apparent when parked next to its competitors at shopping centers. The design adds to the interior headroom, meaning that even tall passengers fit easily into the back seats - something that cannot be said of all large cars these days.

The leather heated and cooled front seats were surprisingly firm but somehow did not get uncomfortable on long trips. They could have used more bolstering, however, especially considering how easy the MKS is to drive fast.

Not that long ago, recommending a Lincoln as an alternative to a fine European road car would have been laughable. The MKS is no joke, however.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2011 MKS

• Manufacturer: Lincoln.

• Class: Fullsize sedan.

• Layout: Front engine, rear- and all-wheel-drive (as tested).

• Style: Four-door car.

• Engines: 3.7-liter V6 (273); Twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 (355 hp - as tested).

• Transmissions: 6-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 17/25 (as tested).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $44,000 ($56,000 as tested).