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Lincoln fights to regain its mojo with MKS, MKT

Improvements to the interior, exterior, engine and standard safety options put these lower-priced Lincolns near the top of their class.

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Lincoln really wants our attention. It wants us to recognize the brand as a markedly separate entity from parent Ford ? as a techno-luxury automaker that stands on its own and not just a purveyor of gussied up Blue Oval products to an aging demographic.

It?s a tough image to shake. Coming later this year is the all-new MKZ mid-size sedan, which should go a long way toward rejuvenating the brand?s mojo.

In the meantime, a couple of Lincolns that sit on the lower rungs of the marque?s sales ladder see a comprehensive mid-cycle refresh for the 2013 model year. In showrooms now are the 2013 MKT seven-seat crossover and 2013 MKS full-size sedan, starting at $50,550 and $47,700 respectfully. You?ll spot them by their redesigned (less garish) grills, incorporating finer strakes.

2013 Lincoln MKT

I was surprised to learn the Oakville-built, all-wheel-drive MKT crossover holds the dubious distinction of being the slowest-selling Lincoln. Surprised, because I consider this sizable hauler to be one of the better crossovers on the market.

Sharing the Ford Flex platform, it?s quiet, refined and handles well. Okay, so it looks a bit weird, but if you?re into art deco and old sci-fi movies (guilty as charged), then its adventurous styling will intrigue.

The new model rides on 20-inch wheels and comes standard with the punchy 3.5 L, EcoBoost twin-turbo, direct-injection V6 that makes 365 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of torque.

Last year?s naturally aspirated 3.7 L base V6 is no longer on the menu, and the MKT is the better for it. It?s better value, too ? last year?s optional EcoBoost model cost $2,800 more than the new model.

Also new is an adaptive damper system (continuously controlled damping) and Lincoln Drive Control, with driver-selectable modes ? sport, normal or comfort ? that alter the suspension, steering, engine responsiveness, and the thresholds of active safety systems.

On the road, the MKT feels surprisingly light on its feet. The EcoBoost gives it wings, and although body control is improved, the ride remains compliant. The six-speed auto also responds sharply to commands from the paddle shifters, adding a degree of unexpected fun.

The car also gets bigger and stronger brakes.

New safety systems available for 2013 include lane departure warning and aid (the electric steering will nudge you back in line if the audible warning and steering wheel vibrations go unheeded), blind spot warning, cross traffic alert, driver alert and inflatable seatbelts for the outside rear passengers.

The spacious interior benefits from a standard panoramic sunroof, a redesigned dash and gauge cluster, and an improved MyLincoln Touch, with simpler screen designs and bolder fonts. The system is still a bit slow and obtuse, however, and those hit-and-miss swipe controls for audio volume and fan speed below the screen should be banished forever. Form over function defined.

Niggles aside, Lincoln has improved the MKT in almost every measurable way, and with that robust EcoBoost under the hood, the three-row, seven-seater shows its art-deco derriere to the competition.

2013 Lincoln MKS

Built on the Ford Taurus platform, the MKS has plied the conservative full-size luxury sedan waters for a few years. Excitement is a word you would never associate with this car, and is likely a word most prospective buyers don?t want to know about. So let?s say Lincoln has engineered more ?involvement? into the 2013 model.

Like the MKT crossover, the sedan is available only with all-wheel-drive and gets Lincoln?s new adaptive damper system, Lincoln Drive Control (just normal and sport modes), greatly improved braking and the more restrained grill treatment.

The standard engine is a 305 hp, Ti-VCT 3.7 L V6, but for those in a hurry to get to the links, the 365 hp, 3.5 L EcoBoost is a $4,500 upgrade.

Speaking of links, the massive trunk now has a wider opening, so tossing in the clubs will be easier. The new passive and active safety systems introduced on the MKT are also found here.

On the road, the Lane Keeping Aid does indeed nudge you back in line if you wander from your lane above 65 km/h without signalling but, strangely, the tactile warning through the steering wheel was late in arriving.

Torque Vectoring Control, which brakes an inside wheel to help in cornering is also new.

Nineteen-inch wheels are standard, which may contribute to a ride that was busier than expected over less than perfect surfaces.

The interior is all new, from the door panels to the dash, and the sense of quality is palpable. Supple Bridge of Weir leather, fine detailing, heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel and great THX sound make for a rich cabin experience. Back-seat room is generous.

We had a chance to compare the new model with the 2012 MKS on a closed handling course, and the 2013 is in another dynamic dimension, especially in braking performance. That said; no one at BMW will be losing any sleep.

The MKT?s major North American rival is the new 2013 Cadillac XTS (starting at $48,995), and the two are remarkably similar in layout and dimension.

The Lincoln wins out with its standard all-wheel-drive and higher base content level, whereas Caddy?s slick CUE interface is more user friendly than MyLincoln Touch.

2013 Lincoln MKS

PRICE: $47,770

ENGINE: Ti-VCT 3.7 L V6; optional 3.5 L EcoBoost V6

POWER/TORQUE: 305 hp, 280 lb.-ft.; 365 hp, 350 lb.-ft.

FUEL ECONOMY L/100 km: 11.6 city, 7.5 hwy; 2.2 city, 7.8 hwy

COMPETITION: Cadillac XTS, Infiniti M37, Lexus GS, Acura TL, Buick Lacrosse

WHAT?S BEST: value, standard all-wheel-drive, interior appointments.

WHAT?S WORST: volume and fan swipe controls, MyLincoln Touch requires patience.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: SYNC functionality now includes Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities.

2013 Lincoln MKT

PRICE: $50,550

ENGINE: 3.5 twin-turbo EcoBoost V6

POWER/TORQUE: 365 hp, 350 lb.-ft.

FUEL ECONOMY L/100 km: 13.1 city, 8.8 hwy

COMPETITION: Acura MDX, Lexus RX350, Buick Enclave, Mazda CX-9, Infiniti JX

WHAT?S BEST: EcoBoost engine, refined driving experience, second-row room.

WHAT?S WORST: third-row headroom, polarizing styling.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: built only in Oakville.

  • Lincoln fights to regain its mojo with MKS, MKT
  • Lincoln fights to regain its mojo with MKS, MKT
  • Lincoln fights to regain its mojo with MKS, MKT

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