The next chapter of our story begins in February of 2017. The X5 was long gone, and soon, so would be the Golf SportWagen. Thanks to Dieselgate, Volkswagen had made a generous settlement offer that would allow me to crawl out from under my negative-equity situation scot-free.
How did I end up with a Lincoln?
Well, I started off at–of all places–the BMW dealer. A lightly-used 2016 428i Coupe in black was calling my name. Austin, my best friend, accompanied me to check it out, but I ended up deciding against it. I had just taken a new web development position in Moore, Oklahoma, which was fairly far from my house and meant 45 minutes slogging through metro rush hour traffic both coming and going. It wasn’t the time to put miles on a low-slung sports coupe. (I had no idea that I would, exactly two years later to the day, almost buy a 4 Series coupe again from the same BMW dealer and in that same color, only this time a 435i M Sport xDrive.)
Austin remarked that I should set my sights a bit lower, on something less complicated, less expensive, and…well, less Germanic than a Bimmer. We wound up at the joint Ford/Lincoln dealer around the corner, owned by the same dealer group as the BMW store. Lincoln, Austin knew, was the purveyor of decent premium cars for not a lot of coin, least of all because they typically shared their lot space with Ford stores. There’s only so much you can charge for a luxury car when the person three desks down is signing the papers on a base-model Fiesta.
We perused the used lot (never buy a Lincoln new; their residuals are horrible), until Austin zeroed in on a big shiny MKS. “There, how about that one?” The sticker on the window indicated it was a 2014 model with just under 30,000 miles. And my eyes got wide.
Thing is, I actually thought the MKS was really cool when it first came out. I was in high school, then. Its first true appearance was a 2006 concept car by the same name. But it was one of those concept cars that you can tell is really meant to preview something already green-lit and finalized. That’s why the 2009 production model looked essentially like the concept, just with the impractical bits shaved off.
And it was certainly a new direction for Lincoln. It utilized the same FWD D3 platform as the Five Hundred and Montego–which later became the Taurus and Sable, respectively–but wrapped it in sleek sheet metal that looked vaguely foreign, sort of a mix between BMW and Jaguar. Sorta. If you squinted, or had cataracts. Either way, it wasn’t nearly as stodgy and antediluvian as the Town Car, but it wasn’t an obvious rebadge of a Ford product, like the MKZ/Zephyr. It boasted new technologies like a fully-integrated touchscreen infotainment system, keyless access and start, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking. It was the first application of Ford’s hidden keypad system, which hid behind the smooth B-pillar trim until you needed it, and then it came to life. And Lincoln’s starship-inspired ads certainly made an impression on 16-year-old me, especially the one with the cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
The MKS initially debuted with a 3.7-liter Duratec V6, an enlarged version of the 3.5-liter they’d been using on other products. It mustered up some 275 horsepower and 276 pound-feet, and drove the front or all four wheels through a 6-speed automatic. 2010 models got a revised instrument cluster with three dials instead of two, and were the first products to receive one of Ford’s now-ubiquitous “EcoBoost” engines as an option. Rather than offer a V8, Ford’s solution was a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6 with 355 hp and 350 lb-ft. Thankfully, EcoBoost models came with standard AWD, because the torque-steer would have been insane if all that power were sent to the front.
The twin-turbo, coupled with a new dark-effect Appearance Package, gave the MKS the looks and guts to run with V8-powered sport sedans of the day. Lincoln wanted it new sedan mentioned in the same conversations as midsize RWD luxury cars, including the BMW 550i, Cadillac STS V8, and Infiniti M45x. That said, the MKS was larger than those; it measured 204.1 inches long, and was therefore about the same length as the contemporary BMW 750Li and Mercedes-Benz S550. But the price was the big draw: at $37,000 and change to start, the Lincoln was about the same price as a Lexus ES 350 or a decently-equipped Buick Lucerne.
However, the MKS was also…a little bit ungainly compared to other premium cars, where proportions were concerned. We saw it before with the Five Hundred and Montego, but that Ford D3 platform was engineered to have a very tall H point, which made for some seriously tall sedans. A FWD MKS stood about six inches taller than a RWD 5 Series, to say nothing of the AWD model. And the beltline that gradually grew higher as you approached the back gave it a strange stance, like a dog with its butt in the air. It didn’t just look heavy, either. It was heavy. Base models were something like 4,200 lbs dry. Oh, and then there was all that front overhang.
In 2013, the MKS got its mid-cycle refresh, and it was an extensive one. The entire front fascia was re-done with a larger (and, in my opinion, less-successful) implementation of Lincoln’s split-wing grille. At the back, there were new full-LED taillights, and a redesigned trunk lid that addressed customers’ complaints about the load height being too tall. The license plate area had been relegated to the bumper. Lincoln massaged both engines for more power, and the base 3.7 now made 304 hp and 279 lb-ft, while the twin-turbo unit went up to 365 hp and kept the same 350 lb-ft. There was a new steering rack with a quicker ratio, and a meatier set of front brakes. And, Lincoln went ahead and added a standard magnetic suspension system with three handling presets: Comfort, Normal, and Sport.
But the biggest changes were inside, where the entirety of the dashboard was redone in better materials and with a modern design. The MyLincoln Touch infotainment system was standard, supported by several capacitive touch controls on the center stack. The MKS remained mostly unchanged from that point on. However, you can identify the final-year 2016 models by a unique trunk design with L I N C O L N spelled out across it, and their use of the modern SYNC3 infotainment system. The Continental succeeded the MKS for the 2017 year.
So, back to the Lincoln lot. I decided an MKS would be cool, at least to test drive, and so we summoned one of the salesmen so that we could go on a test drive. I recall it being a very comfortable and quiet test drive, both on the city streets and on the highway. The black metallic exterior and cream-colored interior were snazzy, too, especially the carpets that were brown and not black. It still smelled new, too. Somehow, Austin and I found both the massage buttons for the front seats–which made use of a series of air bladders in pattern–and the rear sunshade button during the test drive. When it was over, the salesman gave me his business card, and we went on our way.
I used that evening, a Saturday, to look the car up on the dealer’s website. It was a one-owner vehicle that came from the Midwest. Despite being a 2014, this particular MKS hadn’t been purchased and registered until mid-2015, so that in effect it had 2.5 years’ worth of the factory warranty left. It was the base 3.7-liter/FWD powertrain, but was well-equipped. It had the Elite Package, which included the rear sunshades, massaging seats, navigation, blind-spot monitoring, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch wheels, heated and cooled seats, and some other niceties that I don’t remember. But, I also noticed that it was in the certified-pre-owned (CPO) section of their website, and had the “Lincoln CPO Program” icons on the page, which meant an even longer warranty and some service perks. And the asking price? Because it had been there since December of the previous year and was getting ready to age out, they wanted just $22,900, or about what you’d pay for a nicely-equipped Civic. Score.
I called the Lincoln store the following Monday and learned that the salesman I’d talked to no longer worked there (a fact I confirmed when I looked him up on LinkedIn and saw that he’d jumped to Infiniti). That should have been an omen. Because the experience after that got markedly worse. The Lincoln dealership didn’t want to give me the time of day unless I financed with them, and for some reason, they didn’t think I’d be able to do that.
I asked them to come down on the price a bit more, and offered them $21,900. They said that it’d had $900 worth of reconditioning costs that were built into their price. I then noticed that it had the original tires on it and asked what could have possibly cost $900 to fix on such a low-mileage car. I asked them to send me the list of the reconditioned items, because maybe I didn’t want it if it needed that much extensive work. Obviously, that was a lie because they never sent me said list.
There was some more back and forth over the work week, including missed calls, and finally I called them up, got a hold of a salesman, and said, “I’m on the phone with my credit union now. It’s 4:45 on a Friday. They close for the weekend in 15 minutes. Either you send a buyer’s order with the $21,900 price within that time, or I’ll look elsewhere.”
Three minutes later, I walked out of the credit union with a bank draft in my hand, and an hour later, I was driving to dinner to meet Austin, Jonathan, and Big Momma. In some warped way, I think that them treating me like street trash is precisely why I bought the car. To prove that I could.
I showed them, huh?
When I recounted the trouble I’d had with the dealership over dinner, Austin said, “I didn’t expect you to actually buy that. I was just trying to get you to look at something simpler than a BMW.”
I miiiight have responded with a few expletives.
But I did like the MKS. It was cushy in a way that neither the X5 nor the Golf SportWagen were, and it got a lot of compliments. Despite being the humblest car I’d bought so far in terms of origin, it was big, flashy, and had lots of features. Some of my coworkers were particularly impressed when we took it to lunch the following Monday, and wondered aloud what my salary was (“Not as much as it should be,” was my dry response).
Further trouble came when Austin asked me about my CPO papers. He’d bought one or two CPO Lincoln products over the years and wanted to see if their warranty had changed. “Oh, they didn’t give you CPO papers? You might want to call and get those.”
So I did. Except…the dealership said the car wasn’t CPO. I asked why, if it wasn’t CPO, it had “CPO” all over the still-showing ads on their website, as well as AutoTrader and Cars.com. They had a ready-made story when they called me back. The sales manager quickly explained that the dealer group had just bought the Ford/Lincoln store from a different local group (this was true) and that, since this was their first Lincoln store, they weren’t allowed to certify Lincoln cars yet, until they went through an approval process.
Frankly, the entire story was probably true. But I didn’t like their flippant attitude about the whole thing and the final remark that, “You should have confirmed it was certified with us.” I also don’t like feeling helpless and screwed-over, and I did buy the car thinking it was a CPO model. So I decided to make a video screencast, showing the dealer’s own site and all of the third-party sites where my Lincoln was listed as certified. And I posted it on YouTube and shared a link on Facebook. Then I emailed Ford Motor Company and complained, to see if they wanted to do anything. They weren’t too interested, citing that they “didn’t get involved in dealer/customer disputes,” until I disclosed the existence of my public-facing video. At that point, Ford corporate must have persuaded the dealership to make it right, because I received a call that afternoon with an offer to tack on some combination of Ford Extended Service Plan (ESP) warranties that were just about equivalent to the Lincoln CPO program in terms of coverage.
I got to know the Lincoln pretty well with my long commute and all the driving I somehow managed to do. Despite its heft and the fact that it had the base engine, it got out of its own way, but it still really only felt at home on a straight road, where it was smooth and unobtrusive. Ask it to do something like, uh, change lanes or turn around a corner, and it protested with lots of understeer and body roll. And you never did quite know where the wheels were, especially when parking. I subsequently drove an F-250 Crew Cab and found it to be easier to park and maneuver at low speeds. These qualities earned my MKS the nickname “Couch on Wheels”, or “Cow” for short. What it also did not do was get very good fuel economy. 20 miles per gallon was my unshakeable average, and since the fuel tank also wasn’t very large, I spent quite a bit of time at the gas station.
It did have some useful and nice features. I liked the keypad, because it meant I could lock my keys in the car when going to the gym, instead of putting them in the communal key bowl at the front desk or carrying them with me the whole time. The massaging seats, while gimmicky, did a great job of keeping tension off of any part of the body while driving on long trips, such as the time I went to Houston. It was my first car with remote-start, which was equally convenient. And the color-changing ambient lights were a neat party trick. Mechanically, unlike my European cars, nothing worried me about it. That is, except the water pump, which would need changing somewhere past 100,000 miles. The longitude-mounted Duratec engines that Ford put in its RWD-based models (like the Mustang and F-150) had external water pumps. But the transverse-mounted versions for FWD-based vehicles, like my MKS, had internal water pumps. If it leaks or goes wrong, it can let coolant pool inside the engine, which isn’t at all healthy. Moreover, such placement makes it much harder to change the pump when the time comes.
It was also a nice conveyance for my grandmother, who I supported at the time. When she wasn’t up to driving, which was a lot of the time, the Lincoln’s tall step-in height made easy ingress and egress for her when I took her places, and her wheelchair and/or walker fit nicely in the trunk without me having to do much work. And she liked the sound system. Indeed, people in my grandmother’s condition and age group are exactly the sorts of people who bought these MKSs.
One consistent grievance, however, was MyLincoln Touch. It was quite clear just how half-baked and poorly thought it was. The buttons were too small, it lagged, and some features that should have been in it were instead buried in the instrument cluster menu. What’s more, it looked exactly like MyFord Touch on the Ford-branded vehicles, eroding at Lincoln’s luxury proposition. Why buy this, I’m sure some customers thought, when the Taurus we just test-drove has the same thing and costs $10K less? And the capacitative buttons, which were not in the Ford products, didn’t help.
In early July of 2017, the MKS got its first bruise. A rather big one. I arrived home from work, stopped in the driveway, opened the garage and got out to check the mail, leaving the MKS’s driver door open. The problem was…I didn’t put it in park. It wasn’t until I got back toward the car that I heard it begin to chime. Then it miraculously crested the rest of the up-hill driveway, scraped its open door on the garage door frame, and slid into the garage—where it collided with the corner of a wall-mounted full-height cabinet. “WHAM!” When I surveyed the damage, I found some paint scrapes in the door and a deep crease on the bumper. But the house was in worse shape; the big heavy car knocked the interior door (that led into the laundry area) right out of its frame and shook some of the drywall loose on the inside of the house.
For some reason, I decided not to get the MKS fixed. It actually wasn’t that noticeable.
A week later, at night, I hit a dog that ran across the highway and straight into my path. Unfortunately, the poor thing didn’t make it, and it wasn’t wearing a collar, so there was no owner to notify. This collision broke my fog light and some of the mesh in the lower bumper grille. I didn’t get that fixed, either. I did sort of make amends by adopting my current dog, Honey, that September, and I took her home in the MKS.
The MKS was a solid car for the remainder of the time I owned it. Still, I was starting to get annoyed with the gas mileage, short range, and general heft of the car…and I was figuring if and with what I would want to replace it, when the decision was made for me. My employer adopted a remote-work policy for certain days, and I was making use of it that day; I think it was December 8, 2017. But I and one of the account executives had a meeting with a client downtown, so I had to pull the MKS out of the garage and drive there. It was sunny that afternoon, but quite cold. For some reason, as I drove out of my housing edition and down the road, the MKS’s HVAC controls weren’t working at all. I had remote-started it and it should have been quite warm.
I took my eyes off the road to jab at the unresponsive touch screen and then at the unresponsive capacitative-touch HVAC controls below it. To no avail. When I looked up again, I found myself careening at speed toward a line of stopped cars in the right-most lane, the last of which was a white early Buick Enclave. I stomped on the brakes to scrub some speed and tried to swerve around it into the vacant left lane, but there wasn’t enough time. What I did have time to do was brace for the inevitable impact. The driver-side airbag burst out and flew toward my face as the right-front corner of my MKS hit the left-rear of the Enclave. Taken by surprise, the Enclave driver took her foot off of the brake and rear-ended an (and this is ironic) HVAC-repair truck at low speed.
And…that was that. Fortunately, no one was hurt. I myself escaped injury aside from a small burn on my right hand from the airbag. My insurance company, for of course I was at fault, picked up the tab for the other vehicles and declared mine totaled, in short order. I was given a rental car, which coincidentally was another black Lincoln (a 2016 MKX, aka Fancy Edge).
As it was the holidays and I had planned to travel, I decided to make good use of the insurance rental and not worry about a replacement car until after the new year, which you’ll hear about next time.
The 2014 Lincoln MKS served its purpose reasonably well, and was a good steed. I don’t regret purchasing it. Is it a car I would buy again? Probably not. What it taught me is that fancy gadgets and gizmos are one thing, but I care a lot about the way a car handles. Land barges, especially land barges that aren’t particularly roomy for their massive footprints, just aren’t my favorite things. It also wasn’t much of a success for Lincoln. It went unloved by the public and the press, and generally did little other than retain the types of blue-haired customers that Lincoln had been serving all that time.
Anyway, stay tuned…