Why did Lincoln’s first three-row crossover get such a bum rap? It had all the latest tech, a high-quality interior and an available twin-turbocharged V6 engine, all wrapped in… Ah, there’s the problem.
There have been uglier cars but, unfortunately for Lincoln, they weren’t in the three-row luxury crossover segment. Lincoln did the equivalent of putting on coral lipstick and aqua eye shadow and showing up to an elegant cocktail party. It had the refined bearing necessary to rub elbows with such company, even if its roots were blue-collar Ford, but its garish appearance did it no favors. MKT sales were always disappointingly low and now it’s finally been retired.
In telling you arguably the key reason the MKT failed in the first two paragraphs, it seems like there’s little left to say. It wasn’t helped either by a third row considerably more cramped than the related Ford Flex, plus a lack of continual updates. Let’s look, however, at what made the MKT an otherwise eminently capable crossover.
Where the MKT impressed was in its interior quality, as well as dynamics that were praised by critics. The MKT, like the Flex, used the D4 platform derived from Ford’s D3 platform, in turn an evolution of Volvo’s P2 architecture that dated back to the first-generation Volvo S80. Though the dynamics of the D3-based Lincoln MKS sedan were never particularly well-regarded, that car was up against a raft of sharp, athletic German sedans. The MKT may have added an extra 500 pounds in curb weight but the stakes were lower in the full-size crossover segment where even its German rivals couldn’t hide their bulk. Critics praised the MKT for feeling poised, comfortable and controlled.
Ford’s new EcoBoost 3.5 earned plaudits. The MKT, when equipped, was faster than some V8-powered rivals – it hit 60mph in around 6 seconds – yet provided superior fuel economy (16/22 mpg, later downrated to 15/21 mpg). It was even more fuel efficient than some naturally-aspirated V6 rivals, quite good for a turbo V6 that produced 355 hp and 350 ft-lbs albeit one shared with top-spec examples of the Flex. The standard Duratec 3.7 was exclusive to the MKT, however, and produced 268 hp and 267 ft-lbs. Both engines were mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, while all MKTs used electric power steering.
The EcoBoost was available exclusively with all-wheel-drive but the 3.7 offered a choice of front- or all-wheel-drive. Though the EcoBoost models didn’t add any more features over the standard 3.7, the extra $5000 was arguably still worth the outlay as the more powerful engine drank no more fuel than the AWD 3.7 and only an extra mile per gallon in the city and on the highway vis-à-vis the FWD 3.7.
Inside, there was plenty of Ford switchgear but the overall design was completely different from the Flex. With plenty of soft-touch plastics and stitching details, the MKT was considerably more elegant than the lesser Ford. Standard was a second-row, three-seat bench but a pair of power folding and tumbling bucket seats were optional. Like many rivals’ second-row seats, these were heated but, more unusually, they were also cooled. When second-row buckets were selected, the center console stretched all the way back to the second row. This extended console could also be equipped with a refrigerated compartment which, again, was a feature available on the Flex.
The MKT offered an impressive array of options, from an automated parking system to adaptive cruise control. More impressive were the standard features, which included a panoramic glass roof, 10-speaker THX-II-certified surround sound system, 12-way heated and cooled front seats, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated second-row seats, a power liftgate, and power-adjustable pedals. On many German rivals, a lot of these were bundled into expensive option packages. Lincoln was making the value play at the time, offering plenty of standard equipment at a price that undercut similarly sized and powered import rivals.
Right out of the gate, the MKT and its Ford Flex cousin ended up selling less than Ford had anticipated. Lincoln’s hopes were dimmed of taking a sizeable share of the full-size luxury crossover market but it had a second opportunity: the livery market.
Lincoln had dominated the town car market with, ahem, the Town Car. The discontinuation of the Panther platform in 2011 left Ford without a vehicle in the livery car segment and dubious offerings in the police and taxi markets. Lincoln first tipped their hand in 2010, revealing the MKT would serve as the Town Car’s replacement and then debuting the MKT Town Car at the 2011 International Limousine, Charter and Tour Show. Though a markedly different shape to the outgoing Town Car sedan, the MKT arguably made more sense as a livery car than the MKS, that sedan – like its Ford Taurus platform-mate – being somewhat deficient in packaging with an interior that was smaller than its huge exterior dimensions would suggest.
MKT Town Cars ditched the third row of the regular MKT. This allowed Lincoln to push the reclining second row bench 1.5 inches back. Also available was a rear seat amenities package which included a switch to allow rear-seat passengers to move the front passenger seat, as well as other niceties like a USB charging port and illuminated second-row vanity mirrors.
In addition to the Town Car, Lincoln also made stretch limousine and hearse versions of the MKT available. The limo used heavier duty suspension components and brakes, came only in all-wheel-drive, and could be stretched an additional 10 feet.
Though sales were underwhelming, the MKT and Flex were both treated to refreshes for 2013. The MKT was released simultaneously with the refreshed MKS full-size sedan and both had similarly wide, vertically-ribbed grilles. Inside, the center stack now used touch-capacitive controls, something which immediately drew the ire of critics and wasn’t universally appreciated by buyers. It’s telling that Lincoln, like Cadillac, started to move away from the new-fangled controls after just a few years.
The MKT also gained a new powertrain for 2013, albeit only in Town Car livery models and only with front-wheel-drive. A 2.0 turbocharged four-cylinder producing 235 hp and 260 lb-ft, the new special order engine provided livery buyers with superior fuel economy – 20/28 mpg (23 combined), compared to 17/24/19 mpg for the FWD 3.7. For 2013, the EcoBoost 3.5 also gained another 10 horses.
The 2013 refresh cleaned up the front-end and classed up the interior but it failed to turn around the MKT’s sagging sales. After this point, Ford stopped investing in it. Thereafter, the only changes were detail ones – Ford’s new Sync 3 system for 2016, a new, MKC-style horizontally-ribbed grille for 2017, the adoption of Premiere and Reserve trim names for 2018, and the axing of the front-wheel-drive, 3.7 variant for 2019. With the introduction of the three-row Aviator, the MKT has ended production. One wonders where Lincoln will direct livery buyers now.
The MKT had perhaps one other flaw, and it was more so a positive attribute of the Flex. Though the MKT was differentiated from the Flex with radically different interior and exteriorstyling, a bigger base engine and the 2013 addition of Lincoln Drive Control, the Flex could still be equipped with all the luxury mod-cons available in the MKT. That included multiple sunroofs, in-console refrigerators, ventilated front seats, and the like. As plenty of Californians will tell you, the Flex was also much more desirable than the MKT, even if its interior was more low-rent.
With the MKS and MKT, Ford finally invested in giving Lincolns radically different interior and exterior styling. While the MKS had built-in appeal being another large, comfort-oriented sedan with a Lincoln badge, the MKT was new territory for the brand. To lure buyers away from import luxury brands, Lincoln really had to nail the MKT. It managed to be well-built, nicely-appointed, loaded with all the features expected of a car in its class, relatively fuel-efficient, powerful (with the EcoBoost) and dynamically competent.
But that wrapper…
Photographed in Midtown Manhattan in September 2018.