Special Coverage

Greater LA Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln luxury brand takes the next big step in its comeback effort, unveiling the new ’09 MKS flagship sedan at the L.A. auto show here.

Scheduled to hit showrooms next summer, the new sedan is powered by a 3.7L V-6 engine derived from Ford’s 3.5L V-6 mill, named one of Ward’s 10 Best Engines for 2007. The upgraded engine produces 270 hp and 256 lb. ft. (347 Nm) of torque.

Launching a Lincoln flagship sedan without an optional V-8 is not a concern, Derrick Kuzak, group vice president-global product development, tells Ward’s.

“The performance is certainly well within the competitive class, and the fuel economy will be more than competitive,” Kuzak says, adding there is a demand for so-called “guilt-free luxury” that offers both performance and environmental friendliness.

Less than a year after its launch, the MKS will be the first vehicle to offer Ford’s new gasoline turbo direct-injection engine technology.

“Within a year, we’ll have a premium engine that will absolutely help set the vehicle apart, both in terms of its performance and fuel efficiency,” Kuzak says.

Ford officials are mum on what the upcoming engine will be called, but it is widely believed to be the first generation of the auto maker’s planned line of TwinForce powerplants, which Ford says will offer V8-like performance from a turbocharged V-6.

At launch, the Lincoln’s 3.7L engine will be mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that allows the driver to manually select gears.

Based on a modified version of the Volvo XC90 cross/utility vehicle platform, the MKS will have available all-wheel-drive that can distribute 100% of torque between the front and rear wheels.

The AWD system will be coupled with Ford’s AdvanceTrac stability control system, which will provide additional stability by transferring torque from side to side, the auto maker says.

In another nod to environmental stewardship, the Lincoln MKS will come standard with Ford’s capless fueling door – previously found only on the Ford GT supercar. It reduces the amount of hydrocarbons emissions that evaporate into the atmosphere, the auto maker says.

The MKS will be the first-ever Lincoln to feature keyless entry and push-button start, a staple on most luxury offerings.

Other technologies offered on the MKS are a next-generation keypad on the B-pillar; adaptive cruise control, which allows the driver to set the car’s speed and maintain that speed without using the accelerator; rain-sensing wipers; forward sensing system; rearview camera system; and Sync, Ford’s voice-activated multi-media system.

Peter Horbury, executive director of design-The Americas, turned to Lincolns of the past to develop the MKS’ exterior, borrowing design cues from various models.

One such element is the double-wing grille – inspired by the bow of a ship and derived from the ’41 Lincoln Continental.

Inside, designers used topnotch materials to create a cabin that Ford refers to as a “business-class” experience.

Ford says the MKS’ symmetrical instrument panel has fewer break lines than other luxury vehicles, giving it a seamless look.

Leg, head and shoulder room are in abundance, as the MKS boasts the largest rear cabin in its class, the auto maker says.

Leather used for the MKS is from Bridge of Weir Leather, the same company that provided hides for the Ford Model T and the Lincoln Continental Mark II.

Ford also made sure the MKS’ interior was as environmentally friendly as possible, with leather that was colored with vegetable dyes and created with a chromium-free tanning process.

The MKS’ target customer is male, approximately 48 years old with an annual income of $125,000 or more and has children in high school or college, says Mike Richards, Lincoln Mercury general marketing manager.

“Attitudinally, the (target customer) will be someone who selects luxury not because of what it says about them, but how it fits their personal taste,” he says.

Richards says up to 60% of those who purchase the MKS are expected to be new to the Lincoln brand.

“We’re playing to win with MKS, especially in California, where more luxury vehicles are sold than anywhere else,” he notes.

Ford says it now is taking orders for the Lincoln MKS, which will start below $38,000.

bpope@wardsauto.com