Lincoln LS: Ford's Flagship Is Back in Fighting Form

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Lincoln LS: Ford's Flagship Is Back in Fighting Form

Look out Lexus and BMW because Lincoln is back in fighting form. After losing its way in the '90s and sacrificing huge market share points to the Europeans and Japanese, Lincoln has introduced the LS (Luxury Sport), re-establishing itself as the torchbearer of American luxury.

With an 80-year history, Lincoln is one of the most recognized and enduring brands in the business but during the last couple of decades, this flagship of the Ford lineup lost touch with younger customers and came to symbolize American excess: the cars had grown to the size of river barges and were powered by big, lazy, fuel-guzzling V-8s.

The LS will help Lincoln win back the younger, well-heeled customers it was losing to Lexus, BMW, Saab and Mercedes-Benz. Ford's revitalization of the Lincoln brand dates to the mid-'90s, when it acquired Jaguar, the prestigious British brand. As a result, the LS is a mechanical twin of the new Jaguar S-Type, sharing a common suspension, engine and drivetrain. Key dimensions such as wheelbase are also identical, revealing just how closely these two cars are related.

Thanks to its European pedigree, the LS is much more athletic both in style and in substance. The body lines are quite pleasing, not brash but disciplined and exuding a confident, understated elegance befitting a luxury automobile. But the most pleasant surprise is to be found behind the wheel.

Instrumentation and controls have been honed to perfection. The LS comes with a long list of standard equipment including leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, power heated mirrors and a power tilt-and- telescoping steering wheel that adjusts to just about any body size.

The LS's JBL sound system deserves special mention. Cranked up to maximum output, it rates among the best factory-installed systems I've ever heard. Audio and cruise-control buttons are mounted on the steering wheel while front bucket seats come with eight-way power adjustments for the driver and six-way power for the passenger. For my money, Ford has best lumbar support system in the business. And if you're carrying excess baggage, the rear seats have a 60/40-split folddown feature. All in all, it's a roomy and comfortable cabin.

In the dynamics department, handling is taut and precise with little to no body roll. Compared to the barge-like handling of earlier Lincolns, the LS puts the driver in close rapport with the road. Superior road manners are made possible by the 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution and choice of suspension design. Engineers also opted for a fully independent four-wheel suspension, a costlier route. Rounding a curve, the rear wheel-driven LS feels exquisitely well balanced, promoting better control and confidence.

Under the hood, the LS comes with Ford's 3.0-liter Duratec V-6. Equipped with dual overhead cams and 24 valves, it has been tweaked to produce 210 horsepower. Given the car's 1,665-kilogram weight, the LS cruises and passes easily enough at highway speeds but it's not a jackrabbit at the traffic light. Regrettably, Korean customers aren't offered the optional 3.9-liter Jaguar V-8, which cranks out 252 hp.

Due to the limited size of the Korean market for the LS, Ford Korea has streamlined its offerings so Korean customers cannot go for the LS Sports Package. Costing just over $1,000 in the United States, it's a great value, bringing such extras as the SelectShift (an automatic with the option for clutchless manual style shifting), firmer shock damping, heavier anti-roll bars, harder brake pads, an engine oil cooler, reduced boost for the variable-ratio, variable-assist rack-and-pinion power steering and larger P235/50VR-17 tires versus the standard 16-inch ones.

There are a couple of other shortcomings. One would expect that at this price, Ford would make available its AdvanceTrac, a sophisticated stability control system that many luxury car makers offer as standard equipment. Secondly, if the LS aspires to the title of a sports sedan, then a manual gearbox option should be available. Saab, BMW and Mercedes-Benz offer their customers the choice and Ford's Korean customers deserve no less.

Minor quibbling aside, the LS hits the bullseye as an enjoyable, wonderfully crafted car that recaptures the spirit of American luxury and provides an interesting alternative to the standard offerings from Japan and Germany that have been ruling the passing lane.

Price as tested: 57.5 million won ($48,000).

Next Week: Hyundai Santa Fe Diesel

by Oles Gadacz

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