Buyers looking for a memorable and luxurious new crossover sport utility vehicle that can seat up to seven people won't have to look beyond the 2010 Lincoln MKT.
This new, 17.3-foot-long, five-door Lincoln grabs attention with its big, grinning grille, boat tail-styled back end and somewhat hearse-like side appearance.
Bottom line: They love the look or hate it, but either way, the MKT makes a memorable impression.
With a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $44,995 for a front-wheel drive model with base 268-horsepower, naturally aspirated V-6, the MKT is a late entrant in the premium crossover segment.
The 2010 Audi Q7 has a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $47,725 for a base model with 280-horsepower V-6 and standard all-wheel drive.
The 2010 Volvo XC90 starts at $38,550 with 235-horsepower six-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, while the 2010 Acura MDX has a starting retail price of $41,800 for a 300-horsepower, V-6 model with standard all-wheel drive.
The lowest-priced MKT with all-wheel drive starts at $46,990.
The MKT is based on the platform of the Ford Flex, which is a boxy crossover SUV that debuted in calendar 2008 and now has a starting retail price of $29,325.
But all the sheet metal outside is new on the MKT as Lincoln designers seek to establish a modern, striking image for Ford's long-running luxury brand.
The interior is all Lincoln, too, and establishes a nearly opulent environment.
Standard premium leather-trimmed seats tend more toward cushioned than firm and supportive, and the rest of the standard equipment list is extensive even on the base MKT, which was the test vehicle.
There were heated and cooled front seats with 12-way, power adjustments, Sirius satellite radio, three-zone climate control, push- button start, pretty ambient lighting, adaptive high-intensity discharge headlights, power liftgate, heated outside mirrors and four power points.
Even a reverse sensing system is standard on the MKT, which is smart because it's difficult to see what's behind the vehicle while it's backing up.
Electronic stability control and side and curtain air bags are standard, too.
Best of all, the interior is roomy, especially in the first- and second-row seats. All have more than 41 inches of legroom.
Headroom is commendable, too, in the first two rows. But it shrinks to just 33.5 inches in the third row.
Even at 5-feet-4, I couldn't sit back there comfortably. The top of my head was jammed into the ceiling unless I turned my neck to one side.
No matter where passengers sit in the MKT, the ride is refined and smooth. Passengers felt only mild vibrations over rough roads during the test drive, and long highway cruises were comfortable and fatigue-free.
The interior was quiet. I didn't hear much of the traffic around me, including the diesel semis in the next lane.
I didn't hear much from the 3.7-liter, double overhead cam, Duratec V-6, either. It supplied good power but nothing sporty or racy, as peak torque of 267 foot-pounds came on by 4,250 rpm.
Mated to a six-speed automatic, engine power was delivered smoothly and moved the MKT adequately.
But there was always a palpable sense of the large size of this SUV and how hefty it is, at more than 4,600 pounds.
Still, there's no V-8 offered for the MKT.
Instead, Lincoln officials are promoting the MKTs uplevel engine _ a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 that's turbocharged and has new, direct injection technology to deliver a V-8-like 355 horses and 350 foot-pounds of torque starting at a low 1,500 rpm.
An MKT with the EcoBoost engine is pricier, however, at $49,995.
Even without the newer engine, the test MKT delivered noteworthy fuel mileage. In mostly highway travel, I managed 20.8 miles per gallon, and with city travel added in, I still averaged 19.1 mpg. This, plus its 18.6-gallon gasoline tank, helps account for the more than 350-mile driving range of the MKT.
I appreciated that the rear tailgate went up and down with the push of a button.
But the boat-tail design was problematic after a rain, because I had to wait until all the water dripped off the tailgate before I could put things in the cargo area. The design didn't seem to include channels for the water to drop over by the sides, away from people accessing the cargo area.
The brakes in the test MKT worked well. But the brake pedal didn't have a firm feel. It felt a bit mushy and didn't inspire confidence that the stopping power was going to be adequate.
I liked how the rocker panels were integrated into the doors and helped minimize door sill size, thus making it easier to get in and out of the vehicle.
An attractive glass roof is standard on the MKT. But it's a fixed roof unless a buyer pays for an optional version that can be opened like a moon roof. On the test MKT, this was part of the $4,000 Rapid spec package that included voice-activated navigation system and blind spot monitor.
Another intriguing option is a refrigerated console between two seats in the second row. Its priced at $895.
The second and third rows of seats can be folded flat for generous cargo space of 75.9 cubic feet. Even behind the third row, there's a commendable 17.9 cubic feet.