Today I will turn my attention to Lincoln. How good does it look for Ford’s premium brand? What are they selling? Read on to find out what the main UK-based websites** aren’t telling you.
Lincoln’s range of vehicles has changed dramatically in the last decade. For nearly the entirety of its history the brand sold luxury cars in varying flavours of large. Not all of these have been particularly well-regarded but Lincoln has also managed to avoid overt product disasters. It has no equivalent to the Cadillac Cimarron, for example.
Lincoln’s high points involve the Continental limousine of 1961 and 2002 but thereafter it stagnated gently as a provider of non-Cadillac, non-Mercedes luxury cars to an older clientele. Unlike Cadillac, Lincoln has made no notable efforts to sell their cars in Europe. As such, while many who are somewhat interested in cars have seen the occasional Cadillac in Europe, the Lincoln nameplate is unknown outside the livery trade where a white stretched Lincoln Town Car vies with Cadillac, Hummer and Rolls for business. If your impressions of Lincoln are lodged circa 1963 in Dallas it might be time to find out how the brand looks today.
If you soar like an eagle over the product landscape of Lincoln, idly gliding in the convection currents arising from the marketing activities far below, you espy a few main features. The old Lincoln of large saloons and decades-old nameplates cannot easily be seen. Simultaneously the Lincoln Navigator is a sign of the new wave – it is a huge SUV based on the Ford Expedition – and it has a recognisable nameplate.
The rest of the range consists of vehicle from the new order: SUVs, crossovers and all of them have meaningless MK-prefixed names. The “MK” part is uninformative as it tells you nothing that is not conveyed in the Lincoln name. The last letter is the one that distinguishes the car and there seems to be nothing to tell you a “C” is a smaller cross over based on a Ford Kuga, or that a Z is a saloon or an S is another saloon. Is an S bigger or smaller than a Z?
Only the Navigator has a memorable nameplate. The debate on alphanumeric names rages and I won’t carry it on except to say that BMW’s names mean something: model and engine size. The “MK” part of the Lincoln name is adding nothing helpful.
The following sequence is based on the way the models are presented at Lincoln’s homepage.
Lincoln MKC introduced in 2014, related to the Ford Escape and Ford Kuga. The C seats five and gets a claimed 29 mpg. It has front-wheel and all-wheel drive options. The base engine is a 2.0 used on the FWD and 4WD models. For a 2.3 litre unit Customers must nominally pay $33,000 to but slow sales means the car is quite heavily discounted. Before Ford retired the Mercury badge this would have been a Mercury. It has no V6 and frankly isn’t expensive enough to be a Lincoln.
Lincoln MKZ: introduced in 2013. If you want a saloon, here is the Z, for $35,190. Twenty-three miles pass under its wheels for each gallon consumed, say Lincoln. If you want something more distinguished than a 2.0 litre four, Lincoln have a 3.7 V6 available with either front- or all-wheel drive.
Lincoln MKX, introduced in 2006 and is being replaced late this year. This is Lincoln’s mid-range SUV, a rebadged Ford Edge and very much an old-stager. Lincoln dealers put a $38,000 sticker in the window to signal their price expectations. According to the official statistics, the X will consume one gallon every 26 miles. Lincoln describes the car as “stunning, sophisticated and athletic” and embodies the “elegantly updated Lincoln”. Only one engine, a 3.5 litre V6 can be had for this car. The fuel tank holds 19 gallons.
Lincoln MKT (“Politely progressive”): introduced for sale in 2010. Resembling a space-age hearse, the T stands for Touring and it is a five seater. The car shares componentry with the Ford Flex and Ford Explorer, Lincoln MKS and Ford Taurus. This puts it into the cross-over territory though its shape hints at an estate car more than SUV. Lincoln would nominally like €43,000 on the table before customers can begin to think about driving the car off the lot though the actual price will depend on whatever large discounts Lincoln offer to get rid of the things.
It says a lot about the changes to Lincoln’s range that this car is supposed to do the same job as the old Town Car. It is a practical and usefully shaped vehicle but lacks the gravitas of the deceased and formal Town Car. I would imagine many Town Car customers are shopping for Cadillac or Mercedes instead of the T which has too many shades of the soccer-mother scene.
Lincoln MKS: introduced in 2008 as a 2009 car. “$38,20,” asks Lincoln for price of entry. Lincoln presents this as their top saloon (not much of a claim, admittedly). That makes it oddly underpriced compared to the MKT thus upsetting the expected hierarchy of a saloon as the summit of the range. It feels as if the MKS been around since the dying days of the Bush regime and indeed it has. Lincoln showed it as a concept car in 2007 and then delivered them to showrooms the following year. It’s now 2015 so that’s seven long years of familiarity. The engines are a 3.5 litre Ecoboost V6 and a 3.7 litre Cyclone V6. Front-wheel and all-wheel drive are offered.
Finally, the real top-dog, a veritable St Bernard, in Lincoln’s range, the Navigator. This is an SUV based on the Ford Expedition platform and represents pure profit as it doesn’t differ in any important way from the basic Expedition but costs $61,000 compared to the Expedition’s base price of $44,585. It had a single engine, the 5.4 litre V8 Triton, which was replaced in 2015 with a 3.5 litre V6.
The first Navigator appeared in 1997 and ran until 2002. The next version sold from 2003 to 2006. The current car has been on sale since 2007. What makes the Navigator in any way special is the possibility of customisation, the Lincoln Black Label programme which allows the selection of special order colours and materials. It is this marketing concept which is the forerunner for Ford’s Vignale series, to be made available on European Ford’s in the near future.
Two saloons, a huge SUV, two soft-roaders and a kind of hearse/MPV. That’s Lincoln today.
The over-riding impression I get from looking from a distance at this range of vehicles is that the lower rungs of the Lincoln ladder are doing the work Mercury used to and suffer from the same problems. They are too similar to Ford products. That would be the C and the Z vehicles (can you remember which those were?).
Ford has lost a buffer between its workaday brand and Lincoln, a buffer once vaguely provided by Mercury. These days it is clear that every Lincoln is some kind of a Ford. The Navigator, at the very top of the tree is a clear-cut example of this badge-engineering. Lincoln here is not too far from being a thicker and heavier set of make-up but not different in principle from the job Ghia did for Ford of Europe.
None of these products is the essence of Lincoln. The S saloon is priced pretty much in the same sort of territory as Mercury and lacks the imposing formality of the Continental and Town Car. Lincoln is Ford’s Lancia. For the situation to reverse, the brand needs a car which represents an unadulterated version of Lincoln values and which has nothing obvious shared in any meaningful sense with any other FoMoCo product.
From that they could then begin to trade on the name a little more comfortably. Further blurring the Ford/Lincoln distinction is the use of the same engines. Finally, the range of engines is not convincing. BMW and Mercedes offer far more choice of engines in their equivalents of the S and Z saloons.
While these cars might be pleasant enough in isolation, they are not very convincing seen in comparison to their supposed peers. A poorly defined marque identity is another long-term problem. It might be that Lincoln needs a stand-alone model which might lose money but could make the other warmed-over, retrimmed Fords they sell look more prestigious by association. Lincoln: file under “Lancia”.
**Why not? Because they assume that you are in the UK and are therefore not interested in reading about American cars.