One of the most "surprising" luxury cars I've driven this year is the 2013 Lincoln MKS.
Even though the car still looks somewhat "American," it drives surprisingly like a European luxury sedan even when compared to some of the more established vehicles like Lexus ES or Acura TL sedans.
A massive improvement on the current MKS, the 2013 edition has more power, it's more fuel efficient, and it has some great new active safety features. Topping the list of improvements is a superb, new active suspension damping system that gives Lincoln's flagship model a delightful new personality.
Called Continuously Controlled Damping (CCD), it monitors suspension settings up to 500 times per second and can make adjustments to the suspension at a rate of 20 times per second. For occupants this translates to a silky smooth, very comfortable ride or a firmer setup with more controlled handling, at the driver's choosing.
The CCD system is also linked to a more encompassing system called Lincoln Drive Control that allows a driver to change the on-road personality of the MKS, by simply moving the shift lever from D (drive) to S (sport).
Handling performance, ride firmness, throttle response, shift feel, steering response and traction control/electronic stability control are all instantly retuned to higher performance parameters.
The standard engine in MKS is a normally aspirated 3.7 litre V6, which can produce 305 horsepower (vs. 274 horsepower for 2012 MKS). A new Active Grille Shutter system opens and closes depending on engine cooling needs.
Closed shutters can reduce aerodynamic drag by up to six per cent, which improves highway fuel economy.
My test MKS came with the EcoBoost 3.5litre, which is a twin-turbo V6 that can produce 365 horsepower. This engine is also paired with all-wheel-drive, yet fuel economy is almost the same as the 3.7 litre. In dry driving conditions the AWD system routes power to the front wheels for best fuel economy.
Other changes compared to 2012 include larger brake components to increase braking power and fade resistance, improving quietness with extra sound absorption in the front wheel wells, around the shock towers, under the hood and in the trunk.
Redesigned exterior rear-view mirrors reduce wind noise.
If you consider parallel parking a difficult or mystical skill, the MKS also has a technology answer, called Active Park Assist (APA). Ultrasonic sensors measure for a suitable parking space (as you drive by) and it can then steer the MKS into the spot selected. The driver controls gear shifting, acceleration and braking and APA takes care of the tricky steering part.
It's not a complete make-over, however, everything from the windshield A-pillar forward is new, including the grille, HID headlamps, front fascia, hood and front fenders. At the rear, the 2013 MKS has a new fascia, LED tail lamps, new exhaust tips and a deck lid design change allows easier access to the trunk.
The Lincoln look is a distinctive statement of elegance and a goal of the MKS designers was to visually lower and widen the front end. A bright surround links the split grille and each headlight into a striking wing-like design that bends and blends into the body shape.
The new interior has a more organic, welcoming feel to it with sweeping styling lines that flow out from the centre stack. In the past, Lincoln interiors have tended to have a colder and more engineered look with straighter design lines.
The new instrument panel has a central speedometer flanked by two reconfigurable LCD screens that perform a welcoming sequence of displays on initial engine start up. Content for each LCD screen is controlled by five-way button setup on the steering wheel.
The steering wheel and all seats are heated. The fronts are 12-way adjustable and also have a cool air venting feature. Leather is by Bridge of Weir, a renowned Scottish company that uses a unique organic tanning method that's environmentally friendly. The seat cushions, head restraints and seat backs are also filled with eco-friendly soy foam.
My test MKS came with optional multi-contour seats that had seven computer-controlled air bladders, plus the ultimate indulgence-a massage feature. The wood trim is genuine Prussian Burl and Brown Swirl Walnut, so no two MKS interiors will have exactly same grain pattern.
In addition to the comprehensive safety package, which includes six airbags, new active safety technologies available include collision, driver, and traffic lane alert systems.
The Collision Warning system uses radar to identify potential obstacles ahead. When a potential collision is detected, the system warns the driver with an audible alarm and a red warning light is projected on the windshield in front of the driver. It also primes the brake system for a quicker action.
The Driver Alert system can detect the driving pattern of a possible drowsy driver. A coffee cup graphic on instrument cluster is the first warning signal followed by chimes, if the driver does not respond.
A driver can also use this system to monitor his or her state of alertness.
A new Lane Keeping System can detect when the MKS is wandering out of a traffic lane. As it approaches the outer boundary of a lane, the system vibrates the steering wheel, to remind the driver to pay more attention. If the driver is using a hands-free device, an additional warning chime also sounds.
The MKS can glide across a road surface with a cushioned feel that's uncanny for a vehicle its size. Stranger still is when the associated soft suspension wallow-effect in a corner doesn't materialize and MKS stays remarkable stable through a turn.
The reaction speed of the new CCD system is so fast it can prevent a wheel from dropping fully into a deep pothole and it uses that same information to prepare the following rear wheel. It also interacts with other systems to figure out what the vehicle is doing and what the driver wants it to do.
The refined driving experience moves to a whole new dimension when you drop the shift lever into the S-mode. The steering and suspension stiffens, the tachometer suddenly jumps a thousand rpm as the transmission gears down for action.
You're also more likely to notice Lincoln's new Torque Vectoring Control (TVC) system.
Working through the all-wheel-drive system, TVC helps the MKS drive through corners with more balance and poise by selectively applying brakes a wheel in order to send more drive power to another wheel. It's a great driver aid to have during a Canadian winter.
There are two sides to the innocent looking 2013 Lincoln MKS, one lets you relax and act like a lazy-boy, and the other . a bad boy!