The persistent rumors finally came true in recent weeks. Ford has decided to discontinue the Mercury brand, a nameplate that had been lost in anonymity in recent years, but often thought of as necessary to split the Ford and Lincoln brands with a third choice. With little to distinguish the Mercury models from very similar ones wearing the Ford badge, the company will now begin to phase out Mercury.
With that paring down to two brands and fewer models, Ford will save a bundle of money. It will also be more certain to make sure the remaining models branded as Fords or Lincolns keep distinct identities. Fords will look like Fords and Lincolns will look like Lincolns, unlike the Mercurys of recent years that just seemed to be Fords with different grills and taillights.
On the heels of the pronouncement of Mercury’s death, I coincidentally spent some time in the Lincoln MKT, a large three row crossover SUV that is a mechanical twin to the Ford Flex. But the two vehicles couldn’t be more different in the looks department. The MKT is part of Lincoln’s recent reinvention of its styling, with pretty much all the cars in the line bearing a strong resemblance to each other as well as paying tribute to the brand’s heritage.
The fact that the MKT and the Flex are identical underneath is a good thing, as the Flex has done a great job of providing maximum interior space on a car-derived chassis. Since the Flex’s role was to replace the company’s Freestyle minivan, three rows of useable seats were a must.
Lincoln follows suit with three rows in the MKT, although like the Flex, the very back seats are accessed with a bit more stooping and bending. But for those riding in the front seats or the middle ones, legroom and headroom are both extremely generous. Even with the driver’s bucket seat moved all the way back in its travel, there is still plenty of room behind for a tall passenger to stretch out.
As with the Flex, the MKT is available with two engines. Standard is a 3.7 liter V6 that produces 268 horsepower and is available with front or all wheel drive. I’d highly recommend the upgraded powertrain: Ford’s 355 horsepower EcoBoost V6 that comes with all wheel drive standard. Using a slightly smaller displacement and twin turbochargers, the EcoBoost engine is just the ticket for climbing hills and entering fast moving freeways, especially with a big load on board.
Where the turbocharged engine pays off is in the fuel economy numbers. Even though this is a pretty heavy vehicle at nearly 5000 pounds, the EPA rates it at 16 mpg on the city cycle and 22 on the highway, the exact same figures for the base engine with all wheel drive. My observations during lots of different driving pretty much echoed those numbers.
The other thing I observed during my week with the car was that it gets lots of admiring glances on the road. One evening I was backing out of a space in a parking garage and a guy who had just walked up to his Lexus RX did a double take and then watched me back out and pull away. I’m sure the Lincoln styling department would be happy to know that they’re capturing the eyes of Lexus owners, as Lexus tends to be the envy of the luxury car market.
While the interior form is not as distinct as the silhouette of the body, it’s definitely upscale and functional. Some of the buttons for various features are kind of hard to see at a quick initial glance (and there are a LOT of buttons on the dash and console), but the layout of the instruments is just about perfect. My test car also had the navigation system with a large center screen that’s very easy to use. It also features traffic information as well as a system called Sirius Travel Link. Need to find a gas station or movie theatre? Just ask Travel Link, and it’ll not only guide you to those but show you prices and show times respectively.
Lots of high-tech safety gear too, either standard or optional. Things that’ll make it safer to change lanes, back out of a parking space, or even drive along with the cruise control system keeping you a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of you.
Being a premium luxury vehicle with all kinds of things standard, the MKT isn’t a low-priced car by any means. Base price for the two wheel drive example without the EcoBoost engine is $44,200. All wheel drive will add an extra $1995, and the EcoBoost model starts at $49,200 with all wheel drive included. My test car was nicely optioned (though not completely loaded) and had a total sticker price of $54,590
With Mercury going away, Ford will now be counting on its Lincoln brand to offer distinct, upscale models that are quite different from the ones that wear a Ford logo. The MKT is a great example of how they’re able to do that.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He can also be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. You can reach Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.