Road Test: 2011 Lincoln MKT AWD takes on cartoon qualities

The La-Z-Boy of the open road, the Lincoln MKT AWD looks like nothing else.

One of the television commercials Lincoln uses to advertise its upmarket MKT model features a pop song called Under the Milky Way Tonight, performed by the not especially well-known Australian artist Sia Furler.

In the advertisement's opening moments, a white metallic MKT can be seen moving across a dark landscape as a full moon, which is partially obscured by gathering storm clouds, attempts to enlighten the gloom. An appropriately moody guitar track fills the sonic void.

A few frames further on, the camera tracks slowly across the car's distinctive "split-wing" front grille, a design treatment that appears to have a touch of Bruce the Shark from Finding Nemo about it - if you are unfamiliar with that particular Pixar character, look him up on YouTube and tell me it ain't so. Meanwhile, Furler belts out the lines: "And it's something quite peculiar ... something shimmering and white."

She's right, of course: the MKT really is something quite peculiar - in white or, for that matter, any other colour. From that frankly scary front end, through to those bulky shoulders and its rather (and there is no more polite way of putting this, I'm afraid) prominent backside, Lincoln's luxury seven-seat crossover looks like almost nothing else on the road.

Unlike its brothers-in-arms - the cheaper MKX and the top-of-the-range Navigator - which are, when it boils down to it, thinly disguised and expensively reupholstered versions of existing Ford SUVs (the Edge and the Expedition respectively), the MKT appears largely unrelated to its own cheaper sibling. It shares a production platform with the Ford Flex, a large crossover vehicle that looks like a Mini Clubman on steroids. The Flex has proved a solid, but not exceptional performer since first appearing in showrooms a couple of years ago. In its home market it lags behind the Chevrolet Traverse and the Toyota Highlander, although it's hardly a ubiquitous sight on our own roads.

There is no denying the MKT's looks are challenging. Indeed, its curves, its front end and especially the rear kink that upsets its otherwise smooth shoulder line, are designed to startle. These aesthetic features also make the "inner space, outer beauty" tagline that appears at the end of that same TV commercial seem, well, more than a little wishful in its thinking.

The inner space part of the equation is true, at least.

Lincoln's design department has lately been talking up a stretched version of the MKT as a long-term successor to its departing Town Car, the current limousine of choice for weary business travellers and overactive partygoers in almost every corner of the globe. It's not for now to debate the merits of that strategy but, even in the standard wheelbase variant on test here, there is more than enough space in each of the MKT's three rows of seats to satisfy even the leggiest of passengers. Lincoln claims 106 centimetres of legroom in the second row of seats and not much less than that in the back.

On the road, the MKT uses a 3.5L twin-turbocharged EcoBoost engine married to a six-speed SelectShift gearbox and all-wheel drive. Strip that jargon away and what you get is an exceptionally responsive engine - the manufacturer says it produces V8 performance from a V6 setup - that delivers better-than-expected fuel economy and lower carbon emissions. Over the course of a 200km test drive across a fairly representative stretch of highways and byways, we used 30L of fuel, some way short of the official combined figure of 12.5L/100km, but a steep improvement on the thirsty Lincolns of old. In short, it's an impressive package.

And while the MKT will always be big, bulky and heavy, it feels surprisingly nimble around town - there's next to no lag from that turbo - it's flat when cornering and steady under braking.

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the onboard gadgets. Lincolns are well known for being big boys' toys, comfortable cruisers chock full of kit - the La-Z-Boy of the open road, if you will, albeit with better handling.

The MKT does not disappoint either, and while its full roster of standard equipment - in-seat DVD players, 10-speaker sound system, blind spot warning system and touchscreen Sat-Nav - is all good but unremarkable stuff, its tour-de-force is something altogether less (and more) pedestrian.

Press a small button on the centre console while you're creeping through a crowded car park on a Friday afternoon, and the car's Active Park Assist system will first help you locate a suitably sized space and then, drum roll please, will go ahead and park the MKT all by itself. Lincoln says you can even do this hands-free. I can't vouch for that, but can report it does perform the function broadly as advertised and is one heck of a party trick.

But it is the sum of the car's parts that is most convincing. Before the marketing boys became sidetracked by space and beauty, Lincoln used to advertise itself as being "what a luxury car should be". The MKT is exactly that, even if it is something quite peculiar.

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