I've talked to one of the guys who did interior design work on the new Lincoln MKT, and between his comments and those in the press, it's obvious Ford has really put a lot of effort into this crossover.
The interior is well-nigh amazing, with cabin accouterments and quality that wouldn't be out of place in one of those fancy private jets the auto execs used to fly around in. The exterior is ... well, I'll just say that if Ford was paying its designers based on the number of different styling cues used, the company got its money's worth.
The split grille at the front, if you squint a bit and look head on, actually reminds me of the old "Screaming Chicken" on those 1970s Pontiac Trans Ams. And the way the rear quarter panels echo the rear wheel arches makes the back end look pasted on. The rear of the vehicle itself also brings back less-than-fond memories of early 1980s Cadillac Sevilles, with their odd "bustle" look.
But saying all that, I don't think the exterior is going to prevent people from buying the new MKT. But the fact that it's a full-size, three-row luxury crossover weighing nearly 5,000 pounds might.
That is, I'm just wondering what kind of market remains for a vehicle like this, no matter how good it is. The MKT is supposed to compete against vehicles like the Audi Q7 and Acura MDX. Now, a whopping 672 Q7s were sold in April. On the other side of the sales spectrum, relatively speaking, the Acura dealers moved 2,337 units of the MDX last month.
The thing that Ford is counting on with the MKT is its optional V-6 EcoBoost engine, which is supposed to deliver the power of a V-8 with the fuel efficiency of a V-6; in this case, 355 hp and highway fuel mileage in the mid 20s. That would be good enough to significantly trump both the MDX and Q7, which only achieve 20 mpg highway. Well, except for the new TDI clean diesel Q7, which is going to do just as well as the MKT.
Now, if all this sounds a bit familiar, it's because I started ringing the alarm bell on the MKT way back in one of my early columns. And since then, the only thing that's happened in the auto industry to make me think better of the MKT's chances is that Chrysler and GM have imploded.
But you know what? That's enough to also make me think the folks at Ford have got some seriously good karma on their side. Ford's relative success, at least compared to GM and Chrysler, has been based just as much on luck as on anything else, starting with the Blue Oval being able to address its cash-flow problems in the pre-meltdown market.
Or have people forgotten how Ford raised some $18 billion at the end of 2006 by mortgaging just about every asset it had? The economic collapse prevented GM and Chrysler from doing the same kind of thing on the open market, and they had to get their money from the government, and, well, you know the rest.
With the MKT, Ford gets lucky again. It may not be the perfect vehicle for today's market, but the lack of competition from GM and Chrysler will likely mean just enough sales to keep Ford moving ahead. Ford's luck will run out sometime, but as long as it happens after its new global vehicles hit the U.S., it probably won't need as much of it to survive.