Chris Demorro: Where Is My Lincoln Mustang?
Right now, Ford’s lineup is the strongest it has been in decades and perhaps ever. The 2012 Ford Focus is getting a lot of positive reviews, the all-new Explorer is selling strongly and the new F-150 has the highest towing capacity and best fuel efficiency of any full-size pickup. And of course there is the 2011 Mustang GT, with the all-new 5.0 liter V8 engine that makes an impressive 412 horsepower and 390 ft-lbs of torque - the most of any Mustang GT ever.
So Ford looks great. But the Blue Oval’s luxury branch, Lincoln, is languishing from slow sales of tarted-up Fords with higher sticker prices. In fact, Lincoln is suffering from the same problem that Mercury had, which eventually led to the latter being euthanized. That problem is a lack of authentic product offerings that aren’t just rebadged Fords, and if Ford has something in the pipelines for Lincoln, they aren’t letting on what it is that can save the lack-of-luxury brand.
Lincoln’s Recent History in Performance Vehicles
So by now you’re probably asking “What does any of this have to do with the Ford Mustang?” Simply put, Lincoln needs a Mustang. Once upon a time they had one. It was the Lincoln Mark VII of the 80’s and early 90’s, and it was a real performer… for a two-ton barge. The Mark VII handled surprisingly well, thanks to an airbag suspension, and it didn’t lack for horsepower as it had the same 5.0 liter High Output V8 of the Mustang. Most importantly, it sold well, though its successor the Mark VIII was the last in a long line of Mark Roman Numeral vehicles. Then GM came along, and filled the hole left by Ford with the CTS and Chrysler with the 300/Charger. Both are strong sellers even today.
Is the MKS Really a Performance Vehicle?
The only vehicle in Lincoln’s current lineup with any sort of performance underpinnings is the Ecoboost MKS, based on the Taurus SHO. Having driven the 2011 Taurus SHO, I can honestly say that yes, its got get-up-and-go, even in the snowy conditions I was subjected to. But is it really a performance car? I say no, it is not. To improve Lincoln’s image, Ford needs to start offering customers a reason to come into the showroom. Lincoln’s January sales amounted to just 5,558 vehicles. Two models had improved sales over 2010; the Fusion-based MKZ, and the Town Car, which is old, obsolete, soon-to-be-cancelled… and rear-wheel drive. The problem? There’s nothing in a Lincoln showroom that you can’t find in a Ford showroom, for a lot less money.
Ford needs a Cadillac CTS – and don’t talk to me about the Lincoln LS; there’s a reason it wasn’t around for too long. The base CTS starts close to the same price as the MKZ, about $35,000, but is more akin to the $41,000 MKS, plus it has rear-wheel drive. Then you’ve got the V-series of Cadillacs, which adds a 556 horsepower V8 under the hood and just about doubles the MSRP to almost $70,000. The Cadillac CTS-V is a car that people can get excited about, and all that extra performance comes at a premium price, allowing GM to rake in the cash with that vehicle. Even if customers can’t afford the V, just having that rear-wheel drive adds an element of excitement. Meanwhile though, the EcoBoost MKS tops out at less then $60,000, is available only with all-wheel drive, and has over 200 horsepower and torque less than the CTS-V. Is it any wonder that MKS sales were down over 50% compared to a year ago?
Ford has to come up with new, unique products for Lincoln just like GM has for Cadillac. But if the Blue Oval is serious about this whole “One Ford” thing, then the Mustang platform needs to be used outside of Ford. Lincoln needs a shot in the arm, an injection of performance. It needs a car that people can get excited about, and I’ve got a couple of ideas how Ford can achieve that.
But What are the Options?
Four-door Mustang. Please, put away your pitchforks and torches, I’m not talking about a four-door Mustang, but a four-door based on the Mustang platform and branded as a Lincoln. Now, I’m not sure this is even possible based on the current engineering, but it might be. A four-door performance sedan with rear-wheel drive is just what Dr. Excitement ordered. Now you’ve got a bevy of engines to choose from, including the Shelby’s 550 horsepower 5.4 liter aluminum block modular powerplant. Ford had this idea five years ago, with the coupe-like MKR concept, which had a 400 horsepower V6 under the hood, foreshadowing the eventual EcoBoost engines but coupled with rear-wheel drive rather than this fun-killing all-wheel drive. Let me break the tires loose, damnit. Base it on the Mustang, call it a Lincoln, and watch rich bastards flock to your showrooms and throw money at you.
Another option? Import something from Australia. The Ford Falcon is a favorite among the Aussies, and its a four-door, rear-wheel drive sedan based on existing architecture. Ford can cover the price of importation because it is a premium brand and, once the Crown Victoria is put to rest, there won’t be anything like it in the Ford lineup. Call it… I don’t know, the MKA (for Australia, get it?) and shoehorn an EcoBoost or 5.0 engine in there and shabam. You’ve got a CTS-killer and a competitor for the Chrysler 300, too. Both GM and Chrysler understand that Americans still love rear-wheel drive sedans. So why doesn’t Ford?
The easiest way out would be an EcoBoost Mustang and call it the MK IX. Bill Ford Jr. apparently let the cat out of the bag about an EcoBoost Mustang, so this would be a natural transition. Give the Lincoln version less horsepower and more luxury than the Mustang. Make it worthy of carrying mob bosses and expectant mothers alike. Ford kind of did this too, with the Mark X concept. Yet they never follow through, and then wonder why Lincoln is languishing.
It’s all a long shot, of course. An all-new Mustang will be debuting for 2014, the 50th anniversary of America’s pony car, and the Falcon architecture is pretty old and due for replacement. Then again, any of these ideas would bring Lincoln the performance car the brand desperately needs. Wealthy people get just as excited about fast cars as moonshiners and backyard wrenchers, but the only thing keeping Lincoln afloat now is its reputation among Baby Boomers and limousine companies. Plus, wealthy people tend to not give a damn. Ford needs to appeal to a younger generation who won’t confuse the gas and brake pedals. The only way to do that is to give people a reason to stomp on the accelerator rather instead the brake.
As you the readers, what do you want Lincoln to produce as a performance vehicle?