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2010 Lincoln MKT: towing with EcoBoost

Consumer Reports News: August 23, 2010 10:36 AM

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I really didn't care much for our 2010 Lincoln MKT. First off, there's a lot of styling going on, particularly the massive cow-catcher/dicer/slicer chrome-rimmed grille. More practically, I have a hard time getting comfortable in the narrow driving position, and vision out back or over-the-shoulder to merge is depressingly blocked. Our MKT also has a hyperactive collision warning system that begs to be turned off.

My apathy toward the MKT was only furthered by the appearance of our Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost in our test fleet. Built on the same platform as the MKT, the Flex is dramatically more practical. While the MKT has one of the worst third-row seats in the business, two adults fit nicely in back of the Flex. The Flex's boxy body -- which I find attractive (but my wife hates) -- has a lot more cargo room than the tumblehome greenhouse of the Lincoln. It's also a lot easier to see out of the Flex. Finally, our well-equipped Flex costs thousands of dollars less than the $56,555 Lincoln. (I wish the Flex had the Lincoln's blind-spot monitoring system, though.)

With a weekend trip coming up, I wanted to use our Flex to tow my 20-foot-long 1977 Argosy Minuet trailer. (Argosys are essentially painted Airstreams.) My loaded trailer weighs well under the 4,500-lb. towing capacity of the Flex with its Class III tow package.

Ford brags of EcoBoost's towing prowess in a press release: "With the EcoBoost V-6 making a full 350 ft-lbs of torque by 1,500 rpm and having a flat torque curve past 5,000 rpm, the EcoBoost V-6 will have improved towing characteristics versus a naturally-aspirated V-8, approaching diesel towing performance." (That said, V8 and diesel-equipped tow vehicles typically have much higher towing capacities than the Flex.) Beyond that, the 2010 and later Flex has trailer sway control. That system uses the stability control to quell trailer sway once it begins.

But our Flex was scheduled to be in the Yonkers office, so getting it for the weekend was a no-go. Then I remembered: Our MKT has the same EcoBoost engine as well as a Class III trailer tow package, giving it the same 4,500-lb. towing capacity. It, too, has trailer sway control. And it was in our parking lot here at the track. Dire times like this required drastic measures. Why, hello, Mr. MKT...

Setting up the MKT to tow was pretty easy. The trailer tow package includes vehicle pre-wiring for the trailer's lights and brake controller. We had to get a $16 pigtail from the dealer to hook up my Prodigy brake controller -- a piece of wiring most vehicle manufacturers throw in with their tow package. (The brake controller manufacturer also makes a Ford-specific cable that plugs directly into the controller; we had to make some connections to the brake controller harness, but it was no big deal.)
How did it all work? Stunningly well. The 355-hp, 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engine pulls hard, even with a trailer. When we towed our 3,500-lb. test trailer on our track, it went from 0-60 mph in an amazingly quick 11.6 seconds. More importantly, out on the open road, merging and pulling up hills was a snap. I could even pass while going uphill on long highway grades.  While I drive slower when towing, the reserve power is a stress-reducing luxury.

You do pay to play though: fuel economy while highway towing was 12 mpg. In our tests, unladen, we recorded 18 mpg overall. (I got the same fuel economy towing with a less-powerful Acura MDX.)

The towing goodness went beyond sheer power. The combination of the MKT's self-leveling suspension and properly set-up weight distribution kept everything on an even keel. The MKT isn't a spry handler, but it is more responsive than most truck-based tow vehicles. Between the set-up and a friction-sway-controller on the hitch, I had no sway issues at all, so the trailer sway control never activated. The MKT is also peacefully quiet inside and the cooled seats are mighty nice on a 90-degree day.

Another plus: while the standard backup camera adds safety when reversing sans trailer, it also makes solo trailer hitching a snap. Line up the black line in the middle of the screen with the hitch, watch as the ball goes into place, and you're all set. I managed to back into place perfectly without getting out.

So, while my gripes about the MKT certainly haven't disappeared, I have some new-found respect for the big Lincoln. Judging by the odometer, some of my colleagues seem to agree. Since purchase and publication timing kept the Lincoln in our fleet longer than most test vehicles, it's been pressed into service for several long business and vacation road trips, racking up over 14,000 miles. The plush, quiet cabin and roomy second-row seat are big assets there. (Too bad some dashboard pieces are becoming loose, with some loose center-stack panels and bubbling A-pillar trim.)

Meanwhile, I'm still angling to get my hands (and hitch) on that Flex...

Tom Mutchler

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