In 1902, a man named Henry Leland built a car which he named after the founder of Detroit – Cadillac. Cars of the day were mostly cobbled together from whatever parts were available, individually adjusted to fit. But Leland, trained as a gunsmith, insisted on interchangeable parts, machined to several thousandths of an inch, and he changed the automotive world with a car that could be easily mass-produced and repaired using off-the-shelf parts. Leland sold the company to General Motors, and for 1921, introduced another prestigious car which he named for the first president he’d voted for: Lincoln. The great rivalry started with a single parent – proof that truth is stranger than fiction. I suspect that if he were around today and behind the wheel of the Lincoln LS, he’d be pleased. Redesigned for 2003, this “Baby Lincoln” receives several improvements for 2004, including improved transmission performance, suspension tweaks to reduce noise and vibration, and several standard features added to all LS models, including memory functions and perforated heated/cooled seats.
Lincoln LS comes in two engine sizes – a 232-hp, 3.0-litre V6, and a 280-hp, 3.9-litre V8 – and in four packages: V6 Luxury at $43,750, V6 Sport at $48,710, V8 Sport at $51,710, and V8 Ultimate at $57,105. The LSE appearance package, added to V8 Sport, is a late-year addition and will include chrome wheels, and model-unique fascia, interior wood trim, floor mats, grille, rocker panels, spoiler and fog lamps. All models come with such things as automatic headlights; power heated mirrors with puddle lights and auto-dimming on the driver’s side; dual-zone climate control; two-driver memory function for the driver’s seat, power pedals, wheel and exterior mirrors; and express up and down on the front windows.
My V8 had its option list bumped by a $3,700 navigation/6 CD audio system – the way the screen slowly flips up to accept each music disc is worth the price of admission alone – and a “safety/parking package”, at $1,105, which adds side airbag curtains and a backup system that beeps to warn of objects behind the car. I was equally glad of that one; after going to all the trouble of installing a driveway marker, I promptly forgot about it and almost backed the Lincoln into it, and was saved at the last minute by a warning chime. But it’s the “Drive” gear that concerns us here, and when you put LS into it, you’re in for a treat. Acceleration, controlled by electronic “drive-by-wire”, is rapid and smooth, with a delicious exhaust rumble. All but V6 Luxury have “SelectShift” on the across-the-board 5-speed automatic transmission; V6 Luxury lacks this silly extra feature, which allows you to manually shift gears sequentially. If you’re like most people, you play with it for a week and then just leave it in “Drive” once the novelty wears off.
Under it all, LS features independent front and rear suspension with gas-charged coil-over shocks and tubular stabilizer bars. The speed-sensitive, variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering is razor-sharp, and it all comes quickly to a halt with four-wheel vented disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution. I put my tester’s AdvanceTrac electronic stability control to the test, on a fast, hard right turn off a paved road onto gravel. Without the system, I might have been dialing for help from the far ditch. Instead, the system took over instantly, impressively keeping the car on target.
Up front, LS is roomy and comfortable, with long-distance-driving, supportive seats. Controls are set into a handsome, Art Deco-styled cluster, and to its credit, Lincoln gives you simple toggle switches and button controls for the climate control, without the unforgivable sin of forcing you to scroll through a computer screen to adjust the temperature. All controls are backlit, as all controls should be on every car. The heat and cool functions on the front seats have three settings, and the memory seats are dead-simple to set and use. I was surprised, however, to find that the passenger side mirror doesn’t tip down for easy parking when the car is put into reverse, as those of many rivals do. Of course this isn’t Town Car, and rear-seat passengers have tighter quarters. The trunk is a luggage-friendly 118cm, opening to 188cm once the 60/40 rear seats are folded.
As nice as LS is, I found some quality issues. An annoying creak in the driver’s door over bumps might have just needed adjustment. But flashing on the plastic window surround needs to be addressed at the factory level. Luxury car buyers aren’t as forgiving as the economy crowd; if it’s going to woo them away from German and Japanese marques, Lincoln has to realize that the devil is in the details. Both engine sizes have a 91 octane recommendation; in combined driving, my LS returned 11.0L/100km. Warranty is 4 years/80,000km with Roadside Assistance and no-charge scheduled maintenance. Lincoln has long been regarded as an older driver’s marque; but the appeal of this smaller, sportier baby Lincoln goes across the board. In a mall parking lot, I watched as two women in their mid-20s checked it out and remarked that they’d like to own one. No doubt Henry Leland would be proud.