CULPEPER, Va. -- Our quest for wiggly pavement leads us to Blue Ridge ripples of Virginia, where Etlan Road skirts the border of Shenandoah National Park on a snaky strip of endless esses.
To run this route at a quick clip without losing tire traction or control of the wheel requires a vehicle which responds precisely to instantaneous commands from accelerator, brake and steering wheel, plus a suspension setup that checks overt body roll to keep all that mechanical mass balanced atop the four rubber footprints.
What we use to romp down this Blue Ridge back road happens to be a new flagship sedan for the Lincoln line which incorporates a powerful V6 engine plus tightly-tuned suspension and steering systems in the package of a mid-size model but the cabin of a big car with high-riding seats for five and a load of luxury gear.
Lincoln's new car looks elegant and classy in a bold design for the body which focuses on vertical louver panels of a double-wing grille that's a modern homage to the classic 1941 Continental.
The prow of MKS adds horizontal louvers in the fascia to underscore the double-wing grille with piercing optics of projector-type HID (high-intensity discharge) headlamps wrapping around front corners.
MKS's package shape features a windshield with steep rake and the rear window also with an aggressive slope plus side windows tipping inward to the roof.
Flanks show slight bulges for fenders around large wheels with a subtle character line etched into the leading edge of each front fender and drawn rearward in a gradual rise to the tail deck.
And a high beltline pitched parallel to the character line gains a trim strip of polished stainless steel which rings the cabin windows.
On the tail, there are large red LED (light-emitting diode) lamps streaked by vertical white light strips.
And protruding from the base of a thick rear fascia are chrome caps of dual exhaust pipes.
MKS scores in the power department with a new twin-cam 3.7-liter aluminum V6 engine with VVT (variable valve timing) that links to a six-speed electronic automatic SelectShift transaxle with standard front-wheel-drive (FWD) or optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
When using regular (87 octane) unleaded gasoline, the V6 produces 273 hp at 6250 rpm and torque of 270 lb-ft at 4250 rpm.
With premium (91 octane) fuel, the engine bumps up to 275 hp at 6250 rpm with torque to 276 lb-ft at 4250 rpm.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the V6 come in at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway for MKS FWD and 16/23 mpg city/highway for MKS AWD.
The AWD device for MKS is a sophisticated electronically controlled system developed by Haldex of Sweden. It's always engaged and automatically splits the engine's torque between front and rear wheels -- up to 100 percent in either direction -- to keep tires rolling on pavement.
The point of the AWD hardware is to maintain forward momentum and keep the vehicle operating in a safe mode.
MKS measures up for the mid-size class as a four-door sedan with a generous passenger compartment that's large enough to carry five adult riders in luxurious comfort.
Essentially, the cabin for MKS was designed around the body sizes of intended occupants, with more than adequate room crafted for long legs and broad shoulders.
It's this attention to personal space that makes the car feel like a larger vehicle than the linear dimensions categorize it, and this perceived spaciousness means you don't mind spending time strapped inside the cabin.
Hand-wrapped premium leather hides cover all seats in the MKS and trimwork consists of hardwoods and polished metal.
The cabin layout pitches a pair of bucket seats up front divided by a multi-function console and followed by a rear bench for three with seatback split 60/40 in sections.
In front a dual-stack dashboard runs from door to door capped in double-stitched leatherette with a strip of wood and chrome separating top and bottom sections.
The instrument panel houses round analog gauges ringed by thin beads of chrome.
Twin front bucket seats with firm side bolsters adjust 12 ways through power controls and contain internal mechanisms for heating and cooling.
Rear seats also get internal heat elements.
The spec sheet for MKS lists lots of active and passive safety equipment.
Passive devices include smart dual-stage frontal air bags for front riders, plus seat-mounted side air bags up front and curtain-style side air bags front and rear.
Active safety systems range from four-wheel disc brakes tied to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and traction control system (TCS) with Ford's AdvanceTrac electronic anti-skid device.
The new suspension system for MKS is completely independent. In front there are MacPherson struts with rear-facing L-shaped lower control arms and isolation via a sub-frame. In the rear a multi-link design has stamped steel lower control arms and cast upper control arms with vertically mounted shocks positioned at the outboard end of the suspension arms.
Stock wheels are cast aluminum at 18 inches but there are options for 19-inch and 20-inch aluminum rollers.
* Intelligent Access with Push Button Start -- the driver totes a keyless fob, taps a touch pad on the door pillar to enter, then cranks the engine from a push-button starter.
* Adaptive Cruise Control -- a radar-based system capable of maintaining a precise distance between the MKS's front bumper and the back bumper of a vehicle ahead.
* Adaptive Headlamps -- swivel lamps keep lights shining on the vehicle's forward path.
* Rearview Camera -- for keeping an eye on the vehicle's rearward path.
* Lincoln Sync -- voice-activated control over in-car phones, media players and USB storage devices.
Price points for the 2009 MKS begin at $37,665.