The Lincoln LS is proof that Ford Motor Co. wants to exorcise Lincoln's image as a maker of luxo-boats for retirees.
Lincoln bills its new car, which goes on sale June 1, as a luxury sport sedan, combining European performance with American styling and comfort.
The LS is built on the same platform as the Jaguar S-Type. With rear-wheel drive, independent suspension and optional manual transmission, the LS should appeal to driving enthusiasts.
At a starting price of $31,450 including a $535 destination charge, the LS is aimed at buyers 30 to 50 years old. By contrast, the typical Lincoln owner is 66 years old. The LS will be directed at well-educated, married buyers with household incomes of at least $100,000.
Lincoln says the LS is beamed at the heart of the luxury market. In 1998, sport sedans accounted for 40 percent of all luxury car sales, up from 26 percent in 1994.
'The Lincoln LS enters the fastest-growing portion of the luxury segment, so we know how critical it is to offer a car with outstanding driving dynamics, superb American comfort and outstanding value,' says Jim Rogers, vice president of marketing for Lincoln Mercury.
For starters, the LS is the first Lincoln to offer an optional manual gearbox since the 1951 Cosmopolitan.
Buyers can choose a five-speed Getrag manual gearbox, a conventional automatic transmission or SelectShift, Ford's first 'manumatic' transmission. SelectShift enables motorists to switch back and forth between automatic and manual modes.
The LS is equipped with a 3.9-liter V-8 engine or a 3.0-liter V-6. The V-8 is a multivalve aluminum engine with double overhead camshafts. The V-6 is a modified version of Ford's Duratec engine that has been adapted for rear-wheel drive.
Ford expects 70 percent of buyers to choose a V-8 with automatic transmission; 25 percent are expected to buy a V-6 automatic, and 5 percent are likely to choose the V-6 manual.
Traction control is standard with the V-8 and optional with the V-6 automatic. A computer minimizes wheel slippage by applying brakes at low speeds or by reducing engine output at high speeds.
For improved handling, Ford achieved a 50-50 weight distribution between the car's front and rear. To reduce weight, Ford used aluminum components whenever possible.
To keep motorists out of trouble, the LS features AdvanceTrac, a yaw control system. During high-speed turns, the computer monitors the car's wheel speed and lateral acceleration to determine whether it might spin out.
To prevent oversteer or understeer, the computer can apply the brakes to one or more wheels. Although competitors such as Cadillac, BMW and Mercedes already have similar systems, the LS will be the first Ford with that safety device.
The car has dual climate controls for the driver and passenger. Rear passengers can modify air flow in the cabin by using controls on the center console.
Rear passengers also will have so-called theater seating. For a better view of the road, the rear seat is 11/2 inches higher than the front seat. Despite the seat's raised position, Ford says the car has an impressive 371/2 inches of rear headroom.
The rear seat folds down to expand trunk space for bulky objects such as skis.
Although the LS shares the Jaguar's platform, Ford has avoided badge engineering. The LS and S-Type do not share exterior sheet metal. The retro S-Type calls to mind Jaguars of decades past.
The LS styling is more subdued, with an upright front like that of the Lincoln Navigator. Except for the wheels, Ford did not add any visual cues to distinguish the V-6 from the V-8.