By: Michael Cooney
Several years ago, I “drove the wheels off” the then-new Lincoln LS V-8. I had been invited to participate in a comparison between it and a half-dozen price competitors. A tight handling course had been set up on the parking lot at Santa Anita racetrack, and we were encouraged to push the cars as hard as we dared.
Besides having a tire-squealing ball, I came away impressed with this new Lincoln. It turned out to be entirely different from all Lincoln’s before, and a highly capable handler.
For 2003, the LS mid-size, rear-drive sedan was put through a thorough upgrading process, with over 500 improvements according to Lincoln. It shows.
Along with a new variable-ratio rack and pinion steering unit and suspension upgrades, there’s—you guessed it—more power! The 3.9L DOHC V-8 now puts out 280 horsepower, up from 252. Torque is a healthy 286 lb-ft. For those in less of a hurry, there’s the standard 3.0L DOHC V-6 with 232 hp, up 12 from last year. Both motors come attached to a 5-speed automatic transmission, with the V-8’s transmission adding Select-Shift. This allows you to control shifts, or hold the gear you want, adding a greater degree of control.
Outside, the LS is handsome but subdued. The grill and headlamp designs combine to promote a family resemblance while showing a touch of styling flair. Once past the nose, it’s styling is highly conservative.
Inside, useful features abound. You set the emergency brake electronically by lightly pulling a console lever with your fingertip. The center console armrest adjusts fore and aft for your comfort. Seats adjust every which-way. There’s a tilt-tele wheel, and the foot pedals also adjust back and forth. Long or short legged? If the LS doesn’t fit you perfectly, I don’t know what will.
Seats feature perforated leather, and the fronts can be heated and cooled by fans circulating air through them from the heating/AC unit. For $400, you can add this feature to the rear seats as well. Imagine, cozy warmth on winter mornings, and no more wet, sticky backs on those broiling summer afternoons. Ahhhhh….
Now for the split personality part: despite this model’s sedate exterior and comfortable ride, it accelerates and handles like a dedicated sports sedan. With its 280 horsepower V-8, 5-speed Select-shift automatic and skillfully tuned sport suspension, you’ll find it a surprisingly satisfying sedan to drive on winding mountain roads. Even its exhaust note sounds the part once your right foot heads for the floor, adding to the fun. Further, a zero-to-60 time of just 6.5 seconds, according to Road & Track, is quicker than most in its class. Pity those who buy this car only for the traditional Lincoln attributes of luxury and comfort. While they won’t be disappointed, they’ll miss out on the enjoyment that comes from exploring the LS’s considerable performance potential.
My wish list is short. Its steering, while light and accurate, lacked feedback. This detracts a bit from your ability to know what the suspension and tires are up to under hard cornering. I’d also like to see more bolstering in the seats. Or a sport seat option. Either would help keep drivers better in place on winding roads. Finally, I hope Lincoln will be more daring when the time comes for a redesign. If the LS is meant to bring younger buyers into the fold, it’s going to take a bit more “pizzazz” in the styling department, especially now that Cadillac’s attractively-edgy CTS is prowling about.
The V-8 LS is EPA-rated at 18-city, 24-highway mpg. After my week of driving city streets, freeways and local mountain roads, I saw an average of 18.3 mpg. That would have been higher, except for my nagging desire to hear this motor’s great-sounding snarl whenever the tach needle moved past 3000 rpm.
Pricing for the V-8 Sport model begins at $41,330 including destination fees. My metallic silver test unit added navigation along with other options, and totaled $45,715.
All told, here is a car with a conservative exterior and luxury features that belie the muscle hiding beneath the skin. If you’re not the flashy type but want a luxury car that can keep up with a BMW 540—on straights and curves—while allowing you to put an extra $15,000 into your 401k, then the Lincoln LS Sport may be just the ticket.