Ah, Washington state. The Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, Mt. Rainier, trendy Seattle. At least that’s what they put on the travel posters.
It’s also home to gritty seaports, as for all its beauty, the working Seattle waterfront is, well, a working waterfront. And the busy port at Tacoma is no different. Inland, about half the state might be more comfortable in Kansas or Iowa with its rolling plains. The big difference comes in the wild rivers that transverse the state, creating gorges that break up the amber waves of grain.
A recent trip took me to Seattle, with a trek cross-state to Clarkston and Walla Walla to visit my nieces. Getting me there was a 2011 Lincoln MKT, the middle child in Lincoln’s SUV lineup.
Leaving Seattle on a rainy morning, my first stop was to be the LeMay Auto Museum, still at the former Marymount Military Academy, about eight miles south of where the guy at my hotel said it would be, next to the Tacoma Dome.
There’s nothing like getting cold into a new car, especially one with as much technology as the MKT. I slide in behind the wheel, jump on Interstate 5 south and throw on the cruise control for what I thought would be about 40 minutes down the freeway.
The first surprise was when a row of red lights and gongs went off. This was my first experience with adaptive speed control. If you’re not familiar with it, these vehicles are radar equipped and not only slow the car down if there’s traffic, but warn you of vehicles on the side, in blind spots, and if you get too close to the car in front. A nice feature but a surprise if you’re not familiar with it.
Turns out the LeMay Museum is building a new location in next to the Tacoma dome; turns out my directions were just a little premature. Until the building is done sometime in the next year or so, the collection remains where Harold and Nancy LeMay left it, at a former military school about nine miles away. Oddly, the GPS system in the Lincoln wouldn’t take the address of the Marymount facility, so I had to use the navigation system in my smart phone.
It’s advertised as the largest collection in the country, and well worth the trip. It’s a car lover’s fantasy land, with several buildings covering acres literally stacked with cars. But what were my docent and his fellow volunteers looking at? The MKT.
With its bold grille reminiscent of the 1930s Lincoln Zephyr (some might call it slotted snowplow), the MKT cuts quite a profile. The guys wanted to see the EcoBoost V-6 and wondered about the gas mileage (EPA 16/21; I got 22 on the trip computer for my mostly freeway/highway country driving). They loved the power foldup of the third row seat and interior leather. Retired car guys in their 60s; Lincoln’s target market. I’m sure the folks in Dearborn hope to get them out of their Lexus.
From there, it was up Highway 18 and a two-hour drive, after dark and through “light showers,” to Cle Elum, a town just a few exits past the pass.
To me, the road was a mess. Wet, dirty (sand and gunk from previous below-freezing nights; when I went through it was in the 40s) but the Lincoln had no problem. It was here I first noticed the turbo kicking in; when it’s time to get around a semi, V-8-like power comes on with just a deeper press of the gas pedal.
In parts of the drive, I was once again using the cruise control, but it would mysteriously cut out. I later discovered that my left index finger rested on the wheel right next to the button that turns it off, and it was turning it off. Maybe Lincoln could have made the buttons smaller and given drivers the corner of the lower-left wheel, rather than putting the cruise shutoff just where my finger or knuckle would tap it. Oh well.
The next morning was clear but frosty, making the three-setting heated seats (oh yeah, and there are also three cooling settings) a necessary luxury. It was back on I-90 headed for Clarkson. The MKT gobbled up the 250 or so miles southeast to the lower righthand corner of Washington. This time, the built-in GPS system could find my niece’s address.
The route was anything but what most of us non-locals would expect in the Pacific Northwest. Rolling hills and plains, something looking more like Kansas than Northern Exposure. Arid expanses divided by great rivers. Vast wind farms generating electricity, as if the Northwest didn’t have enough already from all the hydroelectric dams.
Whether it was smooth freeways or twisting, two-lane rods, the MKT seemed to enjoy it all. Power was never a problem, especially when passing on two-lane roads. The EcoBoost V-6 performed as advertised… instant power and the feel of a V-8. I didn’t detect any turbo-lag, whine or anything else. A very nice effort by the Ford engineers.
After hangin’ with my nieces and their studs for a few days, it was back on the road to Seattle. After clear skies, things turned messy, with rain, slush and snow flying around.
A side trip up to Leavenworth, off of U.S. 2 east of Stevens Pass, took us through some great, twisting and beautiful mountain roads. Back in territory that looks like the Northwest to us out-of-towners: tall trees, mountains covered with snow, twisting roads. One of my favorite street names on the whole trip, Blewett Cutoff Road, intersects with U.S. 2.
This was a great twisty road and the Lincoln took it well. I’ve read some complaints about the handling, but it seemed about comparable to other SUVs in the class. Shortly after, I tested the new-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee and it seemed about the same. These aren’t sports cars, but far more refined than in the old days.
Leavenworth has transformed itself over the last 50 years or so from a gritty mining town to, well, Bavaria. Cute buildings, usual touristy stores, bed and breakfasts. Bought some souvenirs, had a lousy lunch and left. Worth the drive but not really the stop… does that make sense?
I do plan to go back, though as I’d like to drive Stevens Pass sometime; just not in February.
Heading back to I-90 and Cle Elum for my last night out, I had to detour to Roslyn, where the old Northern Exposure show was shot. No, this wasn’t Cisily, Alaska, but it still looks pretty remote. Didn’t have time to look for Holling Vincoeur or Ed Chigliak. Living in a tourist spot like San Diego, I’m always sensitive to looking like a tourist, so I jumped out of the Lincoln, shot some photos and took off. Still, my “always look like a local” persona must have been working, because when I stopped into the local gas station, a couple of folks asked me for directions. Always loved that show and was thrilled to stop by; next time, I will have a burger at The Brick.
Overnight in Cle Elum (with a sign by the hotel room’s bathroom sink that said “please keep water running slowly due to freezing conditions”), snow mixed with rain continued. It wasn’t heavy enough to close or cause dangerous conditions on Snoqualmie Pass, which had been well sanded.
Back to the MKT’s “Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Warning with Brake Support, and a Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert system.” Not sure why, but in all the dirt, gravel, moisture and cold on I-90 over the Snoqualamie Pass, it quit. Once I got to the other side of the pass and it warmed up a bit, it started working again. Why? Don’t know.
All in all, I was impressed with the MKT. A very nice road car, comfortable and mostly up to the standards of luxury SUVs these days. The third row of seats is a bit of a waste except for small kids and I had questions about the cruise control.
However, it’s a smooth road vehicle with minimal amounts of normal SUV jiggle. The plethora of electric assists — opening and closing the rear hatch, folding up the middle seat on the passenger side for access to the back — make it an easy vehicle for folks who can’t, or don’t want to shove around doors and seats.
More plusses: Auxiliary headlights move with the steering wheel, helping to see around curves; the center-mounted refrigerator (although it was too far for me to reach back and pull out cold soda while driving); excellent audio system — powered by THX (it even does the THX logo that is in movie theaters, which sounds great in the car).
Outside, Ford stylists did a great job of not making this look like a Ford Flex, with which it shares some architecture. It’s longer and with that big, toothy grille on the front, lots of angles and curves, plus a duck tail on the back, nobody will mistake this for Ford’s Brick-O-Saurus.
If you’re in the market for a large or mid-sized luxury SUV, this is one to consider. The powertrain on this vehicle a technological leader and it saves gas. As a travel car, it does the job, especially at 22 mpg for something so big. I’d put it on my list. ⚙
2011 Lincoln MKT
- Type: Midsize sport-utility vehicle
- Price: As tested $56,980; base, $49,200
- Mileage: EPA, 16 city, 21 highway; trip computer, 22.