First Drive: Bentley Continental Supersports

Bentley Continental Supersports

In the superluxe world, we're used to this maneuver: add a few horsepower, shave a tenth or two, sew in a few extra threads, name your exclusive new interior color something like "Algerian Beet" and voil�, a 50-percent price premium for three-percent more car. On the surface, the Bentley Continental Supersports is a GTC Speed that has gone on The Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeover, and Alter Eco. But you know what they say about the proof and the pudding, so the question is whether the Supersports is a nameplate special or a genuinely higher evolution of the baller's favorite steed. We spent a day in the wilds of New Jersey and upstate New York, along with a few hours at Monticello Raceway to find out. Ladies and gentlemen, allow us to introduce you to the first Continental you can feel.

Think of the Bentley Continental Supersports as Usain Bolt: both are hypothetically too big to perform as they do, but they do it anyway.

The Continental GT is not a sports car. Nor is the Continental Supersports. Nevertheless, both Bentleys do things that only sports cars can do, and the Supersports does some of them more quickly � like 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds. The difference is in how they do it. In our review of the GTC Speed, we wrote that it achieves these feats by taking the goddess of physics hostage, forcing her to obey. Bentley should be commended for engineering a 5,182-pound beast to perform such feats at all, but it remains an act of coercion.

In the GTC Speed, though, the driver is separated from all that imperative violence by multiple layers of sound deadening, carpeting, wood and leather. If you really pay attention, you can catch a soupcon of the brute force wizardry being conducted somewhere in the Bentley's deathly hallows, but why would you? There are 1,100 distracting watts of Naim audio to command the ears and a woman named Katerina or Genevieve or Summer in the front seat to command everything else.

The Supersports, on the other hand, requests your attention. Why? While the conversion to being a high-po ethanol coupe does involve more electro-mechanical magic, it's primarily achieved the old fashioned way: less weight and more power.

A 243-pound reduction from a 5,000-pound car isn't much � 4.86 percent, to be exact � but the Supersports drops weight in the right places. Unsprung mass has been reduced by 66 pounds with the addition of carbon-ceramic brakes and lightweight wheels, while the chassis gives up 20 pounds and the elimination of the rear seats, replacement of the wood with carbon fiber trim and the fitment of those carbon fiber seats nixes nearly 160 pounds. But a strict diet isn't the only regime Bentley put the Supersports on.

Output is up to 621 horsepower at 6,000 rpm � another 21 hp over the GTC Speed � thanks to an increase in boost pressure, with torque goosed (or would that be 'swanned') from 553 foot-pounds to 590 ft-lb at 2,250 rpm, making this "extreme Bentley" the most powerful model to wear The Flying B. Your new corn-fed top speed: 204 miles per hour. An even better stat: you can get from 50 to 70 mph in 2.1 seconds. Worry not, cellulosic stocks will work as well if you're concerned about things like, oh, world hunger.

Speaking of which, let's throw our bingo chip down right now on the second biggest story of this car: E85. (Yes, that means we're actually playing bingo.) This is the first Bentley with flex-fuel capacity, the first arrow in what is meant to be a quiver full of eco-friendly Bentleys by 2012 (or at least less eco-injurious).

This Bentley is Battle Cat. You know, the green guy He Man used to ride.
At the 2008 Geneva Motor Show, company CEO Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen spoke of the strategy to make the entire fleet capable of running on renewable fuels. Typical of a high-zoot Volkswagen endeavor, the W12 heart has been thoroughly engineered for the task. The dictate was that no matter the ratio of gasoline to biofuel, the car would maintain its peak horsepower and torque numbers, and the corrosive aspects of biofuels couldn't be allowed to eat the engine. That meant changes to the entire fuel management system, twin variable-flow fuel pumps, new valve coatings and valve seat materials, new spark plugs and new O-rings, seals, gaskets and pipes. The overlord is a fuel quality sensor that detects the gas-to-ethanol mix and automatically adjusts engine mapping based on the content of each. To note: European Supersports deliveries are fitted with the FlexFuel engine now, while North American models need regulatory approval, which should make them available by the end of summer.

All that oomph makes the Supersports a heavy breather, the bi-turbo W12 needing 10 percent more airflow to remain cool. That's the reason for the exterior redesign up front, with the lateral intakes feeding intercoolers and the hood vents extracting hot air from above. Another upshot: the changes create more downforce in front.

But let's take that concept of 'down in front' to the cabin. As we all know, it's the details that define the superior product � and even more detailed details that make this year's superior product better than last. By that standard, the Supersports is noticeably better, the sum of its changes having recast the entire tone of the Continental GT, which is itself better than almost everything else out there.

Flood the optical nerves with padded carbon seats, Alcantara, leather and carbon trim, and the brain's signal processing center immediately switches to its "Sports Car" setting. A simple viewing also ushers in the thrill of trying to simultaneously process pole and antipole: the cabin is as spartan as it is luxurious, clinical as it is inviting, hard as it is soft.

The leather-trimmed carbon fiber seats have fixed seat cushions and clamshell rear panels that can adjust fore and aft. This is the first Bentley to wear Alcantara inside, and a smaller diamond-quilt pattern makes its return after a long absence. The steering wheel is lined in soft-touch leather so that your fingers are always sending you the signal, "Remember, we're here on business." It's a cabin good for all-day comfort on the eyes, the body and the driving soul.

And perhaps you noticed that missing rear seat. In its place is a luggage shelf topped by a hollow carbon tube that keeps parcels where they belong when things get all brake-y. Just under that luggage shelf is less sound deadening than in other Continental models, and a retuned exhaust. When you start the car, it sounds like a proper sports car.

The other GT variants cannot be heard in most circumstances, and even when they can, they sound like a chorus of butlers humming. Granted, it's a bunch of big, rugby playing butlers that still have a bit of imperial about them. But it's guys humming.

The Supersports doesn't hum like that. The Supersport rumbles. If you could call it a hum at all, it would be the hum of a Vulcan. Sitting on top of Vesuvius. Courting a Valkyrie.

That left us one thing to do: find out what happens when Vesuvius blows. It was not hard, it did not take long and it was Earth shattering.

The Supersports remains a devout Bentley, so its low-speed performance should already be well known. Ambling around town won't raise anyone's heartbeat but those of the people watching you. As far as the car's effort is concerned, the urban hike is like using an aircraft carrier as the Staten Island Ferry.

If you want to have it all, the Bentley Supersports is probably it.
Get it into its element, though, and improved reflexes join the boons of extra power and lighter weight. The re-engineered steering and suspension use lighter components, tweaked dampers, anti-roll bar geometry and stiffer bushes. The Continuous Damping Control software helps body control, additionally aided by the coupe being ten millimeters lower than the GT Speed in front and 15 millimeters lower in back.

That lower rear is also wider, with the rear track upped by two inches. As well, more power heads that way in the car's default setting, with a 60 percent rear bias on the all-wheel-drive system improving the ability to throttle steer. Getting it all where it should be is the new six-speed "Quickshift" transmission, which cuts shift times by 50 percent in part by cutting fuel and ignition, which speeds mechanical actuation. It also double downshifts and rev matches when descending gears. Finally, the updated Electronic Stability Control allows more leeway when you're on it hard, with a higher tolerance for slip angles, and it reinstates power and torque more quickly after an intervention.

The result is animal. Not just any animal � this is Battle Cat. You know, the green guy He-Man used to ride. Has the saddle and everything. And a much nicer color. But it is muscle, it is speed and it is ferocious.

Steering load-up and turn-in happens quickly, and precise wheel placement is a cinch after the first couple of corners. At high speed, only G-forces and cornering speed � not body roll � can help you judge how aggressively you've taken a turn compared to your previous run. Bentleys have never been slow to go, but the Supersports goes even faster thanks to more power and its commitment to downshifting.

Let the car shift for you, and now it isn't a big GT looking around for the right ratios to haul itself from apex to apex; it's a double-downshifting, throttle-steering monster with bags of grip that can't wait to get back to a high-revving sprint. Take control of the ZF box via the column-mounted stalks and gain a few tenths and a cranium full of sound by downshifting even earlier � you'll do anything to get out of a turn more quickly so you can hear it roar down a back straight.

Which brings us to what, for us, is the biggest story of this car: emotion. It isn't only that you're doing things in a 2.5-ton Bentley, it's that you can feel and hear and sense the doing of it, and it's all being done in the right way: less weight, less heard from the doodads, more engineering, more power, more grip.

It's a luxury coupe that covers a huge amount of ground in all kinds of ways, and for proof, consider the fact a Bentley press drive for it was held at a race track. Sure, a 599 and a Lamborghini Murci�lago are more dramatic; they are also louder, smaller, more frenetic, much more expensive and only slightly faster, and in the case of the Ferrari, maybe not as pretty. A Porsche 911 has finer reflexes, but less luxury and much less gravitas. An Aston Martin might be just as much fun, but isn't nearly as fast or as practical. A Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG might have the Supersports matched for curb and visceral appeal, but it's tiny inside, a tad harsh... and it simply isn't a Bentley.

It's not like we want to say this, it's that we aren't sure there's any other choice: if you want to have it all, the Bentley Supersports is probably it. And we only say "probably" on the off chance there's a car out there we don't know about at this end of the spectrum that has the speed, space, smoothness, suppleness and sound to beat it. Maybe in a cave somewhere. If Bentley would just fix that center console screen and software, then we'd really have nothing to complain about.

For much of its history, Bentleys have shielded occupants from the action by placing scads of cloth, leather, hide and wood between the driver and the din and the dynamics. And that was the point � that's why you bought a Bentley. So while the Continental GT is a fantastic coupe, it isn't visceral. The Supersports, though, is a fantastic coupe that is.

[Source: Autoblog]

First Drive: 2011 BMW 335is

2011 BMW 335is

It's fair to say that few automobiles have ridden atop their segment for as long as the BMW 3 Series has managed. Admittedly, there have been occasional frights from other German automakers or the odd Asian upstart, but it's as if Munich's engineers long ago brokered some sweetheart deal with the devil, so total has been the range's dominance. All of which has made it particularly tough for U.S. enthusiasts, as we've seen seemingly dozens of tempting higher performance specials and intriguingly efficient offerings pop up over in Europe and elsewhere, yet these models never seem to make their way into U.S. showrooms. Forgive us, then, for being slightly giddy at the prospect of this 335is, the first North American exclusive 3 Series in, well... eons.

Based on the freshly facelifted sixth-generation 3 Series, the 2011 335is will be available in both coupe and folding hardtop convertible forms beginning this spring � but we just couldn't wait that long to get behind the wheel. Thankfully, BMW was kind enough to slip us the keys to a pre-production example on Portugal's Estoril raceway as a dessert course of sorts at the launch of their new 5 Series sedan. Follow the jump to read our full slate of impressions.

Interestingly, having just sat through a press conference detailing the many virtues of the 5 Series' new 3.0-liter N55 single-turbo inline six, we were a bit surprised to hear that the 335is harbors a newly developed iteration of the "old" twin-turbo N54. Surprised, yes, but not disheartened, as we'd still happily get out of bed for an N54-powered waterpick.

BMW is positioning the 335is as an appealing option for club racers � presumably those who can't afford an M3 � and for those who normally raid the aftermarket's parts bin. To that end, Bimmer's boffins haven't just fortified the boost and left the rest of the drivetrain package to fend for itself � they've fitted a higher-capacity cooling fan, mounted a supplementary radiator behind the left air intake and bungeed an oil cooler on the right side for good measure. To take advantage of the system's more robust cooling capabilities, a resculpted lower fascia with bigger inlets has also been specified. And although our prototype tester doesn't show it, by the time they reach dealerships, BMW promises that only models with the folding hardtop will receive foglamps � the coupe's will have been purged in favor of larger air openings.

Thanks to those upgrades in cooling and better breathing, BMW has been able to ratchet up the boost to 11.6 psi (up from 8.7 psi in the standard 335i). Thus, as tuned for duty in the 335is, the N54 rustles up 320 horsepower (+20) and 332 pound-feet of torque (+32) riding atop stiffer engine mounts, with the added party trick of an overboost mode that maxes out at 14.5 psi, delivering 370 lb-ft for up to seven seconds.

That bounty is funneled out to the rear wheels through the buyer's choice of a six-speed manual or seven-speed Double Clutch Transmission (DCT), marking the first time that a twin-clutch gearbox has been offered in a non-M 3 Series. The same basic motor also appears in BMW's forthcoming Z4 sDrive35is, albeit conjuring up a sliver more power (335 hp/332 lb-ft.).

How will you spot a 335is on the street? Exterior changes include the updated head- and taillamps and restyled grilles that are shared with the rest of the 2011 3 Series range, but the 335is gets a few malefic telltales in the form of ferric gray 18-inch alloys, gloss black kidney surrounds and mirror caps, black window trim, a handful of special badges and most importantly, a pair of black chrome exhaust tips poking out 'neath a functional rear diffuser. BMW tells us that while the new exhaust system is less restrictive, they admit that by itself, it doesn't really do anything to further enhance the 335is' performance figures. No matter. What those charcoal pipes do accomplish is a heaping helping of aural engagement, sounding significantly huskier than a garden-variety 335i � even at tickover. Hearing the freer-breathing exhausts caroming around Estoril while standing in pit lane was enough to forgive the Portuguese day's unfortunate gray skies and oppressive dampness, and the added audio inside the car was an even more welcome treat.

Being holistic sorts, BMW has also firmed up the springy bits underneath to help deal with the 335i's added aggression. An off-the-rack M-suspension pack drops the ride height by 10 millimeters and stiffer shocks and springs have been substituted, all particularly welcome changes in light of the fact that we had only ever driven on the circuit once before � and that was the previous afternoon. Interestingly, at 13.7-inches up front and 13.2-inches out back, the brakes have been left alone, though we've never had reason to doubt the 335i's binders in the past.

BMW says that the upgraded engine hardware is good for 0-60 in as little as 5.0 seconds for a coupe paired to the DCT gearbox. Row the gears in the fixed-roof variant yourself and you're looking at a 5.1 seconds. The convertible is a tenth of a second slower, regardless of transmission choice. It's important to note that BMW has a history of underreporting engine power figures and being conservative with its performance estimates, and judging by the acceleration we felt under suboptimal traction conditions � and the fact that DCT cars will be equipped with launch control (something with which our prototypes were not yet equipped) � we're guessing that the 335is is actually capable of clipping 60 miles-per-hour about a half-second quicker than BMW is letting on. Regardless of whether you specify a fixed or folding roof, the 335is packs it in at 150 mph.

More important than raw numbers is the way the 335is feels and behaves, and in this regard, we've only whetted our appetites with a limited amount of laps at Estoril with both the DCT and manual (these prototypes were sadly not plated for street use). Even given our limited time and closed course conditions, we can tell you that we like what we see so far. The 3 Series has always had exemplary balance, and the 335is is no exception, only now it has significantly more power to lunge from the apexes. Out on the circuit, the surplus torque offered by the temporary overboost function allows one to gloss over most track virgin mistakes � braking too early (or too late), or taking a bad line through a corner, and even if you get it spot-on, you'll get there that much more rapidly thanks to the extra power. We're pleased to report that the DCT seems particularly well-suited to the 3 Series' character, and it's similarly fine work on the track, being quicker than the (still excellent) tripedalist setup, especially as it allows for both hands on the wheel at all times.

Speaking of the steering wheel, on the 335is, it's an M Sport piece, as is the shift knob and matching sport seats. Other model-specific frosting includes an anthracite headliner, stainless pedal pads and footrest, along with special badging calling out the model name on the dashboard, tachometer and door sills. Like all 335i coupes, this new model comes with a moonroof as standard fit, something sure to please sybarites but potentially aggravate those who don't want the extra weight and higher center-of-gravity on the racetrack. BMW promises us that it's considering making the roof a delete option, but opting out isn't likely to save any money.

Speaking of money, we note that when Autoblog first revealed the official specs and pricing of the 335is, many readers balked over the price tag: $50,525 for the fixed-roof and $59,075 for the drop-head, with both prices including destination charges. We won't argue that BMW's asking for premium dollars, nor will we debate that they can get jarringly expensive after visiting the options list. Even still, the 335is doesn't strike us as a bad deal when analyzing the rest of the 3 Series lineup.

Think of it this way: a 2010 M3 coupe starts at $58,400, to which you must add $875 for destination and a further $1,300 for gas guzzler taxes (a 2011 model has not yet been announced). Total cost? $60,575 � before options. Yes, the V8-powered M3 offers significantly more horsepower (414), but does so at a skyscraping 8,300 rpm and has a comparative dearth of torque � 295 vs. 332 pound-feet � and that's without considering the 335i's massive overboost. What's more, the 335is' full measure of twist is available from just 1,500 revs, while the M3's eight-pot needs to be spinning more than twice as fast at 3,900 rpm. Lest we forget, despite its carbon-fiber roof, it also weighs a smidge more.

Don't get us wrong � we love every inch of the M3's sniper-like precision � it remains a fantastic car and an unrivaled piece of trackday artillery. But out on the street, you really do have to rev the Mobil 1 out of the V8 in order for it to feel genuinely quick. That's not to say that doing so is a chore, but for many drivers, the high-revving soundtrack can get tiresome on a day-in, day-out basis and the M3's care and feeding aren't exactly cheap. The 335is offers club racer competence swathed in a more relaxed, more civilized package with comparable levels of real-world thrust � all while leaving a couple of vacations' worth of coin in your bank account.

On the other end of the spectrum, an unadorned 2011 335i coupe runs $43,525 (that's $42,650 plus $875 for postage and handling), meaning that it costs exactly $7,000 less, but that doesn't include the 335is' additional standard equipment like the $1,550 sport pack. By our count, the cost difference at that point is $5,450, an amount that strikes us as a distinctly fair tariff for the new model's additional performance and kit. (The convertible's pricing premium is admittedly rather harder to swallow, but the same tough math applies with the 328i and 335i).

The first wave of 335is convertibles is slated to hit U.S. dealers in March, with the coupes to follow in June. Here's hoping that enthusiasts line up to buy them � if only to give BMW executives a good reason to offer more high-po specials and foreign-market forbidden fruit in the States.

[Source: Autoblog]

Brabus GL 63 Biturbo picks up where Mercedes AMG leaves off

Mercedes-Benz GL 63 by Brabus

The performance boffins over at AMG keep themselves pretty busy, churning out high-output versions of just about every vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz line-up. Just about, but not quite. For example, if you want a GL-Class family-hauler with the division's stonking 6.3-liter V8 engine, you're SOL. But that's where the aftermarket comes in, and Brabus has arrived at the scene to save the day. And then some.

Not only has Brabus fitted the 6.3-liter V8 to the GL, but they've bolted a pair of turbochargers in the process. And while they were at it, they tweaked the seven-speed auto-box, fitted a big water-to-air intercooler and upgraded the intake, exhaust, brakes, suspension and rolling stock. The result? 650 horsepower and nearly as much torque. That oughta be good for 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour) and hitting 100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.7 seconds along the way.

The Widestar body kit also widens the vehicle's stance, while the interior has been tricked out in custom leather, carbon fiber trim and LCD screens aplenty to keep the kids busy while you focus on maximum velocity. The super-truck will be unveiled in a couple of months at the Geneva Motor Show, but is available for order now from �368,000 ($518k).

[Source: Brabus]

Review: 2010 Lincoln MKT EcoBoost AWD

2010 Lincoln MKT EcoBoost AWD

Approaching the 2010 Lincoln MKT for the first time is like meeting a blind date. You've been told by friends she has a good personality, which immediately has you wondering what she looks like. From a distance you see your fears confirmed: She's a big girl with a toothy grin and a weird hump. If super models are your thing, you'll be disappointed by this three-row crossover sitting alone in the corner with a red carnation in her hair. But if you meet her with an open mind, you'll find that a good personality goes a long way.

It's our job to go on blind dates with vehicles before you do, and despite the MKT's controversial design, we're glad we sat down and got to know her. Now, if you can't get over seeing a beached whale in your driveway every morning, stop reading; no twin-turbo direct-inject V6 engine, advanced infotainment features or luxurious appointments will change your mind. We'll agree to disagree and you'll probably pass judgment on the MKT from afar, not even giving it the courtesy of a test drive before shacking up with that German model. Will you regret not getting to know the MKT like we did? Read on to find out.

The Lincoln MKT has a sister � the Ford Flex. Both models are based on Ford's D4 full-size CUV platform and built in Oakville, Ontario. In past years, that would mean the Flex and MKT were near identical twins, the Lincoln version merely a rebadged interpretation of the Ford, with a new grille and more upscale materials. The MKT, however, is more like a big sister to the Flex � still related but not its twin.

Ford calls it a "differentiated top-hat strategy." The two vehicles share the same platform, suspension, engines and other mechanicals, but everything you can see and touch without the use of a wrench is unique to both. Lincoln designers, perhaps restless after being tethered to Ford designs for so long, went a little nuts.

We count three design elements that make the MKT controversial, and we'll start with that grille. It's called a "dual wing" in Lincoln parlance and can also be seen on the MKZ, MKS and newly redesigned 2011 MKX. We're all for establishing a consistent brand identity, but someone should've had the foresight to consider what enlarging Lincoln's new corporate face by 125 percent would look like. Now we know: Not so good. It's a shame too, as the rest of the front fascia is clean � elegant even � with interesting details like the centered crease that runs forward from the base of the windshield, splits the Lincoln logo and terminates in the undercarriage. But who notices stuff like that when faced with the grille's mighty wingspan?

The other two off-putting design elements are an upward kink in the rear fender and that forward-leaning rear hatch. Whether or not you like the kink is up to you. We don't really understand its purpose, but it doesn't ruin the design. The canted hatch, however, steals valuable cargo space and headroom from third-row passengers. There's only 17.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row upright, though that jumps to 75.9 when it's stowed. The Flex, however, with its right angles and slab sides, is easily a more practical crossover because the MKT makes sacrifices at the altar of the aesthetic gods.

Aside from those three distracting elements, Lincoln designers did well making the MKT's outward appearance live up to its more-expensive-than-Flex price tag. Our tester's White Platinum Metallic Tri-Coat paint was as flawless as a pearl, while the lack of cladding, sparing use of chrome and simple surfaces reminded us of contemporary furniture design. The MKT would be right at home in a SoHo loft parked next to a $5,000 Italian sofa.

Once you get past the exterior (if you can), an interior awaits that's above reproach. The materials are first rate, featuring stitched leather on the padded dash, center console and doors. Real Olive Ash wood trim cuts across the middle and also tops the big multifunction steering wheel, and those Canyon-colored leather seats are supremely comfortable and supportive with 12-way adjustability for both the driver and front seat passenger, as well as being heated and cooled.

While two second-row captain's chairs are an option, we prefer the 60/40 split bench our tester was equipped with. The third row can fit two people in a pinch, but we'd rather stuff a third in the middle before banishing anyone to the back. Regardless of which seat you're assigned, Lincoln's optional Panoramic Vista Roof bathes the whole interior in soft light, which helps neutralize claustrophobia for passengers who might feel closed in by the vehicle's high beltline.

Functionally, the MKT carries forward the segment-leading infotainment systems that are now a huge selling point for Ford. This current-generation system features SYNC, SIRIUS Satellite Radio with Travel Link, a 10 GB HDD, USB and auxiliary inputs, along with Bluetooth connectivity. We're particularly impressed that most Ford and Lincoln vehicles equipped with SYNC now also handle Bluetooth audio. That means in addition to routing calls through the vehicle, a Bluetooth-compatible music player can also play tunes through the THX-certified stereo without plugging in. All is controlled using a big touchscreen with sharp graphics and an easy-to-understand interface that also doubles as a monitor for the rear view camera, which you're gonna need when backing this big girl up.

On the topic of not hitting things, the MKT can be had with two technologies that help you avoid rearranging its sheetmetal. The first is the Blind Spot Monitoring System, an admittedly ubiquitous piece of tech in large vehicles these days, but a helpful one in the MKT with its rather large blind spots. The second is Active Park Assist, another technology you can find in other high-end automobiles, but the Lincoln's system is by far the best we've used. Simply pull the MKT alongside an open parking spot on the street, hit the APA button and inch forward. When the system senses there's enough room to parallel park, put the vehicle in Reverse and let go of the steering wheel. You're on braking duty, but the system will steer and park this barge perfectly every time.

Low-speed maneuvers are one thing, but how does the MKT perform above parking lot speeds? In a word, remarkably. For one, our tester's push button starter fires up Ford's 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 producing 355 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 350 pound-feet of torque at just 3,500 rpm. We've sampled this engine in the Ford Taurus SHO and Flex, as well as the Lincoln MKS sedan. It's a superlative mill using twin turbos and direct injection to create a power band as deep as Warren Buffet's pockets. With the EcoBoost V6, you wouldn't know the MKT with all-wheel drive weighs a smidge over 5,000 pounds because effortless power is its calling card, just like a larger V8. The upside is better fuel mileage: We experienced a range of between 19�22 mpg, which is at the hind of the EPA's 16 city/22 highway mpg estimate. The downside: no V8 vibrations or acoustics.

The MKT uses a six-speed transmission with paddle shifters to carve the EcoBoost's output into maximum thrust chunks. Shifts are smooth and transparent while dropping kids off at soccer practice and making back-and-forth trips to Home Depot, but those oddly shaped paddle are there in case manual control is required. Rare among flappy paddles, up and down shifts are activated on the same paddle, not split on either side. Pull back on either paddle for upshifts and push forward with either thumb for downshifts. It takes some getting used to, but manually controlling shifts means the engine will be at your beck and call rather than preoccupied with maximizing fuel economy.

We were all set to comment on the MKT's handling, steering and breaking in the context of a long road trip we had planned that would rack up over 800 miles, mostly on the highway. It would've been what you expect with remarks about how the MKT goes great in a straight line and soaks up expansion joints like a Tempur-Pedic mattress. All that's true, but a navigation glitch by yours truly meant the nav system plotted our route without the benefit of high- and byways. A blessing in disguise, we road tripped from Cleveland to D.C. on back roads only and had a rare chance to flog the MKT on some of Pennsylvania's windiest roads.

While using the MKT more like a Mustang than the three-row crossover it is, we isolated the one difference that makes it a better driving vehicle than competitors like the Audi Q7 above or Buick Enclave beneath: it's low. Other large CUVs have enough token ground clearance to pretend that "off road" is some place they're actually going to explore, but the MKT drops that pretense and hunkers down over its 20-inch wheels wearing P255/45VR20 all-season rubber. That lower center of gravity combined with all-wheel drive, big contact patches and enough ribbon-smooth pavement to wrap the Keystone state in a bow turned out to be a delicious recipe for surprisingly fun driving.

Fortunately, the MKT's power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering didn't spoil our fun in Pennsylvania back country. Heavy assist is present at low speeds to help turn the tiller of this 5,000+ pound CUV, but as speed climbs that buffer begins to fade and you can feel the friction between the road and tires. This feedback helps your fingers know which direction the wheels are pointed instead of just using your eyes. The four-wheel disc brakes kept up as well, though their mushy feel didn't always inspire confidence even if they did arrest motion well enough when asked.

Are we saying that the MKT is the best handling big CUV out there? No, we're saying that if you require three rows of seating and like the finer things in life, there aren't many better handling large luxury crossovers available, short of a much more expensive and narrowly focused BMW X5 M. In other words, if you want a luxury CUV that feels more like a wagon than a wannabe 'ute, get the MKT.

There's also the issue of price, and the MKT scores well here with a $49,200 base MSRP for the EcoBoost model. When equipped with comparatively powerful V8 engines, the German competition (Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GL) all start above $55,000 with less standard equipment. Our MKT EcoBoost tester came with a $4,000 Elite Package that adds navigation, a THX-certified stereo, the Panoramic Vista Roof and Blind Spot Monitoring System. The only other option we had was Active Park Assist for $595, though Adaptive Cruise Control is also available for $1,295. Even still, the MKT EcoBoost tops out fully loaded where its Germanic competition is just starting.

So our blind date with the 2010 Lincoln MKT turned into a week-long getaway where the journey was more enjoyable than the destination. It does everything well that you'd except, and proved to be extremely comfortable, luxurious and technologically advanced enough to impress the editors of Engadget. But we were most surprised with how well this lady dances, something we would never have known if we saw her sitting alone in the corner and made a B-line for the door.