By BJ Killeen.
The automotive industry is cyclical in nature. Sometimes you’re at the top, and sometimes you’re at the bottom. No two brands know this better than Audi and Lincoln. Audi had a major snafu in the 1980s, but has come back better than ever. Lincoln’s challenges have been more recent, but now it’s on the way back in the game. Both of these luxury sedans, the 2013 Audi A6 and the 2013 Lincoln MKS, offer a lot of great features, including performance, technology, and driving capabilities, but has one learned to do it better than the other?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s a trite saying, but certainly holds true when it comes to what’s going to turn a buyer’s head. The 2013 Audi A6 is conservative in its exterior styling. The lines are clean, smooth, modern and should last a long time. Favorite feature? The LED daytime running lights that give the A6 its wicked face. A subtle integrated trunklid spoiler, and standard 18-inch wheels and tires really give it presence. Want to make more of a statement? LED headlamps and a Sport Package can do that for you, or step up to the S6 and no one will question your motives.
The 2013 Lincoln MKS, on the other hand, is working hard to blend luxury with elegance, but with a bit more design spin. The 2013 model features a host of exterior refinements including a new interpretation of the split-wing grille that will be more in line with future Lincoln products coming from its new design studio. New front fenders, standard high-intensity headlamps, new rear fascia, LED taillamps and exhaust tips round out the upgrades that easily make it a better and better-looking, more aerodynamic vehicle. Because the MKS shares its platform with the Ford Taurus, there’s a bit of a slab-sided design that feels plain for a full-size luxury ride. The rear is clean, but doesn’t offer Lincoln’s signature cross beam taillamps we really like on the other Lincoln products. We’ll give a slight nod to the A6 today, but when the next MKS comes out, we believe it will jump in front immediately.
Inside, the A6 kills it. The leather is rich and soft, the wood is stunning, and the overall design execution is contemporary and driver oriented. It doesn’t give you more than you need, yet does a great job of keeping the outside away. Standard items on our A6 included a leather-wrapped steering wheel with multifunction controls, 8-way power heated front seats with lumbar, power sunroof, rain and light sensor and auto-dimming rearview mirror. Our test model also featured the Prestige Package, which added tons of goodies like navigation with the MMI touch system, front and rear parking sensor, four-zone climate control to replace the standard three-zone, Audi Advance Key to complement the standard keyless start, HID headlamps, ambient lighting, vented front seats and more. Lots of great features, but at a hefty price.
The MKS, again, had its interior design dictated by the Taurus, but there’s been an upgrade in materials as well as standard features. The waterfall-type center dash and console are clean in appearance, and are functionally sound, as is the instrument cluster with MyLincoln Touch screens. The seats are comfortable, but not necessarily designed for spirited driving. However, the MKS has a host of standard features that you’re paying extra for on the Audi. Items like a power tilt/telescoping steering column, cooled front seats that are not just ventilated as on the A6 (in addition to heated), standard HID headlamps (we know that’s exterior, but Audi made it part of the Prestige Package so we included it here), remote start, and premium wood. The 2013 Lincoln MKS also offers features Audi doesn’t, such as the multi-contour front seats that are great for long drives, 12-way power seats, SecuriCode, MyKey, heated steering wheel, and more. If you match these two by dimensions, the MKS wins, with more interior room and cargo volume, but overall this category is a tie; we love the Audi’s looks, but we appreciate the value in the MKS.
How Much Power Can Money Buy?
With this level of vehicle, luxury also means getting the performance to back up the looks. Both engines offer plenty to get you going. The A6’s heart is a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 with Audi’s FSI (basically direct injection). The V6 makes 310 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 329 lb-ft of torque at 2,900 rpm. The MKS was equipped with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost (turbocharged, direct injection) V6 good for 365 @ 5,500 rpm horsepower and 350 lb-feet of torque between 1,500 and 3,500 rpm. On paper, the MKS should smoke the A6. On the road it’s quick, but because it carries about 400 pounds more than the A6, back to back the acceleration feels the same: extremely quick.
The Audi’s engine is matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, so you can shift for yourself at will. Our test model had the optional Sport Package that included paddle shifters. The transmission was smooth and progressive, but if you tried to shift too quickly using the paddles, sometimes it felt as if the computer was confused about which gear to give you. Once we added a little space between the shifts, there was no problem. Stepping back for a second, trying to find the benefits of an 8-speed transmission outside of fuel efficiency is tough. Sometimes in LA we can barely get to 6th gear, much less 8th!
The MKS, on the other hand, is equipped with a 6-speed SelectShift automatic transmission that in principle is the same as the Tiptronic in the Audi. The shifts with the paddles were smooth and easy, but the paddle quality felt a little low end.
Have great power in a straight line is a no-brainer; it’s how you use the power in corners that makes the biggest impression. The A6 features a five-link front and trapezoidal link rear suspension that provides superb handling on the highway and when cutting through canyon roads. Pair it with the quattro all-wheel drive, and these A6 stays planted through every twist and turn.
Lincoln’s MKS for 2013 gets a new standard feature called Lincoln Drive Control with Computer Controlled Damping, a system that allows the driver (or the car, depending on the mode you select) to decide the ride quality, shift points, steering feel and suspension settings (Comfort, Normal, or Sport). Driving it over the same roads in all different settings really showed off the capabilities of the system, and it really allows the customer to tailor his wants for every situation. While we like this system, the driver needs to understand the settings and where to do the switching (in the multifunction control screen). You can change it on the fly, but you’ll spend more time searching for it on the screen if you don’t use it often. Comfort mode is squishy, which means more body roll and more floatiness as it softens the ride, but that’s exactly what you want on a long, boring drive. Sport mode allows the car to hunker down and zip through corners quickly and confidently. Again, in this category, depending on what you’re looking for in a luxury car ride, it’s a close call. We’d give the MKS the edge, but only if you’ll really use the Drive Control System. Otherwise, you’ll be happy with the A6.
High-end rides should come with high-end audio and connectivity, and both of these rides do. On the 2013 Audi A6 side, there’s Audi Connect, which offers some cool features like wireless Internet, Google Earth maps, MMI Navigation system, in-car WiFi, and weather, news and fuel prices. We loved almost all of these features. The in-car WiFi was amazing, Google maps were fun to have on screen so we could see the winding road we were going to drive on, and the nav system was easy to operate. The MMI interface takes some getting used to with the inner and outer circle of buttons and what they control, but once you knew where to place your hands, it was easy to operate. What we didn’t really like was the location of the screen. We prefer the screens to be integrated into the dash.
Lincoln’s MyLincoln Touch is also filled with lots of great features, especially voice commands for the climate and navigation. The system can be operated via voice, touchscreen shortcuts or manually in some case, so there was always a way to find something. However, and we’re not the only ones to say this, the Microsoft-based system is slow to respond sometimes, and we felt we had to repeat voice commands too often. I might be biased mostly because I’ve been an Apple person all my life, but I think Microsoft’s hardware and software is subpar. I know Lincoln techies are working on their system, and if they can dump the Microsoft base and do their own platform, we would all be more satisfied. On the plus side, the THX audio system is one of the absolute best in any vehicle; excellent sound, almost zero distortion. In the end, though we have to say the A6 wins this one for now.
Sticker Shock Treatment
This is where the line between rich and middle class separate. Both the A6 and MKS start with a reasonable base price. But once you start adding the extras, the money line becomes blurry. Perhaps for this reason Audi added a new 2.0-liter engine to the lineup for 2013. Although we tested a 2012 model, the 3.0-liter engine did not change for the new model year. The new 2.0-liter TFSI starts at $42,200, and there are four trim levels of that engine configuration that run up to a base of $48,700 with quattro all-wheel drive, and an 8-speed automatic transmission. Our test model A6 3.0 TFSI Quattro Auto Tiptronic Sedan (Audi wins for longest names) started at $50,400, a $500 bump from 2012 prices. The added Prestige Package brings it up to $56,950. Another $1,500 for the 19” Sport Package that added 19-inch wheels and tires, a sport suspension 3-spoke steering wheel and shift paddles, then HID headlamps for $1,400, side assist for $500 (blind spot monitoring), Garnet Red exterior paint for $495, and $895 for destination charges, and you’re looking at walking out the door with $61,720 less in your pocket. A base A6 with the 2.0-liter out the door with nothing added is $17 grand less. That’s quite a spread.
One would think the MKS would be less expensive because it offers more standard features, but the pricing is aligned pretty closely with our A6 test model. The MKS starts at $42,800, which gives you the 3.7-liter V6 in front-drive configuration. Adding nothing has you walking out of the showroom at $43,765, that’s less than the base A6, and with a much larger engine. Our MKS test model with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine based at $49,860 and featured equipment group 202A for $4,600, and included 14 luxury features that pretty much added everything available. Add the only two true stand-alone options, dual panel moonroof and Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning, plus $895 destination charges, and the bottom line hit $58,345. Not chump change, but $3,375 less than the Audi. If you’re going to buy strictly based on value, the Lincoln wins hands down.
While we struggled with this decision, we have to lean toward the 2013 Audi A6 because of its combination of great handling, modern styling, and prestige level. The MKS, although offering amazing performance, great value and impressive luxury, just isn’t there yet. We’ll revisit this comparison when the next-gen MKS arrives. I wouldn’t be surprised if it jumps ahead of the Audi then.