The Morning Call and's view

God bless America.

As the world’s automakers march in lockstep toward one bland definition of luxury car (did anyone say Lexus?), cars like the big, brawny Lincoln Mark VIII LSC stand in defiance of that notion.

All Marks share their basic chassis and mechanical components with lesser cousins, the Mercury Cougar and Ford Thunderbird. But Lincoln gives the car a rather distinct personality.

Start with the styling. It’s an odd modernization of classic Mark styling cues, including a big, chrome-y grille up front and the traditional tire hump on the rear decklid. The rakish greenhouse rests on a muscular beltline that gives the car a sleek look from the side. The handsome, newly reintroduced LSC delivers a monochromatic paint job and optional chrome wheels, giving the car a go-fast look.

Where Lincoln really differentiates this car is under the hood. Although the Mark shares its 4.6-liter V-8 engine with its lesser cousins, it gets a double overhead camshaft rather than a single. This is good for 280 horses. Pop for the LSC model like the test car and you’ll get an extra 10 ponies. Hook that to a revised axle ratio, thicker stabilizer bars and beefy 225/60R16 tires, and you have a hustlin’ hotrod Lincoln.

Dual exhausts groan with delight as you explore the upper reaches of tachometer and speedometer. The bark is pure American muscle. There’s even a little hood vibration, just in case you miss that muscle car trait.

But don’t let that American demeanor fool you. This baby can handle the twisties. There’s a tremendous amount of grip and a purely neutral feel that only comes from a rear-drive automobile.

That said, this car weighs 3,767 pounds, so it never feels light on its feet. Similarly, despite its great handling, the power steering is a little too numb. The computer-controlled air suspension is firm and delivers a flat ride, but it does pound over large bumps, inducing some shudder in the car. Again, typically American in character.

The four-speed automatic transmission delivered quick shifts, but can delay in downshifting in some situations. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, dual airbags and traction control are standard.

Inside, front seat passengers are treated to a sweeping bi-level dashboard. The basic design is imaginative and puts all major controls on the canted center console at the driver’s fingertips. These include the automatic climate control, rear defroster, audio system and trip computer. In front of the driver, the view to the gauges is unobstructed. The dash also gives the interior a cozy, cockpit like feel, although some might find it confining.

While wood trim helps warm the inside, the plastics could have been of higher quality.

The power-operated front bucket seats are covered in leather of fine quality. The seats are excellent, providing good long-range support, yet with enough give to avoid discomfort. Rear-seat passengers are tak en care of as well, although legroom depends on how cooperative front-seat passengers are. It’s still awkward trying to stoop to get in the back, though.

Trunk space, at 14.4 cubic feet, is good for a coupe. The trunk is usefully shaped, although not all that deep. The JBL audio system delivered good sound and features a 10-CD changer mounted in the trunk.

While it no longer sports such gaudy accessories as opera lamps or vinyl roof, the current Mark is a muscular iteration of the classic American luxury coupe. Its refusal to be the suffocatingly suave import-like coupe means it stands apart, making this Lincoln a remarkable marque of Mark.

Mark VIII LSC Standard: 4.6-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8, four-speed electronic automatic transmission, P225/60R16 tires, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, four-wheel disc power brakes with anti-lock, leather seating surfaces, floor mats, power front bucket seats, keyless entry O tional: Touring package (electronic traction assist, electrochromatic auto dim mirror, Ford-JBL AM/ FM cassette/CD with trunk-mounted CD changer), LSC chrome wheels, Luminarc headlights, power moonroof Base price: $39,650 As tested: $44,085 EPA rating: 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway Test mileage: 24 mpg

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