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Old 03-06-2003, 08:44   #1 (permalink)
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2003 Lincoln LS8: The Understated American

Improvements evident on a pair of test tracks

AutoWeek
By KEVIN A. WILSON

2003 LINCOLN LS8
ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $40,695
POWERTRAIN: 3.9-liter, 280-hp, 286-lb-ft V8; rwd, five-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 3755 pounds
0-60 MPH: 6.4 seconds (mfr.)

HERE’S CONFIDENCE FOR YOU: Not content with the gutsy move of showing us the Lincoln LS at Waterford Hills road racing circuit, Lincoln also lined up prime competitors including the Cadillac CTS, BMW 530i and Lexus GS 300. Then, they did it again, with a similar range of competitors at Mid-Ohio Raceway.
How did it fare? On the twisty and short Michigan track, the Lincoln held its own, though the Cadillac’s Nürburgring-tuned handling stood out, as did the BMW’s all-around balance. At Mid-Ohio, where the straights are longer and the corners faster, the LS’s power put it in good stead—it would have taken a more expensive BMW 540i or the thus-far non-existent CTS Northstar to keep up. It wasn’t just power—the Lincoln shows poise, too.

You’ve probably seen the 2003 LS without noticing its subtly revised styling. If, however, you are familiar with what it’s like to drive the car, you’d readily recognize the transformation that has taken place. Lincoln says there are more than 500 upgrades, and though they’re hard to spot, it’s believable when you drive it. The handling has been sharpened even as the ride was improved. There’s more power and a better exhaust note, yet it’s quieter inside. Better leather, much improved fit-and-finish, plus upgrades like adjustable pedals and a kickin’ THX audio system all make life more pleasant within this sister car to the Jaguar S-Type, which was also upgraded last year.

As before, Lincoln settles for a 3.9-liter version of the 32-valve V8 that displaces 4.2 liters in the British car. (We haven’t driven the V6 yet.) The LS8 makes 280 hp now, up 28 hp with variable valve timing, which also contributes to 286 lb-ft peak torque, 250 of which are available as early as 2000 rpm. Drive-by-wire throttle control works smoothly with the standard five-speed automatic. Order the Sport package (17-inch wheels, stiffer shocks and antiroll bars) and you get SelectShift automanual control, which now lets you select first gear, as it didn’t last year. The rack-and-pinion steering is now by ZF, and the Sport model gets tighter tuning. On street and track, you notice quicker turn-in response and more precision throughout the suspension travel. The improvement was evident in corners with elevation changes, as the steering stayed consistent throughout where the old car on the same corner would bind or feel rubbery. The trade-off is a reduction in the fingertip road feel the previous model offered through the steering wheel.
If it plays second fiddle to Jaguar in power, the Lincoln also gets second place in the price-tag race, with the loaded LS8 Premium Sport topping the range at $43,995. Though it was the first new Lincoln in memory to inspire the creation of an owner’s club, we couldn’t get excited about the original 1996 LS, but this one is a contender. Lincoln listened to owners and critics and addressed aspects that held the car back. The 2003 LS8 is worth a look if you like its understated style. It is also worthy of an SVT model using the Jag S-Type R’s supercharged V8.
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