If you're still grabbing a bunch of CDs when you go on a road trip, let me introduce you to the 21st century. Or, more accurately, the 2010 Lincoln MKS, whose dashboard is home to the latest car-stereo tech, including a built-in hard disk, satellite radio and Bluetooth music streaming. Lincoln set me up with one of these vehicles last weekend, and after driving around with a tricked-out THX system for a couple of days, I must say it's going to be hard to go back to just CDs and radio again. It's fun to have so much technology at your fingertips, to be sure, but I was often struck by just how useful it all really is.
Continue reading to see what I'm talking about.
The system has three abilities that really take car electronics to the next level — abilities I hope to see in most cars in the coming years:
- CD ripping of music to hard disk
- Music and data streaming from your phone
- Voice navigation
The THX 5.1-channel surround system has 50GB onboard for music storage. Just slip a CD in, hit Record, and it starts ripping as many tracks as you want (the format is proprietary, bit rate unknown). Theoretically, after a few weeks, every road-trip album you want will be onboard, and you'll never hunt for a CD in the glove box again. As a bonus, the system sounds great (this is THX, after all). Listening to some Johnny Cash on CD, the speakers really conveyed his gravelly voice and every pluck of his guitar. DTS Natural Sound made everything — including highly compressed satellite radio audio — sound crisp and immersive (more detail on the THX system in the gallery below).
Just be sure you'll be on the road for a while if you want to rip a whole CD, though — when you shut off the car, the recording stops. That hard disk should really have more capacity, too; since portability isn't an issue, why not have 500GB? Or 500TB, for that matter?
Ripping is great, but as I said at the beginning, lugging CDs with you in the car is so '90s. If you want to skip that entirely, just pair your phone via Bluetooth and stream your music. Yeah, you get that extra hit of audio compression that goes with Bluetooth, but I didn't notice on most tracks. You can also transfer your address book and make hands-free calls easily, speaking through your car's sound system. Very cool.
Talk It Out
Lastly, voice navigation makes good use of the audio system by letting you verbally tell the GPS where you want to go. Like all voice-recognition technologies, this one's a bit tricky, often mishearing what you wanted. Once you get used to its quirks, though, you'll prefer it to tediously typing in addresses, and turn-by-turn directions come in loud and clear through the speakers.
There's room for improvement — mainly in the area of network data, which is provided solely by Sirius Travel Link. This supposedly kept the navigator informed of traffic disruptions, but if so, why didn't Sunday's huge gathering of emergency vehicles on the FDR register? Looking at Google Navigation on the Droid phone I brought with me at least showed a big red streak (indicating poor traffic), but the Lincoln system simply said there were no traffic disruptions, which was plainly false.
Even with that issue, though, the MKS still provided the best navigation experience I've ever had behind the wheel. And did I mention the EcoBoost engine, which, according to Lincoln, has turbo chargers that give the engine the power of a V8 while still retaining the fuel economy of a V6? Nice to have when you need to do fast lane-changing in New York traffic. While the $53,105 price tag is certainly a tad high, in this case you get a hell of a return on that investment.