MARTIN ROMJUE: A famous quote from Steve Jobs could easily apply to chauffeured vehicles: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
During a visit to San Francisco Bay Area operators last week, I got to ride in a variety of chauffeured vehicles over a span of a few days: Lincoln Navigator, Lincoln Town Car Executive L, Lexus RX Hybrid, Mercedes-Benz E350, Lincoln MKT Town Car, and the GMC Yukon Hybrid. I also rode in an all-electric Nissan Leaf, a host’s personal car that could be used as a green chauffeured compact.
The operators running these vehicles prove how the chauffeured vehicle market is becoming more diverse with companies trying out different makes and models while listening to their clients and trying to figure out what they like.
That has brought out a silver lining to the retirement of the Town Car: A market once defined and dominated by the six-inch stretched Lincoln sedan has now yielded to more competition, more choices for operators and clients, and more flexibility among chauffeured transportation companies to adapt to a variety of client preferences based on vehicles, pricing, and service tiers than ever before.
This is a good thing and the limousine industry should embrace the new vehicle landscape. Chauffeured livery vehicles have finally caught up to the 21st Century.
In fact, one company, Angel Worldwide Transportation in Castro Valley, Calif., is banking on the diverse-is-more approach with its acquisitions of E350s, MKTs, and a Lexus RX Hybrid.
While the chauffeurs in all of these vehicles pointed out all the advantages of each one, what stood out the most was my first ever ride in the Lincoln MKT Town Car, courtesy of Mosaic Global Transportation in Redwood City. As I saw the MKT round the corner into the front drive of my hotel, I was preparing for a letdown compared to the Town Car Executive Ls I had ridden in during the previous two days. I guess I had absorbed the comments of so many operators lamenting the passing of the Town Car sedan and how nothing will ever compare to it again.
As it turned out, the ride in the MKT Town Car was better than anything I’ve experienced in chauffeured service so far. All of the companies I visited last week either have their first MKTs in their fleets or plan to try them out.
The most pleasant discovery was how the entry and exit to the right rear seat is just right for tall people. You don’t sink down and fold up into a living room sofa as in an Executive L, while you also don’t climb up onto the backseat of an SUV. Once inside, the legroom was a few inches more than I expected. With the right front seat all the way forward, legroom is in the same league as the Town Car L. A foot rest bar at the base of the right front seat made the seating even more supportive, providing a way to rest the feet without putting them flat on the floor or crossing your ankles to rest them on their sides.
I had forgotten that the rear seats partially recline, so it was by accident that I felt the right side handle and pulled up on it. The seat moved back about 10%, creating the experience of a business class airline seat. The chauffeur pointed out how the seat pockets on the back of the front seats are flexible enough to accommodate more magazines and newspapers. And of course the MKT also has a USB port, a plug-in, and another outlet I can’t remember all lined up at the base of the front center console area.
The MKT adapted seamlessly to maneuvering San Francisco city streets and then on to the 101 Freeway. At one point, we pulled up alongside a chauffeured Town Car sedan waiting in a line of cars at a stoplight; I clearly felt like I was sitting on a mini-throne or captain’s chair instead of the living room sofa as I looked slightly down at the passenger window of the Town Car sedan.
Another benefit of the MKT that has not been fully appreciated is the vista roof. I asked the chauffeur to slide back the roof for added light, but its main effect was to increase the illusion of space in the vehicle. While the MKT sits on a narrower platform than the Town Car L, the upward space effect of the vista roof compensates for the narrower interior compartment — not to mention the soaring view of the skyscrapers in San Francisco’s financial district.
While on the 101, the combination of the quiet ride, smooth suspension and reclined seat actually caused me to doze off — something that rarely happens to me in vehicles.
For the ride back, we cut through Redwood City and onto the 280 Freeway, a scenic winding autobahn sans bumper to bumper rush hour traffic that parallels a mountain range on one side and upper hills suburbs with high elevation glimpses of the East Bay on the other. This route, with the vista roof peeled back, proves the MKT is ideal for leisure touring, especially in wine regions and along coastal routes. You don’t need a stretch limousine or a charter bus to get the full luxury effect of a touring vehicle that maximizes views.
As to the luggage compartment, a complaint I’ve heard is that it is exposed to the client. Technically, yes, but visually, no. For my ride, the roll-top partition was not extended, but the seat backs are high enough that even when you glance sideways or to the back you can’t tell if the partition is in place or not. You have to actually crane your neck and stretch to peer over the middle back seat to see the luggage compartment, and even then it’s difficult to see the floor. Bottom line: You don’t notice the luggage area whether the partition is in place or not.
My final revelation on the MKT happened when I was delivered in the main lobby drive of my Fisherman’s Wharf hotel that sees a passing parade of taxi-cabs, van shuttles, stretch limousines, Town Car sedans and buses all day long. A “John Q. Public” bystander happened to see the MKT as I was getting out and immediately went up to the chauffeur and asked about the vehicle, commented how cool it looked, and then asked if it’s available. The chauffeur told him it's the new Town Car limo vehicle.
That confirms what I’ve suspected for a while: The general public and clients seem to be more accepting of the MKT crossover shape and look than operators. So I’ll conclude my chauffeured comparisons with this point of view: The MKT Town Car is a winner for the client, offering a balanced and comfortable mix of amenities that affirm the limousine industry’s values of class, comfort, sophistication and style.
While inside the MKT, it had the intangible effect of making me feel more relaxed while making me think I was somebody progressive and special. (Of course, when I stepped out it was back to turn-into-pumpkin realities). It’s time for operators to stop heckling and pecking at the MKT, and hop into this edgy and unique luxury ride to the future.
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor