The MKZ began a new direction for Lincoln: luxury vehicles designed to engage the driver. The MKZ succeeds, managing the difficult trick of delivering a ride that is generally comfortable with handling that makes it interesting and gratifying to drive quickly on a challenging country road.
The MKZ is powered by a strong, 263-hp V6 driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available. And MKZ's major standard equipment compares favorably with the best cars in this class.
For 2008, Lincoln has made several popular options standard, including heated and cooled leather seats, and Sirius Satellite Radio. New standard features include a reverse sensing system and a hands-free, voice-activated communications and entertainment system that Ford calls Sync.
Overall, the MKZ is well rounded. It's suitable for day-to-day commuting even on the Midwest's broken streets, comfy for long-distance cruising on an interstate, and playful during a quick trip along a two-lane road through the mountains. It has plenty of power, but it uses regular fuel and delivers decent gas mileage. Surprisingly, however, the MKZ does not offer electronic stability control.
The MKZ has collected some impressive accolades. Among them: When it was introduced as a 2007 model, it ranked highest in the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study for Premium Cars. For two years in a row, industry voters have honored the MKZ with Ward's Premium-Priced Car Interior of the Year award. Its 3.5-liter V6 has been named one of Ward's 10 Best Engines. Its THX II-certified stereo was voted Best Audio by PC Magazine. And its navigation system was ranked No. 1 in J.D. Power's 2007 Navigation Usage and Satisfaction Study.
Lincoln MKZ ($30,790); MKZ AWD ($32,660)
The Lincoln is brightened by its jewelry: quad-beam halogen headlights (with HID units optional), bright-metal accents at the beltline and on the mirror caps, and chromed exhaust tips. Handsome 17-inch wheels contribute to MKZ's purposeful stance.
The cabin looks more upscale than that in the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, which share the MKZ's underpinnings and some major mechanical components. The trim plastics look best in lighter colors. All in all, the MKZ interior doesn't come across as shameless luxury as much as comfortably well-to-do, which is pretty much the standard for this class.
The controls for heating, cooling and the stereo are all easy to find and use. Storage is adequate.
The navigation system works well. The video screen is smaller than many, but it's easy to figure out without excessive reliance on the owner's manual. And unlike some nav systems, it provided information about some obscure dirt roads in Michigan, where much of our driving took place. All automakers make choices about where to spend and where to save, and many choose not include such detail in the navigation software.
The MKZ will accommodate four six-footers in reasonable comfort. Five is a crowd unless you are toting small children. In short, it's comparable to other cars in its class.
Trunk capacity is rated at 15.8 cubic feet, which is more than many cars in this class. The trunk lid swings high for easy access, and the fold-down rear seat allows some flexibility for hauling more.
Forward and over-the-shoulder visibility is acceptable. The high rear deck limits visibility immediately behind the MKZ when backing up. The reverse-sensing system helps with this, providing an audible gauge of the distance between the MKZ and whatever is behind it.
The Lincoln's 3.5-liter engine delivers great acceleration in the instances most drivers need it. It doesn't turn the MKZ into a rocket, but acceleration is more than acceptable for any reasonable task, including a quick merge onto a busy Interstate. And it's satisfying just to feel the rush of power. The Duratec 3.5-liter is smooth and fairly quiet.
The six-speed automatic cannot be shifted manually, feature some drivers like. Moreover, Lincoln could improve the control program for a quicker response at low speeds. From a dead stop, or when traveling at 50 mph, the transmission works great. Slam the accelerator as you pull out to pass and it kicks down nicely, one or two gears, to put the engine in the high-torque part of its power band. But at 10 mph, it's a different story. Creeping out of a parking lot, for example, the transmission will shift up a gear or two, apparently to save fuel. But when the driver approaches the street and hits the gas for a hole in traffic, the transmission doesn't want to kick back down to first gear. The MKZ bogs a bit, and the anticipated acceleration isn't there.
We like the handling of this car. On a rough surface the MKZ does a reasonably good job of shielding its occupants from broken pavement and poorly repaired potholes. But the engineers were clever enough to combine that ride with handling that is reassuring and satisfying. Despite having much of its weight up front, the all-wheel-drive model we tested was reasonably quick to change direction and head into a turn, lacking the stubborn, nose-heavy feeling of some all-wheel-drive cars.
The steering has a of weight to it for positive, satisfying response. Yet it doesn't feel heavy when pulling into a parking spot. And there's no loose, sloppy feeling when the MKZ is pointed straight ahead. Turn the wheel just a little bit and the chassis begins to respond immediately, with no dead spot.
The brake pedal has a nice, progressive feel, and the brakes deliver more stopping power than the typical driver will ever use short of an emergency situation.
All-wheel drive is a great benefit when driving in snow or hard rain. We consider all-wheel drive a safety feature because it improves handling stability in foul weather. It can also be a huge help in getting up a slick hill. The system normally operates as front-wheel drive, but sends power to the rear wheels if the front tires begin to lose grip. On loose gravel, we found it worked as advertised when accelerating hard from a stop.
The 2008 Lincoln MKZ is a likeable midsize sedan. It offers the comfort and features of a near-luxury sedan. All-wheel drive is available for drivers who need foul weather capability.
Chris Jensen reported to NewCarTestDrive.com from New Hampshire.