The 2010 Lincoln MKZ is a five-passenger luxury sedan that illustrates Lincoln's ambition to make cars that equal or exceed Lexus and Acura in quality, driving dynamics, technology and features.
We think Lincoln has succeeded. The MXZ is an undeniably pleasant car to occupy and operate. It is a mid-size car with a spacious, understated interior, and a well-balanced combination of ride comfort and easy handling. The MXZ retains the traditional domestic notions of practicality and comfort, such as a large trunk, ample leg and hip room front and rear, and builds on it with an infusion of sound proofing, safety technology and audio capable of shock and awe. A sports suspension package and all-wheel drive are available for sportier handling and all-weather capability.
While driving the MKZ, we found it stable and calm through the corners. It has a driving performance envelope that overlaps that of sporty cars. The V6 revs to 6750 rpm and we found engine and transmission responsive when called upon. The MKZ is more of a luxury car than a sporty car, but it can do 0-60 in 7.1 seconds, which is fairly quick.
For 2010, MKZ has been upgraded. An all-new interior design results in a plusher, quieter cabin with higher quality fit and finish. Improved performance comes from a retuned 3.5-liter V6 and a new six-speed automatic. The suspension has been tuned for improved ride and handling. The available all-wheel-drive system has been retuned for better traction and lower noise, vibration and harshness. The styling has been updated with a new front end, a new decklid with LED taillamps. The MKZ is the successor to the Lincoln Zephyr, launched as a 2006 model.
The 2010 MKZ looks decidedly similar to the Lincoln flagship MKS. The MKZ offers many of the features and capabilities as the top-of-the-line Lincoln sedan, but in a more compact and affordable package.
The MKZ clearly borrows Lincoln design cues from other vehicles in the brand, sharing the strong split-wing grille, high compound headlamps and prominent placement of the Lincoln star on the front quarter panels. In the MKZ, the grille is slightly narrower, and the lines somewhat more fluid than the more rigidly defined, cast-in-concrete bodywork of its big brother, the MKS. The front grille, in particular, is designed to create a distinct presence in the company of other cars; a high belt line adds a look of substance and heft.
There is judicious use of chrome on the door handles, fog lamp bezels, moldings, mirrors and exhaust tips. Window glass is solar tinted. LED tail lamps are wide and broad, extending across the rear deck and into the quarter panels, adding further emphasis to a wide stance. All-season radial tires on nine-spoke, 17-inch wheels are visually proportionate to the wheel wells and wheelbase.
The end result is a strong Lincoln family resemblance both coming and going, and a car that appears modern, technically endowed, and well planted.
Ford and Lincoln have begun to introduce capless refueling systems under the brand name EasyFuel. We've found it works well and creates one less thing to lose: the fuel cap.
The Lincoln MKZ interior has a conservative design sensibility, conveying the virtues of simplicity. There is a distinct lack of clutter for a car with a complete suite of convenience features and technology.
Seating might be the best part of the interior. The seats are generously wide, allowing easy entry and exit, both up front and to the rear seating area. They are 10-way adjustable, with power lumbar, and have heated/cooled seating surfaces as standard equipment. There is legroom to burn for our average-size frame, both front and rear, and likely enough for those well over 6 feet to be easily accommodated. Armrests are wide and well placed, and functional grab handles are located at every door.
Quality materials are evident. The wood is real wood, the aluminum is real aluminum, and the leather is real leather. Plastic, what there is of it, has been well textured and does not suggest that it will appear cheap two years down the line. Controls and buttons are low relief, within easy reach, and remarkably intuitive. The navigation screen, at 8 inches, could be a little bigger but it's well located at the top of the center stack and the software makes use of the entire screen.
Instrumentation, consistent with the rest of the interior, includes speedometer and tach, a message center, with low oil pressure indicator. A universal garage door opener is standard.
There is also a voice-activated hands-free in-car communication and entertainment system developed by Ford and Microsoft. The system integrates Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and digital media players for hands-free phone and music selection. It also enables further communications, such as 911 Assist and Vehicle Health Report, which are provided with no monthly fees.
The standard audio system, with nine speakers and CD/MP3 play capability, will be perfectly suitable for most drivers, especially considering how quiet the MKZ is inside. However, there is a 10-speaker THX II surround sound system that has a 10-gigabite hard drive, enough for 2400 MP3 tracks, and plays DVDs with home-theater sound depth. We can attest to the fact that it can play music or movies at very high volume without distorting, and that the sound in the back seat is just as good as the sound up front.
We had a day driving an MKZ prototype in Southern California, from Laguna Beach to Lake Elsinore on the infamous Ortega Highway. The Ortega Highway is a two-lane mountain pass, well known for falling rocks and frequent driver-error-induced accidents as it snakes along the side of a deep canyon. To get there, we traveled a section of the Pacific Coast Highway, today a busy commuter route through beach communities, with frequent traffic lights, pedestrian crosswalks and restaurant traffic. That gave us a chance to notice how the MKZ behaves in everyday driving. Just prior to that, we had the opportunity to take a half-hour drive in a 2009 MKZ, so we could see the effect of the upgrades for 2010.
Our test unit was all-wheel drive with the Ultimate Package of options, which includes everything except the handling package. That means we had a power moonroof, the premium THX II audio, the Navigation Package and more.
With the engine running, the cabin of the MKZ is conspicuously quiet, which helps create an atmosphere of sanctuary inside. There are some road surfaces that bring through a little more tire noise than others, but throughout the day it was possible to maintain conversation at normal speaking tones, and listen to the news at very low volume. Lincoln spokesmen told us that the cabin is quieter than the Lexus ES 350 at speed and on rough roads, and that they have data to prove it. We looked at their charts and while the measuring criteria are rather complex, the bottom line is very simple. The MKZ is an unusually quiet car, clearly on a par with the best when it comes to noise control.
Our all-wheel-drive test unit did not have the handling package, which adds 18-inch wheels, stiffer springs and thicker stabilizer bars. Still, the AWD system alone was a tangible handling benefit as we powered through corners, with no apparent torque steer or sense of biasing from wheel to wheel. We found ourselves casually steering through 35 mph corners at 45 and 50 mpg on the Ortega Highway, and more. It's a place where the CHP likes to use radar, so we kept further handling test to speeds within reason.
The brakes are strong and progressive, perhaps a little touchy at the top of the pedal until you get used to it, but definitely have enough stopping power to create a secure sense of control. The car stays flat and composed when pushed into a corner, tracking cleanly along any reasonable line. Simultaneous braking and steering, as if correcting to shed speed on a surprise corner, did not upset the car. It was hard to generate tire noise, even with sharp steering inputs.
The opposite side of handling is ride quality, which goes south fast when a car is fitted with bigger wheels, stiffer springs and tires designed purely for grip. Yet the MKZ, even with improved cornering and steering, retains the gracious, hospitable manners of a quality luxury car.
We were told that the suspension geometry has been revised to provide more control without affecting ride quality. New stabilizer links have been designed for better control, enabling more fluid transitions from side to side. The car now has a lower roll center, which means better control without adding harsh damping.
When we arrived at our rest stop, we slipped into a narrow space in a crowded parking lot. It looked like a back-and-fill situation, but sure enough, the turning radius of the MKZ was enough to allow a neat parking job in one swoop.
For 2010, the 3.5-liter V6 engine has been tuned for better performance, and it shows, but the improved performance is much more due to the new six-speed transmission. The transmission has lower ratios to draw on from a standing start, and taller ratios at higher speeds, so the car is quicker off the line than the 2009 model, and smoother and more efficient at speed.
Perhaps more important, there is a SelectShift feature that allows manual gear changes. Using it, we found the upshifts crisp, and the car will continue pulling well through 6000 rpm. Downshifts were another matter, as the transmission's programming protects the engine from over-revving on heavy downshifts, so we found it harder to manage the car heading into corners in manual mode with the computer second-guessing our choices. Usually, we preferred to leave it in Drive. Driven as an automatic, the transmission responds well to throttle. We don't think we could get the car to go any faster shifting manually, but it does add to the fun factor.
The V6 makes peak torque at 4500 rpm, rather high in the rev range, but again, the transmission applies the power so well it's generally possible to accelerate without effort. With gradual, progressive increase in throttle, the car builds speed without a downshift. Floor it, and you'll get a quick kick-down and, in the lower gears at least, brisk acceleration. Even though the car has well isolated acoustics, the intake song of the V6 at full throttle does come through to the cabin, and it is not entirely unpleasant to the sporting ear.
The Blind Spot Information System is based on radar sensors that sweep the roadway to the side and rear of the car. If you're moving into an object in your blind spot, a red indicator light on the outside of the side mirrors will bip on, and a warning tone sounds. It's sometimes beneficial on the highway, or during heavy commuting. It isn't much use on narrow roads we drove, and we turned ours off after it sounded a couple of times in a four-hour period, apparently responding to radar input based on objects at the side of the road. A side benefit of this new technology is that the radar can also warn against backing into cross traffic. When the car is in reverse, the radar tracks up to 65 feet on either side of the vehicle and warns the driver with audible alerts. We're not sure we're in love with either of these features, but we can see the benefit. All it would take is to save a collision one time to make us think it's the best thing in the world. The navigation system comes with a rearview camera, which is an excellent safety device.
Improved for 2010, the Lincoln MKZ is a quality luxury car that feels right and looks right, and it comes at a good price. Luxury car owners from other brands might be surprised at how well executed the MKZ really is.
John Stewart filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of a Lincoln MKZ on California's Ortega Highway.