Lincoln is Ford’s luxury brand, with a distinguished history during the stewardship of Edsel Ford, and a bumpy record after Mr. Ford’s death during World War II. Although there have been some bright spots during the years after WWII, the division has been in decline since the turn of the current century, a slide that the parent company seeks to reverse with new products that will restore the brand’s prestige.
That’s what the Lincoln MKZ is all about. With slick styling, and new underpinnings, the Lincoln MKZ’s mission is to put Lincoln back on mid-size luxury car shopping lists, a la Cadillac’s dramatic Art and Science design breakthrough that began with the CTS sedan a decade earlier.
Launched as an all-new model for the 2013 model year, Lincoln MKZ is unchanged for 2014.
While it’s not nearly as radical as the original CTS, we think the MKZ’s styling does manage to stand out in a crowd, with the kind of contemporary good looks that should please an owner’s eye every day. And its dynamics should do the same, long hauls or short, back roads or freeways.
But the question is whether good looks and dynamic competence are enough to give the MKZ an edge in a very competitive luxury class. We’ll come back to that question. First, the fundamentals.
The Lincoln MKZ is based on the same foundations, and shares its powertrains with, the Ford Fusion. Much has been made of this in various reviews, many of them negative. The reasoning: the MKZ is essentially just a fancier version of the Fusion, and not really luxurious enough to justify its higher pricing: about $5000 more for our test subject than a comparably equipped top-level Fusion Titanium with all-wheel drive.
This oft-repeated theme is not entirely fair. Shared platforms and powertrains are common in today’s industry, and employing Fusion bones for the MKZ unibody is not at all a bad thing. The chassis rates well in terms of structural rigidity, which is the fundamental starting point for all vehicle dynamics.
That’s an area where the MKZ measures up quite well versus some esteemed members of the luxury establishment, a noteworthy achievement for a front-wheel-drive design in a segment dominated by rear-wheel-drive cars. To mitigate this, MKZ is available with all-wheel drive, but even front-wheel-drive versions inspire confidence, thanks to Lincoln Drive Control, a semi-active damping system with three pre-sets (Comfort, Normal, Sport) that produce noticeable differences in handling response. It’s a feature you won’t find in a Fusion.
There are three power options: a 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder called EcoBoost, a 300-horsepower 3.7-liter V6, and a hybrid with a 141-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder augmented by a 118-horsepower electric motor. The turbo four and the V6 are paired with 6-speed automatics, while the hybrid transmits propulsion to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Like the exterior styling, the MKZ’s interior design can’t be confused with that of the Fusion, with different looks, different materials, although one may question whether the materials are significantly more luxurious. On the other hand, the MKZ does have some unique interior elements. The power moonroof could double as the main hatch on a Great Lakes freighter, the transmission responds to pushbutton controls set in a vertical dashboard housing flanking the instrument pod (as well as steering column paddle shifters), and rear seatbelt airbags are available.
Fuel economy ratings are adequate for a car in this class, though unexceptional. With all-wheel drive, MKZ gets an EPA rating of 22/31 mpg City/Highway. The hybrid, predictably, does much better: 45/45 mpg, but it comes with tepid acceleration. If 0-to-60 mph is a priority, the V6 is the MKZ champ, sprinting to a mile-a-minute in just over six seconds, at the expense of fuel economy (18/26, according to the EPA).
On the up side, the MKZ is a generally smooth operator, exceptionally quiet, with a level of fit and finish worthy of this category. That, plus stylish good looks, may be enough to make it at least a plausible alternative in a very strong class.
The split-wing grille is by now familiar, giving Lincolns a distinctive face, but the rest of the Lincoln MKZ is a departure from yesteryear and arguably the best looking car to emerge from this division since the original Zephyr, back in 1936.
Although the hoodline is a bit higher, a concession to pedestrian safety, the production car is otherwise generally faithful to the 2012 concept, a graceful sweep from end to end in the four-door coupe idiom. Lincoln characterizes the LED headlights as class-exclusive, though LED lighting in various configurations has become common across the entire industry. The LED taillights lend a unique look to the MKZ's going-away view, and the aluminum alloy wheels, 18-inch standard, 19-inch optional, fill up the wheel wells, lending a sporty touch to the package. And like other recent Ford Motor Company products, the fuel filler is capless.
Though it's clean and uncluttered, the Lincoln MKZ's interior somehow does not convey a sense of true luxury to its occupants. The materials are a little upscale from those that adorn top level editions of the Ford Fusion, with attractively subdued color schemes (though our test car was basic black), but are they enough to justify the higher pricing? The overall impression is premium, a la Kia Cadenza, Hyundai Azera, and Toyota Avalon, more than it is luxury.
Still, there are noteworthy features available: a 10.2-inch LCD instrument cluster, that vast moonroof, dashboard pushbutton shifting, inflatable rear seatbelts at the outboard positions, and one of the segments more orchestral audio options, by THX, 700 watts, 14 channels, 14 speakers.
On the love it or hate it side of the ledger, the center stack secondary controls in the 8-inch screen are all MyLincoln Touch. If you dislike this knobless system, as many do, Lincoln invites you to operate those controls via voice command. We should add that MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch continue to be a source of dissatisfaction with many owners.
The Lincoln MKZ weighs close to two tons when equipped with all-wheel drive, not unusual for this class but a hefty load for the standard 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder. Rated at 240 horsepower, the 2.0-liter delivers leisurely performance, particularly from a standing start: 0 to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds. Acceleration is better in highway passing situations, however, and throttle response is prompt, with little hint of lag while the turbocharger spools up to full boost.
That's a tribute to the programming that governs the engine and 6-speed automatic. When the driver engages the paddle shifters for manual operation, however, it's important to select the right gear to keep engine rpm in optimum. Otherwise, the turbocharged engine lugs and acceleration becomes glacial. We should add that several cars in this category are equipped with 7- and 8-speed transmissions.
With all-wheel drive, MKZ gets an EPA rating of 22/31 mpg City/Highway.
The 3.7-liter V6 engine brings 300 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, sufficient to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just over six seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 18/26 mpg City/Highway.
The hybrid model offers an EPA-estimated 45/45 mpg City/Highway. Combining a 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder gasoline engine with a synchronous electric motor, it delivers 188 horsepower. We found acceleration performance tepid.
Fuel economy ratings are adequate for a car in this class, though unexceptional. The hybrid, predictably, does much better:
MKZ's handling rates higher marks. Thanks to its rigid chassis and automatic damping, direction changes are prompt, particularly in Sport mode, cornering attitudes level, and tire adhesion is a little better than average for a car in this weight class wearing all-season rubber. The electric power steering system is a little numb, but quick at just 2.7 turns from one end of the rack to the other and very accurate once the driver is acclimated.
Braking performance is about average for this class, which is to say good.
Ride quality tends toward firm, but never harsh, even in the suspension's Sport setting. It takes a good-sized bump to make itself felt inside the cabin. Add low interior noise levels and excellent audio systems and you have the recipe for all-day comfort. The MKZ is sure-footed and competent, but its strong suit is the long haul.
It's an oversimplification to call the Lincoln MKZ a dressed up Fusion, and it's also a mistake to imply that the MKZ's Fusion foundations are somehow a debit in the creation of a luxury car. The MKZ exudes a sense of solidity, the basis of its dynamic competence. The MKZ offers respectable handling and braking while a variety of powerplants offers a variety of fuel efficiency and performance levels. Its sophisticated styling speaks for itself.