I like this latest Lincoln MKZ. I recall awhile back when the launch was a disaster due to the models coming out of Mexico that weren’t up to snuff in terms of quality. At the time, you had the sense Ford completely lost the plot with Lincoln and marketing luxury cars as a whole.
How times have changed. Today’s Lincoln is a different animal, with sales up almost 10 percent. No, Lincoln isn’t nipping at Benz’s or BMW’s heels, but it’s giving Cadillac, Infiniti and Audi heartburn. Like every other automaker, Lincoln’s growth is fueled by SUVs, but the MKZ isn’t doing badly -- in fact, it has outsold every sedan Cadillac makes so far this year. A couple years ago, Lincoln said it was aiming for a more relaxed-luxury mindset, rather than competing with the Germans. Leave Cadillac to chase the Germans for quick Nurburgring times, Lincoln said. Seems like it’s working.
If you can get over the notion that this is just a gussied-up Fusion, you’ll find a pleasant car. The new front end works well, even if it’s a bit Jag-ish. The EcoBoost four-cylinder provided enough oomph and the all-wheel drive plenty of grip. I bet this would be a tough SOB in the winter. Even with only 245 hp, the car never seemed like it needed more power.
The body motions are well-controlled, for the most part. Lincoln has made a big deal about cutting interior noise and it’s working: The car is quiet, even on the freeway. The overall driving experience would improve with more steering feel, but really, how many MKZ customers care about that?
The interior is mostly good, though I’d like to see more robustness to some of the switchgear. The steering wheel column stalks feel particularly flimsy. Overall Ford engineers did a great job with sound deadening and soft-touch materials. The seats were comfy and supportive. I was particularly happy to see Lincoln ditching those stupid touch-sensitive sliders for audio and climate controls, returning to buttons and knobs. They’re much easier to use.
-Wes Raynal, editor
The Reserve trim adds all of the luxury options Lincoln has in its bag of tricks.
This MKZ Reserve is a really nice car, and if there's surprise implied in that statement, it's because I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Wes’ comment about the MKZ's status as a "gussied-up Fusion" has its roots in truth, but it misses the broader point: The current CD4-based Fusion is so good it can comfortably expand its mission into luxury-car territory without feeling like a stretch, and it's apparent much more thought went into the MKZ than "gussied-up" implies.
Enough philosophy, though: Slip into the high-quality leather seat, shut the door and you're greeted with silence. This is a quiet sedan, on the road or just sitting in the garage; coupled with the stitching, brushed metal accents and curved dash and door panels, it's a serene environment. My time in the car was spent commuting in autumn drizzle, making heated seats, satellite radio and a smooth, unobtrusive sedan exactly what I wanted. Ford … er, Lincoln's turbo 2.0-liter provides plenty of punch despite the extra pounds from the AWD system, and gear shifts, steering, throttle response and brake action are all tuned to be intuitive and unremarkable. What you want for a track day? Not a chance, but when your "track" is urban interstate, the MKZ is superb.
With the redesigned MKX, this MKZ and the new Continental, Lincoln is on to something. Let Cadillac chase the Germans all they want -- there are still a lot of Americans who want a traditional domestic luxury experience, and they're increasingly discovering it at a Lincoln dealership.
In my mind, the Lincoln MKZ is saddled with a larger-than-average pile of baggage as standard equipment: There was the fubar’d launch, which Wes mentioned, plus that tough-to-shake suspicion that you’re paying a premium price for a spacey-looking Ford Fusion (as if platform-sharing were unique to Ford).
But I wonder if anyone outside of the car-review writing world -- or the slightly broader world of those of you who religiously read those reviews -- cares about the intricacies of corporate vehicle architecture sharing or bungled launches. They get into a brand-new MKZ, as I just did, and discover some extremely comfortable seats plopped in what must be one of the quietest interiors on the market. There are lots of features and a really good stereo. The trunk is huge.
Power is adequate from the 2.0-liter, even with AWD, and you can tell it isn’t trying to be a sports sedan -- I actually preferred cruising in the regular drive mode to the marginally harder-charging “S” mode. The car is better at soaking up bumps than it is at carving corners. And that’s just fine.
Is there a market for luxury cars that ditch the promises of scorching Nurburgring times for uncompromisingly coddling comfort? That was the premise of Mark Vaughn’s recent Continental review, and I think he’s absolutely right; the Baby Boomers, even the ones with SCCA memberships, aren’t getting any younger. Lincoln is wise for capitalizing on that.
Though the brand comes dangerously close to falling into the “we build cars for geezers” trap by abandoning any boy-racer pretentions, the geezers are -- surprise -- the demographic that can and will splash out $52,000, give or take, on a luxury sedan.
If there’s one place where this package falters, it’s nose-to-tail cohesion. Despite the new front-end treatment, which replaced the controversial butterfly-mustache fascia, the car still feels like a collection of interesting styling elements that don’t always play well together. From some angles, it looks futuristic; from others, it looks dowdy.
I haven’t driven the Continental yet, but it seems to do a somewhat better job of defining what Modern Lincoln represents than the MKZ. The fundamentals are here, though.
--Graham Kozak, associate editor