Luxury cars can change a lot in seven years, with some evolving faster than others. When the MKZ first arrived back in 2006 as the Zephyr, it represented a worthy contender to the likes of the then current Lexus ES and Infiniti I30. It was well screwed together, decently optioned, competitively priced and delivered a more involving driving experience than its Far Eastern rivals.
|1. A 263-hp 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed automatic is the only powertrain combination available, but there is a choice of front or all-wheel drive.
2. Standard equipment for 2010 includes Ford’s SYNC voice activation system, front and side curtain airbags, as well as heated and cooled front seats.
3. Optional extras include blind spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert, as well as a Sport Appearance package with chrome 18-inch wheels.
4. MKZ models are priced from $34,115.
However, things have moved on since then, but has the MKZ kept pace? On the surface, Lincoln has tried, by giving it the current corporate face and a large grille ensemble, which to this author, bears a strong resemblance to Dark Lord Sauron’s mask (of Lord of the Rings fame). It’s properly aggressive and a lot more integrated than some current luxury car fascias.
At the back changes are more subtle, the almost full-width taillights now incorporate LEDs and there’s a back up camera system available as an option. The rest of the car’s silhouette is as familiar as the Manhattan skyline, sensibly proportioned, if perhaps a bit angular compared to newer offerings, but on the flipside, it’s also less generic. Other updates include revised side mirrors that incorporate blind spot monitoring and an optional Sport Appearance package that adds a darker toned grille, more sinister looking projector headlights, retuned suspension and a specific 18-inch wheel and tire package.
MODEST YET LUXURIOUS INTERIOR, BUT BASIC LAYOUT LOOKING TIRED
Inside, the MKZ is decently finished. It was among the first modern, domestic entry-level luxury cars to embrace the concept of a quality looking interior and seven years on, it’s held up rather well. The seats are quite firm, but softer than say, most German offerings. During longer journeys they’re fairly comfortable, without inducing tiredness – a standard heated and cooled feature is also welcome. The chairs are also well trimmed, (especially the Bridge of Weir leather), as is the dash, console and door panels.
Where the MKZ starts to show it’s age is in the gadget department. Make no mistake; there are plenty of toys, from Ford’s SYNC voice activation info/entertainment system, to quality surround sound and climate control, but the navigation system built-in to the 8-inch touch screen proved frustrating and somewhat dated compared to others now on the market. It struggled to re-calculate some routes and didn’t like us taking the road less traveled. In the end a good old-fashioned map proved more effective.
DECENT ACCELERATION AND A SOFT RIDE BUT STEERING A BIT SLOW
In terms of on the road behavior, the MKZ is hard to fault. It’s powered by the same evergreen, 263-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 as found in the Edge, Flex, Taurus and of course its larger MKS sibling. In a smaller and lighter package, it delivers fairly sprightly performance (0-60 mph takes around 7.1 seconds), and there’s ample torque in reserve for passing, merging or contending with steep hills. The six-speed automatic transmission is also nice and smooth, the gearing decently matched to the V6’s power band, but in all honesty we found it better to just leave it in ‘Drive.’ A manual shift mode is offered, but we found it somewhat counter-intuitive, in order too up shift you move the lever back and for downshifting you move it forward.
As for ride and handling, anybody who’s driven a recent Fusion will feel right at home. The Lincoln rides a little softer, quite a welcoming trait in many respects. It’s also quieter, due to greater levels of insulation (improved still further for 2010).
Thanks to changes to the rear suspension geometry, through the corners it performs rather well. There’s a little noticeable understeer, but body-roll is fairly minimal, though despite being re-geared for 2010 (with a tighter turning circle), the steering is a little on the slow side.
Sport package equipped cars corner a little sharper, thanks to retuned stabilizer bars and damping rates. The all-wheel drive version, which uses a Haldex coupling to control the torque split, actually delivers a more neutral turn-in, along with a much welcomed improvement in traction, particularly when negotiating slipper and twisty sections of tarmac.
Braking is decent and well controlled, but feedback is not as good as the MKS or Taurus, though the ABS can get rather aggressive during panic stops.
In terms of fuel economy, the MKZ is about middling in the entry level luxury segment – front drivers get around 17/29 miles per gallon city/highway, depending on conditions, while AWD models get slightly less at around 16/25 mpg.
With the introduction of the larger MKS, it could be argued that its older, smaller sibling is struggling a little to find its place in the market, but thanks to a mid-life freshening and plenty of neat features, Lincoln hasn’t given up on the MKZ just yet. With prices starting at $34,115 in front drive form and $36,005 for the AWD version, it represents an attractive buy in this hotly contested segment and even though it’s getting on in years it remains a relevant alternative to the Lexus and Infiniti norm.