Lincoln is a brand on the brink of death. At best its parent company Ford has been a neglectful guardian, at worst they’ve been downright abusive. Once a proud company that could go bumper-to-bumper with the world’s best, the Blue Oval’s domestic luxury division has been starved of product for the better part of a decade and a half. The Lincoln of today is an emaciated silhouette of what it once was. 2. Engineers dispensed with the traditional console-mounted gear-shifter, replacing it with a lineup of push-buttons on the dashboard. 3. Priced from $36,000 our V6-powered all-wheel-drive model starts at about 40 grand, with our tester at $51,000!
1. Three engines are offered on the 2013 Lincoln MKZ: a 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder, a 300 horsepower V6 and a 45 MPG hybrid.
2. Engineers dispensed with the traditional console-mounted gear-shifter, replacing it with a lineup of push-buttons on the dashboard.
3. Priced from $36,000 our V6-powered all-wheel-drive model starts at about 40 grand, with our tester at $51,000!
Ford executives have promised to resuscitate this patient with a phalanx of distinctive new vehicles. The first of this assault to splash ashore on dealership beachheads is the 2013 MKZ. The car sports a striking new design and lots of clever touches, but is that enough to pull the rechristened Lincoln Motor Company out of its perennial quagmire?
Size wise the new MKZ fits into the middleweight luxury-sedan segment. Its wheelbase stretches 112.2 inches, which is right in line with cars like the Cadillac CTS and Lexus ES350. Its span is about 2.5 inches shorter than an Audi A6’s.
This is a story that repeats itself when it comes to passenger and cargo volume. According to number crunchers at the EPA this latest Lincoln delivers 96.5 cubic feet of passenger space, a couple cubes less than the CTS or ES. Thanks to a particularly deep recess, trunk space is a whisker more than its direct competitors, including the Audi.
Signaling a big change in the way it’s managing the band, Ford has cut Lincoln some slack by allowing it to have a design center of its own. This may not sound like a big deal, but it’s the first time the brand has had a standalone studio in some 40 years. The Dearborn, Michigan facility is home to a diverse team of artisans made up of a dozen different nationalities. And they’ve got their work cut out for them. Four all-new Lincolns are expected to hit the road over the next two years.
The 2013 MKZ is the first product of this dedicated facility. The car itself is built atop the same architecture as the hot new Ford Fusion, but you’d never know it. Unlike previous generations of these cars, the 2013 models don’t appear to share any major exterior components, which is a very good thing.
Up front the MKZ’s design doesn’t break any new ground. It features a familiar front-end graphic that Lincoln has used for years. Even the thin bars filling the so-called “split-wing grille” opening are familiar, though they’ve been turned about 90 degrees compared to other Lincolns.
The car’s pudgy face may be familiar territory but that’s probably because it was an afterthought; designers clearly focused their efforts on its back end. The MKZ’s perky rump will have drivers and pedestrians alike stopping and staring. It’s unique, it’s elegant and it’s one of the car’s most striking features.
But trumping even its elevated backside is a retractable glass roof. It crowns the MKZ’s top with a pane of glazing large enough to be measured in acres. Actually, it covers 15.2 square feet, which is probably more than some Manhattan apartments. It’s undeniably cool to watch this giant sheet of glass pop up and slide backwards over the rear window. But as neat as the panoramic ceiling is, be warned; it’s a $2,995 option and it significantly hampers rearward visibility when deployed. Still it lets the sunshine in like a convertible with none of rattles or structural jiggles associated with a drop-top.
The MKZ’s exterior may be equal parts delight and dismay but there are plenty of things to smile about inside. Everything is clean and elegant, especially the sweeping dashboard and cascading center console, the dominant element in the car’s cabin. Even the materials are rich and inviting, particularly the leather on the seats. Add it all up and the MKZ’s cockpit speaks luxury in soft but sincere tones.
Push-button start is as common as personal bankruptcies these days, but Lincoln engineers took this idea one step further. They eliminated the traditional gear-selector, replacing it with buttons on the dashboard. It unclutters the cabin and opens up a host of possibilities for the center console’s newfound real estate.
The devil’s in the details and surprisingly for a domestic automaker Lincoln is paying attention to the little things. For instance, the front-seat headrests ratchet so just about any person can get comfortable. The power seat controls are highlighted in fine chrome details and designers even used the rear-seat reading lamps as an opportunity to do something artistic. The lights and buttons to control them are integrated into the headliner. They actually shine through the woven fabric covering the roof. It’s a clever design flourish, but one that will probably lead to ugly stains over time. Make sure the MKZ’s back bench is a Cheetos-free zone.
Speaking of the rear seat, it’s one of the car’s more disappointing features. It’s cramped back there. If you’re of the gangly persuasion you won’t be comfortable for long. Even more troubling is the headroom situation, with no space if any part of your body approaches the six-foot mark.
For better or worse the incessantly criticized MyLincoln Touch system is standard on every MKZ. The user interface features a 10.1-inch screen and controls practically every function of the car from navigation directions to the heated steering wheel.
Plenty of automotive journalists have carped about this technology, but frankly it’s not that hard to use. Spend an hour with it and you’ll soon learn the ins and outs. One downside to MyLincoln Touch though is that it can be a little slow to respond. Inputs aren’t always registered in a timely fashion. Also, we could not get Bluetooth audio to come out of the car’s speakers, a very strange problem.
Aside from its touch-based infotainment system, the MKZ is equipped with more high-tech features than a Boeing Dreamliner… and is hopefully more robust. Adaptive cruise control, active park assist and a lane-keeping system are but a few of the Jetsons-grade technology onboard this Lincoln. All of these secondary features work surprisingly well, especially the adaptive cruise control.
The test car provided to AutoGuide for evaluation was powered by a 3.7-liter V6, the largest and most powerful engine offered in the MKZ. It’s a staple of the Ford lineup and sees duty in the vehicles like the Mustang and F-150. In Lincoln service it delivers an unremarkable 300 horsepower with 277 pound-feet of torque, and plenty of vibration. The blue-collar Duratec V6 engine family has never been known for silky-smoothness and this one continues that unfortunate tradition. It buzzes far more than a luxury-car engine should; it almost feels like a riot is taking place ahead of the firewall. It’s not as harsh as an Osterizer full of walnut shells, but it’s not satisfying to wind out, either.
Fuel economy is not one of the car’s strong suits, either. With the six-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive it stickers at 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 on freeway jaunts. Unfortunately in our hands the MKZ only delivered 17 MPG.
Giving shoppers some welcome variety in their diet, the car is also offered with a 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine as well as a hybrid drivetrain. The turbo puts out 240 horsepower while the electric allegedly delivers up to 45 mpg in mixed driving.
LINCOLN DRIVE CONTROL
The range-topping MKZ V6 we test drove featured all-wheel drive. This is a great feature if you live in an area that gets smothered in snow, but it’s probably not necessary for most drivers. It adds weight and complexity, plus it seems to blunt the engine’s responsiveness.
On paper 300 horsepower sounds impressive but in practice it’s less than awe-inspiring. To be certain, the MKZ is a quick car, but it’s not fast. Undoubtedly part of the problem is weight. As delivered for testing the car clocked in at more than 4,000 pounds!
Every MKZ comes standard with Lincoln Drive Control. Basically this is an adaptive chassis that ties the engine, transmission, power steering and other vehicle systems together. Drivers can customize the ride, steering response and other parameters to their liking. On back-road battlefields Lincoln Drive Control works reasonably well. In sport mode you can feel the ride stiffen up over bumps and the steering sharpen through corners. In this setting the transmission is also very quick to change gears. In fact, it almost feels like a dual-clutch automatic.
All together the MKZ is moderately fun to drive, but really the emphasis is on luxury. It falls somewhere between the marshmallow Lexus ES350 and the rear-wheel-drive Cadillac CTS. One thing worth pointing out though is just how quiet the car’s interior is. No doubt thanks to generous amounts of sound deadener plus active noise cancellation, the MKZ’s cockpit is one of the most silent ever fitted to a road-going vehicle; even at highway speeds it’s as quiet as a nuclear submarine in enemy waters.
COST OF DOING BUSINESS
Starting price for the 2013 Lincoln MKZ is about $36,000. The hybrid version starts at exactly the same price and if you want the V6 engine and AWD, that version starts at about 40 grand. The test car provided to AutoGuide stickered for a whopping $51,185, including destination and delivery charges.
Will the 2013 MKZ reinvigorate Lincoln and pull it out of intensive care? Certainly it’s a great advance for the brand and we don’t remember being this excited about Lincoln since the rear-wheel-drive LS debuted in the early 2000s. Still, the MKZ competes in a segment that’s hardly devoid of solid choices. Offerings from Lexus, Audi and Cadillac set the luxury standard. When it comes to the MKZ it’s a stand-up product for Lincoln but it fails to stand out from the crowd.