The logic behind the Lincoln MKZ is clear enough: if Toyota can get away with making a Lexus out of a Camry, why can’t Ford do the same with a Fusion? The ES 350 is arguably convincing as a Lexus (I’d argue pro, if not with much vigor, while there’s no shortage of people who’d take the other side). But does the MKZ make for a convincing Lincoln?
The MKZ spent one year as the Zephyr, and received a more thorough revision for 2010. Both the grille—Lincoln’s current twin waterfall—and the tail lamps have gotten larger, in the current fashion. Unlike with the Fusion’s tri-bar, the supersizing doesn’t hurt. But the grille does nothing for the side view, from which the MKZ, though handsome, appears much less distinctive. Even with bespoke sheetmetal fore and aft of the doors, the midsize Lincoln sedan doesn’t look even as different from the Fusion as the ES does from the Camry. The money for dedicated fenders was not well spent—this is the way GM used to do it. If you’re going to spring for unique metal, spend a little more to alter the basic shape.
A larger problem: the MKZ doesn’t look much different than any other conventionally packaged three-box sedan. Ask a kid to draw a sedan, and he’d likely draw this. I dropped by a Buick showroom while driving this car, and the LaCrosse makes the MKZ appear just so twentieth century in comparison.
This story continues inside the MKZ. The Zephyr and pre-refresh MKZ had a three-quarter Town Car IP that, though certainly dated, was definitely Lincolnesque. There’s nothing remotely memorable about the new IP with the possible exception of the lighted hash marks that ring the instruments—a trait shared with other current Lincolns. Some other bits of style: the light gray piping on the steel gray seats and a tasteful level of chrome trim. The interior materials, while not those of a $41,000 car, are certainly better than those in the Fusion. The padded door panels are an especially welcome upgrade. But the Fusion should have door panels this nice, rather than the econo-car moldings it does have. A Lincoln interior should be nicer still. Beginning with the sound the doors make when pulled shut.
One dividend of the MKZ’s conventional packaging: good visibility to the front and sides. The thick-pillared, high-belted LaCrosse can’t touch it here. The front seats, though less cushy than those in the larger MKS, provide good lateral support. Together with the hand-operated parking brake, they suggest that we might even have a sport sedan on our hands. The rear seat, while fairly roomy, has on overly flat bottom cushion, for me among the least comfortable in any car.
Cargo is a strong point. Unlike in the MKS or the LaCrosse, the opening is as expansive as the trunk itself. Credit the conventional three-box shape. The hinges are the non-intrusive sort. And, for even more space, you can fold the rear seat. Can’t do that in a LaCrosse or a Lexus ES. One omission: no interior handle to close the trunk—you must touch the outer surface of the lid. Why?
A 263-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 remains the sole engine option. It’s no EcoBoost—if Ford offered that engine it could just put the MKZ on the enthusiast map—yet the sans-boost six is more than adequate. If you don’t want a little torque steer, you want the optional all-wheel-drive. Fuel economy in mildly aggressive suburban driving was about 18.5—almost the same as the larger, heavier, considerably more powerful all-wheel-drive MKS EcoBoost. Go figure. The six-speed automatic can be manually shifted, which can be handy on curvy or hilly roads.
Manually shift a Lincoln, really? The tested MKZ was fitted with an optional sport suspension that certainly livens things up. After a few days in an MKS, this MKZ felt like a Miata until my reference point readjusted. It’s taut.
Perhaps too taut. With the sport suspension, the MKZ’s ride quality is often jittery, and occasionally crosses the line into harsh. I don’t recall the Fusion Sport riding this firmly, though certainly it must have? With a Ford badge and tighter steering I might have found this ride/handling balance agreeable, at least on the right road. In a Lincoln it seems…inappropriate.
Noise levels are fairly low, but not MKS low. When I drove an MKS with the regular suspension and a Milan back-to-back a few years ago, I found that the former was notably smoother and quieter. Possibly because the typical mainstream sedan has gotten so much smoother and quieter in recent years, I didn’t get the same premium feeling this time around. If the Fusion isn’t this smooth and quiet, it ought to be.
Perhaps it’s time to change our perceptions of what a Lincoln should be? Problem is, we need something to change them to. Like the MKS, but to an even greater degree, the MKZ lacks a coherent, distinctive character. The MKS at least had the “big and cushy with tons of stuff” thing down pat. As much as I hate to say it, the MKZ is just a mildly upgraded Fusion. Not a bad car by a long shot, since the Fusion is a good, reliable basis to start from. And at the right price I’d gladly recommend the MKZ, and certainly wouldn’t kick one out of my garage. But the $41,355 on the tested car’s sticker is not the right price. To deserve that kind of money, Lincoln needs to offer something more special. Perhaps the most telling indicator: while my luxury-loving wife hated to see the MKS go back, she hasn’t missed the MKZ for a moment.
Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review
Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online provider of automotive pricing and reliability data