If you need proof that Lincoln really is down right now, here it is: they must be down, because Edmunds is kicking them. The same blog that tossed the Volt’s salad with an enthusiasm worthy of Tom Colicchio has placed its newest MKZ tester into the stocks for a bit of the ol’ public shaming. At the crux of the issue: the disgusting fact that, when fitted with the same tires found on the BMW M5, the Lincoln MKZ outperforms it in the Edmunds slalom test.
Just kidding. There’s more to it than that. Or is there?
The article, titled “This Car Won’t Save Lincoln”, starts off with a Farago-esque broadside:
There are four things on the 2013 Lincoln MKZ that are undeniably best in class — four things that will blindside Lincoln’s rivals, and shock and awe its customers.
Those four things are its tires. The rest of the new MKZ is wanting, disappointing and generally undesirable.
Apparently, West Coast press-fleet MKZs are fitted with the Michelin Pilot Super Sport which, according to the Lincoln PR person contacted by Edmunds, is only “85 percent certain” to be offered in production. This tire, according to Edmunds, is the standard-equipment tire on the BMW M5. When equipped with that tire, the MKZ was faster through the slalom than the aforementioned M5, and one mile per hour slower than the Porsche 911.
As a racer, I respect the hell out of that. If you can beat the M5 on equal tires, when your car wasn’t engineered for those tires, that’s doing something. It speaks volumes about Ford’s ability to deliver the “European experience” for which the color rags have been screaming since time immemorial. Nice job, guys.
As a journalist, however, I’m a little concerned about the behavior displayed by both Ford and Edmunds here. Let’s start with the Blue Oval. This tire-swapping stunt isn’t even close to, say, Pontiac’s decision to drop a tuned-up 421 into the 1964 GTO tested by Car and Driver. To begin with, it was prima facie obvious — enough for the Edmunds editors to notice. I’m pretty sure the “stock” cars used by GM for all of their Burgerkingring taxpayer trackdays are a lot farther away from showroom configuration than this re-shod sedan was. With that said, the plain fact is that until the day that Lincoln customers can order their MKZs with Michelin Super Sports, they should be left off the press cars. Playing it any other way is an ethical grey area at best and customer deception at worst.
Now for Edmunds. Their review closes with this rather damning summation:
Basically, the MKZ just doesn’t feel special. And that’s the kiss of death in this hyper-competitive market, which is filled with sedans that do feel special. And make no mistake, every other manufacturer that makes an entry-luxury sedan — from Acura to Volvo — is selling a superior product.
Ford says this MKZ is the future of Lincoln. The car that will save it from suffering the same fate as Mercury, Plymouth, Oldsmobile and Pontiac. But if this is the best Ford can do, we say Mulally, Fields and Farley should just cut their losses and get the headstone ready.
Is the MKZ really inferior to the Civic-alike Volvo S60? The beaky-Accord Acura TL with its deafening interior and retro electronics? The ladies at Edmunds doth protest too much, methinks. I’m also not sure that the mass-market-sedan-based near-luxury market is “filled with sedans that do feel special.” It seems to me that whatever the MKZ’s faults in the areas of rear-seat room, four-cylinder thrust, and unethical press-car tire choices, the sheer design chutzpah of the thing makes it special. Dismissing it as an ES250 for the new millennium is a touch facile.
The problem is this: Edmunds needs the wobble. And as I’ve noted in the past:
[a particular writer] typically found his wobble the way the print guys do it nowadays: by picking on a vehicle which barely trails a close competitive set.
It’s even better if the product comes from a company which is already being privately written-off in airport hospitality lounges across the country. By blasting the MKZ, Edmunds is discharging its weapon in a safe direction. They’ll be on the right side of history; when Lincoln closes its doors, Edmunds can point to this review as evidence that they talked tough on Lincoln all the way to the grave. It makes stuff like their Acura puff piece look more credible and cements their relationship with the Acura PR people in Torrance even further.
That’s how the sausage is made. In this case, Lincoln’s providing the mystery meat in the middle. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to call my Ford PR person. Any time I see a car make good use of its tires, I don’t think hit piece; I think National Solo dark horse. MKZ, giddyap!