New or Used: Delusions of the Hot Rod Lincoln Edition

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used delusions of the hot rod lincoln edition

Ken writes:

I’m hoping the Best and Brightest (is that trademarked?) can help out on a dilemma I have: to upgrade or trade in.

About a year ago we purchased a certified used 2008 Lincoln MKZ AWD. It was bought to replace a very different car my wife previously drove – a 2004 Mazda RX-8. The Mazda was a blast – but was starting to get unreliable and with a longer commute and New England winters a different car was needed. On paper the Lincoln fit the bill. It checked all the boxes: price, maintenance costs, reliability, and features.

But specs and numbers don’t always translate into the real world and the love of my life is experiencing buyer’s remorse. The car has been reliable and does have many features, but it lacks character and soul. Sure the RX-8’s engine would flood every so often and the heat worked intermittently, but when it was running she loved driving that thing.

Granted the MKZ and the RX-8 are two completely different animals, but is there anything I can do to fix this car up for her? It seems like her biggest gripe is the car’s handling followed by its acceleration. It’s been hard finding tuning support for the MKZ. I’ve done some research and found a company called Steeda Autosports that specializes in Ford Fusion AWD parts that have some interchangeability with the MKZ. (Mostly suspension parts.)

So here are my questions:

Should I upgrade the car for her? And if so with a few thousand dollars could I get it to handle better and a little more power?

Upgrading handling: 1) Should I start with just the springs ($250) or 2) Should I get the full kit: shocks, spring, and sway bars ($650)?

Upgrading the engine: 1) A CAI seems a good place to start – but I can’t find one anywhere.

Or should we trade the car in and get a used 3-series AWD or Lexus IS250 AWD that she liked, but were more expense and had less features. (Though ultimately she probably would have enjoyed driving more.)

Steve answers:

No. I wouldn’t spend another penny. You have gone from an all out sports car to two tons of luxury with a moderate sport bent. So give yourself time to adjust in the decompression chamber that is your daily driver. It takes time to sink into the ‘feel’ of any vehicle, and a lot of the mythical personality issues in the beginning go away in due time.

Ford spends an insane amount of money (hundreds of millions) developing the right feel for your car. That’s not saying that your tastes are the same as Ford’s engineers. But throwing money at trying to make the Lincoln into an RX-8 in drag this early in the game would be pointless. If I were you, I would keep everything as it is.

Sajeev answers:

Ever driven a Mazdaspeed6, or just a regular Mazda 6? Did you like it? Then forget what my esteemed colleague says. Steve is no fun at all, because the Lincoln MKZ can mimic its superior Japanese brother for a few bucks from the bank. And provide the mid-luxury appointments never available from Mazda. It’s a win-win, sort of. But don’t take my word for it, because people with Zephyrs already went to Mazda dealers to find the truth.

For handling, do a solid and use the bars from an AWD Speed6 on your MKZ AWD. From that thread, it’s a safe bet that the difference in sizing is a few millimeters, making a significant difference without turning the Lincoln into a crude coil-over hack job. Poke around the Mazda forums, you’ll probably find a Speed6 guy selling his bars in a misguided(?) attempt at faster lap times. Add slightly more aggressive semi-metallic brake pads and see what happens. Then go nuts with Bilstein or Koni struts if you like your progress. And then stop, because you can’t polish a turd.

Now to the powertrain: you need a real tune on the computer. Thanks to a friend of mine who is a whiz with SCT stuff, I found out that the Ford 3.5 responds well to aftermarket re-flashes, mostly from transmission parameters tweaked to speed up down/up shifts. A good tuner takes things like the MAF’s (mass-air flow sensor) transfer function in account: optimizing a car for performance over efficiency, even removing misguided attempts at driver safety (torque management). And you might see 10-20 extra horses too, like a certain somebody saw in a previously discussed Lincoln product. I’m serious, especially if you have 93 octane fuel in your state.

Can you have your cake and eat it too? Nope. But making an MKZ into less of a watered-down Mazda and more of the sporty Lincoln LS V6–it was supposed to replace–is a no brainer, for less than $1000. Anti-swaybars and an SCT computer tune are where you start. If that’s what you really want.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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2 of 61 comments
  • SupaMan SupaMan on Sep 17, 2010

    I'm with Sajeev on this one. The MKZ/Zephyr/Fusion is on a pulled and slightyly stretched CD platform based on the Mazda6 so finding go-fast parts that fit the MKZ shouldn't be a stretch. Yes, as Sajeev says, you really can't tune a turd to be an all out (RX8-esque) racer when it came from the factory as a turd (and really, who buys a Lincoln for that purpose?) BUT you can make it a little sharper, a little faster and a little more enjoyable to drive in reclaiming some of that MazdaSpeed spirit. Personally, I'd leave the engine upgrades alone, or keep them to the bare minimum.

  • LUNDQIK LUNDQIK on Dec 08, 2010

    In case anyone is still following or looking for Lincoln parts and comes across this... We went with Sajeev's sugestions. Searched MazdaSpeed6 forums (and some AWD Fusion forums) and found that the rear sway bar is compatible between all the cars. Bought a Whiteline aftermarket that the Mazda guys seem to like and its really done a good job at reducing body roll in the MKZ. Also threw on a front strut brace from Steeda for the hell of it. There were mixed reviews but they're cheap and easy to put on. Next is that tune you were talking about Sajeev.

  • Analoggrotto Only allow Tesla drivers to race, we are the epitome of class and brilliance.
  • Wjtinfwb When my kids turned 16 and got their Operators, we spent $400 to send both (twins) to 2 driving schools. One held by the local Sherriff was pretty basic but a good starter on car control and dealing with police officers as they ran the school. Then they went to a full day class in N Atlanta on a racetrack, with the cars supplied by BMW. They learned evasive maneuvers, high speed braking, skid control on a wet skid pad and generally built a lot of confidence behind the wheel. Feeling better about their skills, we looked for cars. My son was adamant he wanted a manual, Halleluiah! Looking at used Civics and Golf's and concerned about reliability and safety, I got discouraged. Then noticed an AutoTrader adv. for a new leftover '16 Ford Focus ST six-speed. 25k MSRP advertised for $17,500. $2500 above my self-imposed limit. I went to look, a brand new car, 16 miles on it, black with just the sunroof. 3 year warranty and ABS, Airbags. One drive and the torquey turbo 2.0 convinced me and I bought it on the spot. 7 years and 66k miles later it still serves my son well with zero issues. My daughter was set on a Subaru, I easily found a year old Crosstrek with all the safety gear and only 3k miles. 21k but gave my wife and I lots of peace of mind. She still wheels the Subaru, loves it and it too has provided 7 years and 58k miles of low cost motoring. Buy what fits your budget but keep in mind total cost over the long haul and the peace of mind a reliable and safe car provides. Your kids are worth it.
  • Irvingklaws Here's something cheaper, non-german, and more intriguing...
  • Wjtinfwb Happy you're loving your Z4. Variety is the spice of life and an off-beat car like the Z4 intrigues me as well. More than anything, your article and pictures have me lusting for the dashboards of a decade ago. Big, round analog gauges. Knobs and buttons to dial up the A/C, Heat or Volume. Not a television screen in sight. Need to back up? Use the mirrors or look over your shoulder. If your Z4 had the six-speed manual, it would be about perfect. Today's electronified BMW's leave me ice cold, as do the new Mercedes and Audi's with their video game interiors. Even a lowly GTI cannot escape the glowing LED dashboard. I'm not a total luddite, Bluetooth streaming for the radio would be nice and I'd agree the cooled seats would be a bonus on a warm day with the top down. But the Atari dashboard is just a bridge too far for me.
  • Craiger Honestly I was incredibly disappointed by the lack of steering feel. I dropped off my 530 at the dealer in New Jersey and picked up the Z. Driving all of my familiar roads I was just shocked at how much info wasn't coming through the wheel. Because of that I was never able to push the Z like I did the 530.