• Jun 17th 2009 at 11:57AM
  • 66
2010 Lincoln MKZ - Click above for high-res image gallery

The Lincoln MKZ began life as the Zephyr. It was bland-looking and far too underpowered to compete in the increasingly competitive entry-level luxury class. Ford updated the mid-size sedan back in 2007 with a more powerful engine, some cosmetic updates, and a new alphanumeric moniker. Despite the alterations, the least expensive Lincoln still didn't stack up with the competition in many areas, let alone in terms of image or "wow" factor.

Understandably, Lincoln is looking to reverse the fortunes of its MKZ for the 2010 model year, with a thorough makeover on the inside and some major cosmetic tweaks on the outside. Has Lincoln improved its volume sedan entry enough to make the MKZ a consideration for car shoppers? Hit the jump to find out how the 2010 Lincoln MKZ fared in our Autoblog review.

Photos copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

To understand exactly where the MKZ fits in the hierarchy of midsize entry-level luxury vehicles, we should first determine what the competition really is. Is it the Cadillac CTS? On price and size, the two vehicles are close, but the CTS is rear-wheel-drive, far sportier and has a much higher top-end price. While the Audi A4 is a front- or all-wheel drive proposition like the MKZ, it has a far greater price range and sportier demeanor. For our money, the MKZ's main competitors are the Lexus ES350 and the Acura TL. This group of vehicles has similar pricing and options, and all three are based off of non-luxury sedans sold under their parent company's less-exclusive nameplates. Admittedly, in this regard, the Lincoln is more of a gussied-up rebadge job of the capable Fusion/Mercury Milan and the Lex is a slicked-up Camry. By comparison, the TL would hardly recognize the Honda Accord as kin.

Our Tuxedo Black Clear Coat MKZ arrived equipped with the Technology Package and Sport Package options, and wore a MSRP of $37,255. The Technology Package includes adaptive HID headlamps, rain sensing windshield wipers and ambient lighting. With the Sport Package, you get an upgraded suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels and tires, and high contrast stitching with eye-catching white piping. All-wheel drive can be checked off as an option, but our tester was motivated only by its front wheels.

While the 2010 is only a mid-cycle refresh of the 2007 model, there are enough changes inside and out to fool the untrained eye into thinking that this Lincoln is all-new. The front end gains the new corporate split grille that debuted with the Lincoln MKR concept in 2007 and was first brought to production on the 2009 Lincoln MKS.

The new Lincoln front end is more polarizing than the stylistically invisible grille of the Gen 1 MKZ, and that's a good thing. In our books, "Love it or hate it" beats "not even knowing it exists" design any day of the week. Some Autobloggers like the look of the MKZ up front, though others on the team have been far less complimentary in their assessment of the new look. Another surprise and delight comes at the expense of Lincoln's Tuxedo Black paint job. Little flecks of glass embedded in the paint look like stars in the galaxy when viewed in sunlight, just like former Ford design chief Peter Horbury told us it would.

On the inside, the MKZ has been stripped of its award-winning dash design that was arguably its biggest selling point before. In its place is a more modern interior with an MKS-like look. Our model was outfitted with the optional Sport Package, which added contrasting colored seats front and back. The white piping outlining the comfortable, well-bolstered Bridge of Weir leather seating was consistently a real attention grabber, and it really brightened up an otherwise dark cabin. Another favorite of ours was our tester's classy use of chrome shapes and materials on the door inlet, which usefully differentiated the MKZ's interior from that of the Milan and Fusion.

Interior materials were nice throughout, though we were a bit disappointed that the dash materials were the same kind that can be found in the Ford Fusion. The softer, more elegant stock of the costlier MKS would have been been preferred. We also didn't like the fact that the plain-Jane, hard plastic glove box didn't quite match the look of the surrounding materials.

For more than 10 years, Ford has had the same five button keypad to get owners into their cars without keys. After a decade, the look of the keys became less than modern, so Ford gave the fixture a thorough makeover for the 2009 MKS. Not so for the MKZ, though. It still has the same old buttons as a 1999 Taurus. The standard Ford-issue key fob doesn't lend much to the luxury experience, either. In our estimation, a valet shouldn't get the keys to your $37,000 Lincoln confused with the keys from the 2008 Focus next to it.

We were also a bit puzzled by the memory seats. Every time we started the car, the side mirrors adjusted themselves down towards the cement. So we set the mirrors and our seating position to our preference (or so we thought we did), and when we got back in the car the mirrors were down again. As it turns out, you need to have the car in Park to set save your settings. This would have been fine if the MKZ defaulted to the seat being all the way back for easy ingress/egress, but that wasn't the case. Why not just leave the seat in the last position? After all, how often does someone else drive your car?

One knock against the original Zephyr was that it was flat-out underpowered when compared to the competition. At the time, most run-of-the-mill midsize sedans got more juice from their V6 engines than did the Zephyr. The 2007 model MKZ, however, was upgraded with Ford's new-at-the-time 3.5-liter V6, which was rated at 263 horsepower. Ford has kept the same engine for 2010, though 263 hp is once again on the low end of the power spectrum. The Lexus ES350 and Acura TL both eek a bit more motivation out of their powertrains, though to its credit, the MKZ gets by without the need for premium fuel.

The tried-and-true 3.5-liter performs adequately in the MKZ, with enough punch for most drivers. When combined with its silky six-speed automatic transmission, the MKZ is a very smooth operator while cruising the boulevard. Gearing has been tweaked to improve off-the-line acceleration, and the new SelectShift manual shifting option is actually reasonably quick and almost fun to use. We were able to achieve around 23.5 mpg in mixed driving, which is about where you'd be with most V6-powered vehicles in the entry-level luxury segment.

Out on the road, the MKZ is neither as athletic as the Acura TL or as cushy the Lexus ES350. Lincoln engineers settled somewhere in the middle, with a tight chassis that soaks up road imperfections while providing enough athleticism to qualify as fun to drive. The MKZ doesn't feels as edgy as the Fusion Sport we tested earlier in the year, yet it does give you the ride and handling prowess to attack curves instead of easing into them. The suspension tuning may not have been track-ready, but that makes it a more comfortable cruiser out on the highway. Ford also took pains to keep the MKZ cabin luxury car quiet, and its efforts have paid off. We were able to hold conversations freely and easily, and we didn't have to raise our voices above 80 mph, either.

Push the little Lincoln around, though, and it's less than impressive. Its steering is a little over-boosted and feedback is minimal. The optional Sport Package on our tester did provide stiffer springs with larger sway bars for increased stability. It is far more competent in corners than Lincolns of yore, and a bit more spirited than the competition from Lexus, but it isn't as composed as the Acura (let alone anything coming out of Europe).

Lincoln has definitely freshened the look of the MKZ both inside and out, and it's a markedly more attractive package than the first generation model. We're not sure if Ford's luxury brand was aiming for the middle, but after a week with the freshly updated MKZ, that's exactly where it finds itself. In terms of styling and performance, the MKZ ends up being a nice alternative for those among us who want something more spirited than a Lexus ES350 and more subdued than a Acura TL. Whether those attributes will help Lincoln steal sales from the competition is another matter. With stellar reliability ratings, solid performance and the most standard features in its class, it should.

Photos copyright ©2009 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I love this redo. Everything they've done makes this car much more appealing to me...the new interior, the new grille and taillights, the tuxedom black paint, and most of all the sport package. With all the improvements, and the way Ford has managed to stay out of bankruptcy, this is the car I'll be gettin when the lease runs out on my '07 Cadillac CTS in September. Way to go Lincoln !!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I think with the very nice interior and not-sporting intentions make it the ideal Lexus ES competitor, and I think it does that job very well.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I've always been a fan of the styling on the Zephyr/MKZ. This update makes a pleasant-looking car downright attractive.

      I, too, think it'd be better served with the 3.7L, at least as an option.

      It's not going to be a barnburner, and it isn't meant to. Maybe that's the reason Lincoln still leaves me a little cold. The brand has been wandering in the desert for about 10 years now, fielding only concept cars that "would predict the new styling direction of Lincoln" annually, until Lincoln ended up with a line of cars that had completely different grilles tacked to old designs that needed incentives to move.

      I wish Ford had the guts to move Mercury further into this segment and reinvent Lincoln as a true luxury car brand. Kinda like what they changes they made from their 1960 line to their '61 Continental. I wish Ford had the guts to let Lincoln play legitimately in the luxury car field.

      Until they do, they should only expect to hear, "It's a good car in its own right, but it isn't competitive with cars like [insert luxury marque here]. Then again, it isn't supposed to."

      Until Lincoln can make a car that gets unqualified praise in its own right (CTS anyone?), it will continue to be an also-ran brand.
      • 6 Years Ago
      This car is a perfect example of everything that is wrong at Ford. It has a tacked on face...that is ugly, it is overpriced, it has a bland interior, and you can tell it was built by bean counters.

      "Lincoln, nothing more than a rebadged trim level on a Ford since the MKS".

      Hey...Lincoln can have that (truthful) tagline for free.
      • 6 Years Ago
      It reminds me of 70's American cars. The huge, flat, square dash with outdated looking gauges, the bloated looking body floating over the narrow looking wheels, the oversized wrap around tail lights (that might be 80s Americana actually), the huge overhangs front and rear.
        • 6 Years Ago
        My thoughts, too. That dash entire dash layout is absurdly dated looking, and the goofy chrome touches look like the kind of glue-on interior dress-up kits you order from the back of car mags. It's everything that used to be wrong with American car interior designs, but isn't found much these days. Thanks for keeping the nightmare alive, FoMoCo....
      • 6 Years Ago
      Don't call Lincoln or Cadillac "luxury" cars.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @Matt "Lincoln is "near luxury"...they compete with Buick."

        You must be out of your mind to think that Lincoln is "near luxury". In terms of options, price, and standard features, this car is a strong competitor to both the Lexus ES and the Acura TL. If you think the MKZ or MKS are not worthy luxury cars, then you've never been in one nor driven one.

        Additionally, surely you're basing Cadillac's "luxury car" status on the new CTS and probably the Escalade. Outside of the CTS and arguably the current Escalade, Cadillac's cars are on very equal or lesser footing than their Lincoln counterparts.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Cadillac is luxury cars...

        Lincoln is "near luxury"...they compete with Buick.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Have you seen or been inside the new CTS? I've been driving German cars exclusively since 2003, chiefly due to the interior, but I'd get thew new CTS in a heartbeat. GM finally got the exterior and interior right, that car is word class luxury (as opposed to "American luxury" as defined by Lincoln continental or town car)
        • 6 Years Ago
        Well the sts isn't too bad. I'd say the only car they have right now that is low in quality would have to be the dts and that's only because it's the last remnant of the grandpamobile fleet.
      • 6 Years Ago
      So this is a Lincoln Tauras SHO with faux wood like chrome window blinds grill and Mazda interior?

      I agree with another poster, the LS was the best Lincoln I've seen (just fix the cheapness of it and reliability)
      • 6 Years Ago
      Where is the 3.7 V6?
      The car put on 100lbs of bulk, and the gearing was made taller by 4%.
      Maybe 'Gearing has been tweaked to improve off-the-line acceleration' means more towncar like-slow.
      • 2 Years Ago
      This "Thing" is downright UGLY! My family "drove" Lincolns from the 30s through the 60s. My 1st car was an aunt's cast off 1961 Lincoln Continental (She wrote out a check for it right off the showroom floor, but did not realize that that car did not have AC....then she bought a '63 WITH AC, kept the '61 for a decade longer and when I went to San Francisco to attend college she gave it to me inasmuch as she thought that AC was not needed there). EVERYWHERE I drove that car, in the years thereafter, people would come up and say how beautiful it was. Whether I was at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in SF for drinks, or on a trip to Southern California, IT always stood out (If fact, at both the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel Air, the car hops always parked it under the porte cochere at the front door, and sent the MBs out into the sun! "Your LC is a REAL luxury car!". In 2002 Lincoln produced a prototype whose design followed the lines of that 1961 design. It was a knockout but it was NEVER PUT INTO PRODUCTION! (They gave it away as a prize a few years back at the Pebble Beach Concours). STUPID! If they really want to get back into the running, they need to produce a design akin to the '61.....classic and elegant. This car looks like it is copying a Toyota, which is trying to copy a Beemer, which now - I have owned several 7 series - is trying to copy a Lexus etc., all of which are BORING! Anyone, if all of the aforementioned were lined up, really would not know one from the other. My car is a '97 Jag XJ6L.......now THAT car stands out in a crowd! I would love to buy something newer, but there is nothing out there that is distinctive. If one is going to drop 75-125 thou on a "Arrival & Departure" mobile, it sure as Hell ought to look like it!
      • 6 Years Ago
      yet, another ugly american car
      why most of the state's cars are so ugly?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Kind of like the car, but it suffers a little from the classic loooong hood of American luxury cars (land yachts).
      It looks about 4-5 inches too long from the side view pic, but maybe that's the lens' fault...?
      Is the dash black plastic?...oh my...pad it more or have fake carbon fiber, or wood of a dark shade, or something other than cheap looking toy plastic. My Honda Fit has better textures on the dash.
      • 6 Years Ago
      eh...Bring back the Lincoln LS. I could never figure this car out...
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