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.