• Image Credit: Ford

Lincoln is the blockbuster hot movie of this holiday season. Ford's Lincoln brand, which is amidst the launch of an all new MKZ sedan and restaging of its image would hope for the same kind of lionization, but is going to have a much longer, tougher trip.

Henry Leland, a former manager at Cadillac, and his son, Wilfred Leland, formed the Lincoln Motor Company in August, 1917. Leland named the new company after the sixteenth President, who was his personal hero.

Along the way, over the last century, Lincoln has had some real glory years after Ford purchased the brand in 1922. The Lincolns of the 1930s and 40s -- Zephrys and Continentals -- were stylish and competed well against Cadillacs of the same era. The Town Car became, for a time, a prestige car that graced the driveways of many a corporate executive and banker in the 60s and 70s in addition to being the airport car of choice for executives who wanted more than a yellow taxi.

But from about 1980 to this year, Lincoln suffered from neglected-child syndrome at Ford. Truly awful product decisions were made, such as a Continental built off a Ford Taurus platform and two different Lincoln pickups. And when good product decisions were landed on, they were usually accompanied by horrible marketing decisions. One way or another, Lincoln was tortured and managed into a downward spiral of sales and relevance so much so that Ford went on a buying spree of luxury car replacements -- Jaguar, Aston Matin, Land Rover and Volvo.

Now that all those brands have been sold off by Ford after years of managing those badly and racking up billions in losses, it is back to Lincoln. It's as if Ford was married to Lincoln and then went off and had a series of affairs with European beauties only to find itself back at home with the girl Ford married a century ago to make the best of it.

Three of Lincoln's latest vehicles launched before this Fall -- the MKS sedan, MKT crossover and MKX crossover -- have been also-rans. Styling and pricing of all three have been misfires and the lousy sales reflect the bad decisions.

The all-new MKZ sedan, though, is meant to be a first step in Lincoln's makeover to respectability. So what do we think of it?

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  • Image Credit: Ford

I have a pretty well established idea of Lincoln in my head, but my 11-year old son, Henry, doesn't, so I brought him along. "Henry…what do you think of Lincoln? Could you see yourself driving one and being cool?" Keep in mind that Henry rides with me in all my test cars, including luxury cars. Henry: "Sure, why not." Okay, I thought, an unbiased, open-minded consumer.

The first thing that hits you is the spareness of the interior dash. Buttons and knobs have been replaced by a touchscreen navigation screen and a handful of so-called "haptic" controllers that you merely touch to make something happen. Just touch the controllers properly and you can adjust the volume on the audio system, the climate controls, etc. Henry has never seen this before. "It's like trying to figure out the combination to a safe," said my son.

There is no gear shifter in the center console, or on the steering column. Instead, Lincoln has given us push button gearing on the dashboard, a feature that first surfaced in the 1950s, and has been revived here in a good way. It frees up the console area, and the interior does feel pleasantly airy and spacious. The knock on this set up is that Lincoln has selected a cheapish grade of plastic with a flat finish that looks and feels like it belongs in a Ford Focus. And when I press the P for Park and R for reverse, the feeling behind the buttons is also kind of cheap and clicky. In a premium car, it should feel silky and expensive. It doesn't, and it is not up to my expectations.

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  • Image Credit: Ford

The exterior design of the MKZ is extremely well tailored. The crease that runs from the front headlamp to the rear deck anchors the cars silhouette of the car. The rear deck built-in spoiler gives it a sporty look.

Under the hood, there are choices: a 2.0 liter four-cylinder EcoBoost base engine that produces 240 hp; a 2.0 liter four-cylinder hybrid; and a dual-overhead cam 24-valve 3.7 liter V6 aluminum block engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is 18/26. That engine produces 300 hp.

There are adjustable rides. In comfort mode, whilst driving the EcoBoost engine, I was quite comfortable and enjoyed the quiet ride that Asian makes like Lexus have led on until recently. Buick and now Lincoln have bested the Toyota luxe plate for ride-quiet. The sport mode delivered a tauter feel cruising around the back roads of Michigan, but I was glad to shift back to comfort mode when I hit the highway.

The EcoBoost engine was certainly adequate, and provided all the necessary performance I wanted for all kinds of driving while not providing any real spark or fun I'm afraid.
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  • Image Credit: Ford

The pricing of the MKZ gets us into an interesting debate. One can buy a Ford Fusion with all the features one would reasonably want in the Lincoln for about $37,000 if you were of a mind. Seriously, check the boxes for all-wheel-drive, lane departure warnings and automatic park-assist, etc. and you are in the upper $30s. The MKZ, with a few changes to styling and interior, like the push-button gearing, will cost you some $9,000 more. Hmmmm. This comparison pre-supposes that I will feel more prosperous driving a Lincoln versus a Ford. Many would feel this way. But without the brand cachet, I think I might opt for the loaded Fusion, call it a day, and blow the nine grand on a really sweet vacation in France.

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Bottom Line
  • Image Credit: Ford

Bottom Line

What We Like: The exterior design and the elegantly spare interior. The opened up space in the middle of the car was quite welcome as the cramped cockpit feel of other luxe cars has worn thin with us. The MyLincoln Touch system and SYNC worked with my iPhone just fine.

What We Don't Like: Interior materials must be aesthetically better for these prices. The quality of the plastics and the finishes just aren't up to snuff. The roof retracts and provides great skyward views, but obstructs the rear view out the back window something awful.

All in all, the MKZ is a very good Lincoln. But compared with other cars we would be shopping in the $40,000 to $50,000 neighborhood, we'd be hard pressed to drive away with this car after signing up for a three-year lease. Between the lack of cachet of the name and the shortcomings on the base engine performance and interior materials, we just can't get there. We aren't saying you wouldn't be happy in an MKZ. We are just saying there are better cars for your money. Lincoln needed to hit the ball further, and really clear the fence with room to spare, to make its case. My 11-year old son Henry warmed to the car by the time our testing was done. But he won't be ready to buy one for a few decades, and by then we aren't sure the brand will still be around.

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  • Image Credit: Ford

Now Check Out

Opinion: Ford's New Lincoln Push Is All Uphill Against Rivals



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