We'd like to say Lincoln's MKZ (pictured above) is hot on the Lexus' heels, but Lincoln's lineup remains a work in progress. The Fusion-based MKZ offers a nice mix of attributes, but Lincoln's dealer count has shrunk, and many Lincoln outlets are located within – or immediately adjacent to – Ford stores. If a Fusion-based Lincoln credibly aspires to Lexus-like attributes, the same won't be said for the Ford showrooms. Here are the offerings:
The Lexus ES 350 team has, over the sedan's several variations, worked hard to separate the volume Lexus from Toyota's similar Camry, and in 2017 that separation might actually be quantifiable. To its credit, the ES 350 (pictured at left) comes with but one non-hybrid drivetrain, a 3.5 liter V6 connected to a six-speed automatic driving the front wheels. With it, the ES 350 delivers a motoring experience bordering on the sublime.
With the exception of its now-predictable big mouth grille, the balance of the ES sheetmetal is responsibly muted, inoffensive to the eye and should wear well through the typical payment cycle. Access to its moderately upscale interior is easy, and once inside you'll find expansive room (some 100 cubic feet) for four, along with adequate space for the occasional fifth.
With a curb weight of just 3,600 pounds, the V6's 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque is responsive, and that's evident in the four-door's 7-second sprint to 60. This isn't a track day or autocross weapon, but if part of your day is a stressful commute, this will make it less so.
With a base – albeit well appointed – spec, the ES 350 retails for just under $40,000. We would order ours in Atomic Silver, even if "atomic" seems so last-century.
If you can forget – for a minute – the Matthew McConaughey connection, know that Lincoln's MKZ is fully credible as a midsize, mid-fashion sedan. If you like your Fords with more expressive interiors and additional driving refinement, there's a lot to like in Lincoln's MKZ.
Lincoln offers two drivetrains, but neither is directly competitive with the ES 350's 3.5 liter V6. Standard spec is a 2.0 liter turbocharged four, delivering 245 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. Again connected to a six-speed automatic driving the front wheels (all-wheel drive is optional), the four-cylinder Lincoln goes about its business efficiently, but without the almost inborn serenity of the Lexus V6. And while you can spec your MKZ with a V6, that option is a twin-turbo six with 350 hp (front-wheel drive) or 400 hp (all-wheel drive). That powertrain elevates the MKZ to a price level we wouldn't commit to in a Lincoln showroom, even if McConaughey was handing us the keys his-own-self.
Dimensionally, the MKZ is almost an overlay with the Lexus; the Lincoln is just slightly longer in both wheelbase and overall length. It also outweighs the Lexus by roughly 140 pounds, which puts additional strain on the four-cylinder mill. In Jade Green with cappuccino leather, our MKZ listed for just over $36,000. But with $2,500 in regional incentives, the final figure was under $34,000, and offered with it a $277/month lease on 36 payments.
Given their similar missions and footprints, it may boil down to personal preference. We like the refinement of the Lexus, and the high level of care that accompanies both its initial delivery and ongoing service. But there's something to be said for Lincoln's position as the underdog, especially when underpriced. And in the aftermath of Ford's massive neglect of this particular franchise, underdog is what we as consumers (and Lincoln's own dealers) are saddled with.