2012 Lincoln MKZ Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 16, 2012

The 2012 Lincoln MKZ has supple leather and wood trim for luxury-car street cred, and hybrid flower power to appeal to greens.

While Lincoln plans its future around a new lineup of vehicles, today's upscale Fords have been criticized for being just that--lightly upgraded versions of cars and crossovers you can get somewhere else, for less.

The 2012 Lincoln MKZ doesn't escape that judgement, but like Lexus and Toyota before it, Ford's figured out how to make badge engineering work for the better. The MKZ's a restyled, better-upholstered Ford Fusion--and that's a great place to start since the Fusion's been one of our top-rated vehicles since its introduction.

Styling's a big differentiator for the MKZ. It's infused with a big winged grille on the front end, one that's all full of drama, but draws some complaints for its size and prominence. Otherwise, down the side and from the rear, it's much more a replica of the Fusion--still attractive and tidy, but lacking some of the impact the nose suggests. The cabin's much more plush after a 2010 renovation, with Scottish leather on the seats and bands of real wood highlighting an interior that's fairly dominated by LCD touchscreens for the gauges and for the audio and navigation systems.

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Lincoln offers MKZ buyers a choice of V-6 or hybrid four-cylinder drivetrains, and the hybrid comes off as the better value. There's nothing wrong with the V-6's straight-line performance except a little too much engine noise, but fuel economy is just average, and so is the handling, though the Sport package and its 18-inch wheels and retuned suspension are a good start. Optional all-wheel drive feels like a setback, adding a few hundred pounds of curb weight without promising much more traction, except in the northern tier. The Hybrid's team of a lean-burn four-cylinder, batteries and motors are a beautifully integrated set, and would be our pick for most drivers. Not only is its 41-mpg city EPA rating impressive, but the transition from gas to gas-electric operation is the best we've experienced this side of the Chevy Volt, and its electric steering and regenerative brakes silence some of the most serious criticisms we usually level at hybrids.

The MKZ Hybrid also has a nifty visual trick that helps drivers learn how to drive more efficiently. It says it with flowers: one part of the LCD gauges shows a plant that adds new buds as drivers use their lead feet more judiciously.

In terms of utility and cargo space, the MKZ isn't quite up to the task that a less efficient Chrysler 300 or maybe a Buick LaCrosse could handle better. The smaller scale that gives it a better urban driving feel leaves it with comfortable, plush front leather bucket seats, and with a back seat that's less spacious than some. It's still big enough for four adults to ride in comfort, though, and the high grade of materials is welcome, particularly to drivers also testing Lexus' HS 250h and other compact hybrids.

With its standard suite of safety equipment, including a rearview camera and blind-spot monitors, the 2012 MKZ and MKZ Hybrid have performed well in crash tests, but there's been a dip in the ratings for the new model year. The IIHS still calls the MKZ a Top Safety Pick, but the NHTSA now ranks the MKZ at four stars overall, with a three-star front-impact rating, a downgrade over the federal agency's previous scores under a less rigorous test formula.

It's not due to get Ford's trick but controversial MyLincoln Touch system until a full model change comes in the 2013 model year, but the MKZ does have Bluetooth and SYNC, which enable voice-activated control over audio, navigation and phone functions. The audio system in the MKZ is an AM/FM/CD/MP3 unit with Sirius Satellite Radio and a few months of free service. The MKZ also includes standard leather upholstery; heated and ventilated power front seats; and 17-inch wheels.

2012 Lincoln MKZ


The noticeable nose and Scottish leather interior aside, the 2012 Lincoln MKZ doesn't have enough distinctive touches to set it apart from its country cousin.

Love it or hate it, the big winged grille on the front of the 2012 Lincoln MKZ is half the luxury brand's story. As it finally gets its bearings as Ford's only upscale nameplate, Lincoln is busy taking its styling in a new direction--one that's not quite as thin, or as brash, as the MKZ's current grille.

Lincoln adopted wings a few years ago, as it began to untangle itself from Ford's former European brand collection. And on the MKZ, the treatment works better than on some of its brandmates, like the massive MKT crossover. From the outside, though, the differences between the MKZ and Ford Fusion pretty much end there, save for some distinctive taillamps. The glass and doors don't change, which means the MKZ shares the Fusion's profile, which itself looks far more mainstream--even Japanese mainstream--than it should, though on the balance it's still an attractive sedan. We've seen the next MKZ in concept form, and it's a dramatic departure. And the wings are clipped, brought down to earth in a much more palatable form.

The MKZ's interior puts much more distance between itself and the Fusion. A wide band of wood or aluminum trim divides stretches of dark, tightly grained plastic, and frames a large LCD screen that outputs information from the entertainment and navigation systems. Thin ribbons of metallic trim circle big panels of dash handsomely, and that's a detail that's authentically drawn from the Lincoln history book. The Bridge of Weir leather seats and real wood trim (unless you choose a metallic finish instead) are lustrous to the touch, if the plastics facing the console are not.


2012 Lincoln MKZ


Power delivery is smooth and seamless, but the 2012 Lincoln MKZ lacks true driving excitement.

You wouldn't call either Lincoln MKZ exciting, but the integration of the hybrid system makes for seamless performance, and the V-6 version acquits itself decently in straight-line acceleration, though it's pretty conservative in the way it handles.

The base powertrain in the 2012 MKZ is Ford's mid-size V-6, displacing 3.5 liters and putting out 263 horsepower. It's paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and usually sends power to the front wheels, though there's an option for all-wheel drive. Ford says it's capable of moving the MKZ to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, competitive numbers if not the source of BMW-style elation. The six-speed automatic extracts power without raising a lot of extraneous engine noise. Its sport-shift mode gives drivers some but not total control over the way the transmission chooses its gears.

The MKZ benefits from very well-tuned electric power steering. These systems are a major stumbling block for some other marques, but Ford has a lock on replicating hydraulic steering's effort and natural windup, though feedback is still off the menu. The MKZ, like the Fusion, takes a more accurate track than most cars with EPS systems.

All versions are tuned for quiet, stress-free driving instead of brisk responsiveness, especially the all-wheel-drive versions, which add a few hundred pounds to the curb weight. Lincoln does offer a sport suspension option with a tighter feel and 18-inch wheels, which brings it closer to the pert handling of its cousin, the Ford Fusion.

The MKZ Hybrid is where most shoppers will gravitate. The running gear's virtually unchanged from the Fusion Hybrid: it combines a 155-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder running an Atkinson cycle, electric motors and a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack in back. All told, the MKZ Hybrid has reasonably brisk performance to 60 mph in the 8-second range--a second off the V-6 car's performance, but the Hybrid is torquey around town, thanks to its battery power. Fuel economy of 41/36 mpg, which Ford says bests the Lexus HS 250h by 6 miles per gallon. The exceptional city fuel economy is in part due to the MKZ Hybrid's higher-speed EV mode--it can run on electric power alone up to 47 mph, while the Lexus is EV-only up to only 25 mph.


2012 Lincoln MKZ

Comfort & Quality

Four adults will find a plush leather-lined home inside the relatively compact Lincoln MKZ.

Compact for a luxury car--and especially for a Lincoln--the 2012 Lincoln MKZ doesn't leave a lot of excess interior room on the table. It's a structural clone of the Ford Fusion, after all, but to us that means four adults can fit inside with good comfort, swaddled in Lincoln's upgraded materials.

We think the MKZ's interior looks rich and high-dollar nearly all of the time, though some critics complain that the mix of materials inside varies a bit more from high-rent to low-rent. It's about on par with the latest Buick LaCrosse and Chrysler 300, even with the Lexus ES 350, which admittedly is off the Lexus mark set in the early 2000s. At times, the MKZ's switches and controls can seem counterintuitive--voice controls aside, the small buttons on the steering wheel need a rethink. The best details, no doubt, are the seats, faced with lovely Bridge of Weir leather seats, a big step up from the baseline leather used in most near-luxury cars these days.

On the scale of absolute space, the MKZ does very well for front-seat passengers. The chairs are comfortable for long drives, and the driving position is lower than in other Lincolns, with a lot of leg and knee room. The console intrudes on the space a bit, and the standard sunroof will force taller adults into a less upright driving position.

The rear seats are a bit more confining. Entry and exit are easier by far than in, say, the Cadillac CTS, but leg room is a bit less ample than in those other luxury-leaning American sedans. It's good enough for two large adults in long-trip comfort.

The trunk is especially large. Almost the size of the cargo hold in the much larger Lincoln MKS, it also has a more cargo-friendly opening. The Hybrid's trunk is smaller, the space given up to house the battery pack. Hybrids also lose the fold-down rear seats, again for battery placement.


2012 Lincoln MKZ


We've lowered the MKZ's safety rating, now that new federal crash-test scores are in.

With both agencies changing their formulas for crash-test scores, the Lincoln MKZ no longer earns a perfect 10 for safety.

In the 2010 model year, the MKZ earned five-star front-impact crash scores from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Now, under the new equation, the MKZ drops to four stars overall, with a three-star score for frontal impacts.

Meanwhile, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has also updated its rankings to incorporate a roof-crush rating. It still calls the MKZ "good" in its impact and rollover tests, and has once again named it a Top Safety Pick for 2012.

Every MKZ comes with standard airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control. It also gets a rearview camera, blind-spot monitors, and parking sensors. Ford's MyKey system is wired in as well: it lets drivers configure the car for pre-set speed limits and stereo volume levels, which Ford says lets younger operators drive more safely.


2012 Lincoln MKZ


The tech package found in the 2012 Lincoln MKZ has few peers.

The 2012 Lincoln MKZ is very well-equipped, no matter which version you choose: gas-only or Hybrid. And in a marketing move that's given life to the MKZ at the end of its model cycle, the base price is the same for hybrid or gas versions, at around $36,000.

Every MKZ comes with the usual climate control, power features, and a leather interior. The MKZ also offers standard Bluetooth and the connected SYNC system, which uses voice-activated commands to control phones and audio systems. There's a big touchscreen LCD to control the navigation system and other functions by hand, too. For sound, the MKZ sports an AM/FM/CD/MP3 unit with satellite radio and a few months of free service.

Along with the standard leather, the MKZ also has heated and ventilated power front seats, and nicely styled 17-inch wheels. All these features are also included with the MKZ Hybrid, which also gets its distinctive SmartGauge cluster.

The options list isn't very long. For gas-powered cars, Lincoln sells Sirius Travel Link, which sends real-time traffic, weather, and other data to the car's navigation screen. Adaptive headlights and ambient lighting are offered, as is remote start, a moonroof, and a thundering THX-certified surround-sound system.

Spend a little time with SYNC system before you start driving. It'll pay benefits a long way down the road, as you change audio tracks, plot new paths and take calls without lifting a hand from the wheel. With SYNC, drivers no longer have to use buttons to do any of those things, though many users get confused in the chain of voice commands. 

The MKZ doesn't yet have Ford's trick MyLincoln Touch system, which adds voice control to many more functions, but we expect it's coming when the sedan is replaced in the 2013 model year.


2012 Lincoln MKZ

Fuel Economy

We're giving extra credit here for the hybrid edition, which earns 41 mpg on the city cycle and now accounts for a big part of Lincoln MKZ sales.

You can choose conventional or unconventional powertrains in the 2012 Lincoln MKZ, which makes this near-luxury sedan an unexpected winner in the green-car wars--since Lincoln sells it for the same price as its gas-powered counterpart.

The 2012 MKZ Hybrid earns an EPA-rated 41/36 mpg, which is identical to the ratings of its fraternal twin, the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Ford says the numbers outpace the Lexus HS 250h by 6 miles per gallon, making the MKZ the most fuel-efficient luxury car on sale today. They also credit the standout city gas mileage to the drivetrain's built-in EV mode, which lets it run on battery power at speeds of up to 47 mph. The Lexus HS 250h only can be driven on battery alone up to 25 mph.

Lincoln also delivers green-driving training with a lovely bouquet. Every Hybrid comes with an array of LCD screens that depict a green vine. As drivers cruise along more efficiently, monitoring their consumption and battery usage, the MKZ gives kudos in the form of digitally drawn apple blossoms, adding petals as more fuel is conserved.

The other drivetrain choice in the MKZ is Ford's 3.5-liter V-6, coupled to a six-speed automatic. Its numbers aren't particularly draining, when compared to other V-6 engines, but fuel economy does drop, to 18/27 mpg with front-wheel drive, and to a low of 17/25 mpg when all-wheel drive is ordered.

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October 15, 2015
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Great interior, plenty of power, tons of features, killer sound system. Gas mileage is very good, I recently got 40mpg cruising down the highway at 68 mph for 4 hours, 98 degrees outside. The car is just the... + More »
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April 18, 2015
For 2012 Lincoln MKZ

Elegance without overstatement, economy with luxury: the 2012 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is the car of the future, available today.

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The 2012 Lincoln MKZ was the last year of the first version of this vehicle. It began life as the Lincoln Zephyr, and then the nomenclature changed midstream and it became the MKZ. Because it was the last year... + More »
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