2013 Lincoln MKZ Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 5, 2014

The 2013 Lincoln MKZ strikes out in a more confident direction, and places a big bet on best-in-class fuel economy and technology.

The 2013 Lincoln MKZ ushers in yet another new era at Ford's luxury brand. It's at least the third reboot of the brand's mission and styling language since the late 1990s, and it's the start of what Ford says will be a complete reinvention of the lineup, with brand-new vehicles to come.

The MKZ reveals some hard truths about the brand and its cars today, but gives some encouragement about the cars to come. Cadillac radically reshaped its brand image over the past decade, but Lincoln's progress has been more halting. The mid-size MKZ has been one of the bright spots--it's brought in younger owners who want vehicles with better fuel economy and connectivity--but the fact is, it's done so mostly by completely dodging Lincoln's own past, save for a bauble and a badge or two.

And it's even more distant from the past, and from the rest of the lineup, in 2013 trim. The massive wings and Weber-grade grilles of the recent past have been put out for tag sale. This MKZ has a subtler take on luxury, more along the lines of Lexus and Volvo. Those Volvo influences are especially noticeable at the rear, and inside, with the floating effect penned into the center console. The bits of Lincoln heritage? They're reduced to the handsomely scaled-down grille and to the badgework. It's as globally clean and subdued as mid-size luxury sedans come. To its credit, the MKZ has substantial visual heft, and some pretty, elegantly spare angles without fender-vent nonsense or other gimmicky cues.

The barest amount of excess is left for the inside, where the lack of a shift lever is the eye-popping detail. It dukes it out with the dominant LCD touchscreen, both playing the modern card for maximum impact. We're not sure there's a single identifiably "Lincoln" element in either of them, or for that matter, anywhere to be found.

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For those who want a sporty, enthusiastic performer, there's never been a better Lincoln than this MKZ. It carves out better performance and gas mileage from a new trio of powertrains. The base 2.0-liter turbo four is rated at up to 33 mpg highway; it's a strong straight-line performer, with or without all-wheel drive, but it can seem a little coarse for this luxury application. An uprated, 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 returns, and it may be worth the cost of the upgrade for smoother performance alone. With either, the MKZ is truly quick, and the paddle-shifted automatic--actuated by pushbuttons on the dash--snaps off gearchanges well enough, though the Fusion's manual transmission would be a fun option, in another world, one with a console made for shift levers.

The 2013 MKZ Hybrid model stands out as the luxury vehicle with the best gas mileage, Lincoln says. Originally rated at 45 mpg combined (45 mpg city, 45 mpg highway), the company agreed in June 2014 to lower that rating to 38 mpg combined (38 mpg city, 37 mpg highway) and reimburse existing owners after it discovered errors in both its lab-test measurements and its calculations for aerodynamic drag.

With its Fusion-like ride firmness and meaty-feeling electric steering, the MKZ is sharp and more aggressive at tackling turns than even the last-generation version. It comes standard with Lincoln Drive Control, which lets drivers adjust settings for shocks, steering, stability and traction control, and active-noise cancellation. Lincoln says the result is better ride and handling with the adaptive settings, but the trade-off versus the Fusion's conventional shocks seems a zero-sum gain to us. In anything but Sport, the MKZ feels less composed and comfortable than it ought to. Softer tires and more progressive, expensive shocks might have been an easier solution, but maybe not as mechanically distinctive from the Ford iteration.

On the safety front, the MKZ pulls together nearly every piece of technology that's been added to other Ford and Lincoln products over the past few years--everything from a rearview camera to navigation systems governed by MyLincoln Touch, to inflatable rear seatbelts, to newly added features like lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. The MKZ also integrates parking assist, which takes control of the steering and guides the sedan into a tight parallel parking spot, with the driver keeping control of braking. And it's an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, singled out as one of the safest vehicles on the market.

MyLincoln Touch's voice controls take the reins over secondary controls, with buttons on the steering wheel offering redundant ways into the complex system. Ford's spent some time refining the system and reducing the amount of information on each display screen; it's still a system with a steep learning curve and sub-optimal results, but nothing else would enable that starkly imaginative console design.

In other respects the MKZ's luxury touches are fairly conventional. There's plenty of real wood trim and leather is standard. The finishing touch is a stunning one, though: a 15-square-foot available panoramic roof that slides back as one piece, exposing the new MKZ's cabin to the sun.

We predict two questions coming to every new Lincoln MKZ driver. The first one's easy to answer: "Is that the new MKZ?" The second one's much more difficult to come to grips with: "What makes it a Lincoln?" Strip away the grilles and badges, and we're not exactly sure. In the greater scheme, it's Lincoln's Olds Aurora--a car that's satisfying more for what's not true to its heritage, than for what is. And in this case, it's tough to forget that there's hardware just as good, just as interesting, almost as opulent, just a rung down its own corporate ladder.

8

2013 Lincoln MKZ

Styling

Clean, imposing, and less "old Lincoln" than ever, the 2013 MKZ is heavy on modern, shy on old-school glamour.

Substantial but sleek, the 2013 Lincoln MKZ is endowed with more character in its winged grille than the prior MKZ could muster on its entire being. It's still an occasionally puzzling look--it reads "Volvo" from every angle save from the front quarters--but it's one of the most complete, handsome designs Lincoln has put together in its modern history.

The MKZ's sheetmetal owes much to Ford's ex-luxury bandmates. The execution of the rear decklid, how it's shouldered, is clearly infused with some Swedish design, even if the rest of the car is assertively without a national origin. It's aerodynamically clean in a global way, only breaking the mold with its faintly mustachioed grille--which Lincoln still says pays homage to the 1938 Zephyr, though it's just as indirectly BMW or even Kia in this era of instant nostalgia. More than any single design cue back from that grille, it's the MKZ's thickness and length that make it a big departure from its past iterations. It's not hulking--it's too elegant and relaxed at the roof and sill lines and fenders to call it that--but it has a heft that the Ford Fusion doesn't carry at all.

Inside, the MKZ's cockpit is striking mostly for what's not there. The column and console shifters we're used to placing inside are gone, replaced by pushbutton shift controls that form one of the brackets framing the MKZ's big LCD touchscreen. Without the shift lever, the screen takes over the interior, and stylists have made the most of it putting metallic parentheses around it, lowering the console in front of it, trimming out space beneath the armrests to accentuate the center of the car as much or more than the coolly glowing gauges themselves. It's a striking cue, one that frames the whole driving experience as you continually forget there's no lever to fall to hand.

All that digested, there's a layer of Lincoln left unapplied to the MKZ, one we really hope is drizzled into the batter of future products. The MKZ is almost too spartan: the winged grille and walnut trim are everybody's idea of understated elegance, and the pushbuttons are a clever detail. Beyond that, the MKZ doesn't have the depth of personality that even some ancient Lincolns with mixed virtues (Mark VIII LSC, anyone?) laid right in the driver's lap. The glitz is gone--and in the process, Lincoln's shorn off a lot of glamour, the one resource they could mine forever from history. It's left hidden behind keywords like "modern" and "responsibly harvested" that aspire to Audi, but fall just short.

8

2013 Lincoln MKZ

Performance

It's the most responsive Lincoln ever; still, the MKZ's base turbo four can be coarse, and the adaptive suspension's best left to Sport.

With 2013 MKZ, Lincoln has created the most tautly suspended, athletically inclined vehicle in its history. It's jarring to juxtapose it even with the previous version, let alone the Town Car of just a couple of years ago. That's either the MKZ's blessing or curse, in that it doesn't act like any Lincoln of the past, and requires some recalibration.

Three powertrains are offered in the new MKZ, and two of them are essentially identical to their counterparts in our Best Car To Buy 2013, the Ford Fusion. The base MKZ gets a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine, coupled to a six-speed automatic with paddle shift controls, with either front- or all-wheel drive. Rated at 240 horsepower with 270 pound-feet of torque, it's good for an EPA-rated 22/33 mpg. A 0-60 mph time of about 7 seconds makes even this base MKZ a brisk performer, but it's a powertrain that can befuddle drivers with its coarse sound at the top of its rev range--where noise evades the active sound cancellation system that's standard equipment. What sounds perfectly refined for the price of a Ford Fusion--we said it's "the most vibration-free, quietest installation of this powertrain we've yet experienced"--doesn't make as good a grade in something costing a few thousand dollars more, wearing a premium badge.

A revamped version of the MKZ's 3.7-liter V-6 returns, with 300 horsepower and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, and the same carryover six-speed automatic transmission controlled by dash-mounted pushbuttons, one of a host of new touches Lincoln's using to distinguish the MKZ from the related Ford Fusion. Fuel economy's estimated at 18/26 mpg with all-wheel drive. We haven't yet been able to sample this version, but past experience with the same drivetrain and impressions from other reviews would have us ticking the extra-cost box for it, even though gas mileage dips.

Finally, there's the MKZ Hybrid, with the new generation of Ford's hybrid drivetrain. The new 2.0-liter four-cylinder hybrid drivetrain has lithium-ion batteries and a continuously variable transmission, better packaging and lower weight, and according to the EPA, earns 45 mpg across the board. See our Green section for more details on the numbers and whether or not they're truly in reach--in terms of raw performance, the MKZ Hybrid's destined to be the least emotive performer, but in our related experience in the Fusion Hybrid, it's still the most engaging mass-market hybrid on the road today, though acceleration is noticeably slower, steering feel is less quick and the low-rolling-resistance tires thrum sometimes at highway speeds.

The MKZ shares the Fusion's electric power steering, but the strut and multi-link suspension gets adaptive shocks with three driver-selectable settings in the MKZ. In nearly 200 miles of driving over interstates, secondary and surface streets, we chose the Sport mode over normal and comfort most often, to our surprise. In the Fusion, the very taut ride is entertaining for enthusiasts, but in a family sedan, it's a borderline choice. In the MKZ, the Sport mode produces nearly the same ride firmness and induces some weight in the steering that feels the most natural of any of its settings, though there's still very little feedback. In the other modes, the MKZ struggles for that level of composure, trading its absorbent ride for something less nuanced, and mostly just "soft." We'll concede user-selectable steering is an easy gimmick to put on the latest electric-steer cars, mostly to no harm. Going to an adaptive suspension that doesn't notably improve handling, instead of choosing more talented shocks and tires, sounds like overkill.

7

2013 Lincoln MKZ

Comfort & Quality

Euro-firm front seats are excellent but a bit of a contradiction; rear-seat head and leg room are down from the Fusion.

The Lincoln MKZ is a roomy, mostly well-finished sedan. But it's not quite as roomy as the less expensive, closely related Ford Fusion, and it delivers some impressions through its materials and sound quality that don't line up true to the Lincoln brand, or where it wants to go next.

At 194.1 inches long, on a 112.2-inch wheelbase, the MKZ varies only in styling length with the Fusion. The trunk size is identical, and interior volume is just a bit smaller, mostly due to the MKZ's lower roofline--there's an inch less leg room in back, and more than an inch less in head room compared to our Best Car To Buy 2013 winner, the Ford Fusion. That's a dimension where we already criticize the Fusion, but the MKZ isn't alone in pulling up short in rear-seat headroom in this class. In front, it's better, even with a sunroof--we've only experienced the single-pane sunroof, not the huge panoramic roof that's also offered. Rear-seat leg room isn't as expansive as in the new Lexus ES, but thinner seats have helped carve out an inch or two of space for six-footers to sit behind other six-footers.

The seats themselves are fit and Euro-firm, and they're part of the MKZ's divorce from any trace of Lincoln's past. The previous MKZ softened up its Fusion ride firmness with plush cushions covered in Bridge of Weir leather. This MKZ drops the pretense entirely, adopting sleeker, less forgiving chairs that can be upgraded to multi-contour seats that inflate and deflate cushions selectively as the car corners. It's as if even the Volvo-alike seats from the past version weren't good enough--and now the MKZ's gone into full Teutonic mode. It's a subtle change felt before it's figured out.

There's some fiction at work with the MKZ's console design. The slim stack of controls leaves theoretical room for storage under and behind the console. It's an execution Ford knows too well from Volvos it produced in the past. But in the Lincoln, the console shape blocks some access to that space. The flying-arch design begs for something more regular, at least where utility is concerned.

How buyers will judge the MKZ's slightly off-mark execution of luxury remains to be seen. To us, it's straightforward and modern, and a little confusing, all at once. It's been at least a few generations since materials this lavish were applied in a base Lincoln, but the expectations for this MKZ run even higher, given its strikingly spare design.

It knits together better from outside than inside, we think. Somehow, the lack of a transmission shifter, the dominance of LCD touchscreens, the presence of four-cylinder noise even with active sound cancellation, and the occasionally cheap button don't render the idea of quality as well as might have been hoped. Wide plastic panels across the console feel and fit inexpensively, and are an obvious flaw. The touch of the transmission buttons is another. Chrome and mother of pearl are too retro, piano black is too passe--all granted--but a calling-card feature deserves better treatment than the thin, grey-on-grey buttons that click the MKZ into drive and park.

9

2013 Lincoln MKZ

Safety

The NHTSA loves the MKZ's crash protection; we'd spend for the optional rearview camera, begrudgingly.

As it's related to the Ford Fusion, the Lincoln MKZ's safety record isn't a long one so far, but crash-test data is quite promising.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has already scored the MKZ at five stars overall, with a five-star rating for frontal-impact protection, and four-star scores for both side-impact protection and rollover resistance.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has tested the MKZ and given it the Top Safety Pick+ nod, with the new model earning top 'good' scores in all categories, except for an 'acceptable' rating in the new small overlap frontal test (forgivable to still earn the top spot in 2013).

Standard equipment, along with the usual stability control and airbags, also includes Bluetooth. However, you'll have to choose the Select equipment package to get a rearview camera and parking sensors, the latter of which should be standard equipment in a luxury car, since it's now included on every Honda Civic. The MKZ Reserve package adds on blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts--they're a feature that offers enough useful information to earn our recommendation.

Other safety options are less necessary, in our view. That includes a lane-departure and lane-keeping system that uses a camera to place the car in a lane, and to help correct its progress when it crosses the driving line. Adaptive cruise control isn't as much a convenience feature, we think, as it is a fuel-saver: on MKZ Hybrids, a tap of the resume button can be a big boost to fuel economy, and a more finely tuned input than the driver's foot.

Lastly, the MKZ offers rear-seat, outboard inflatable seat belts. Ford claims the new belts can reduce injuries to back-seat passengers, but as of yet, it's the only company using them.

10

2013 Lincoln MKZ

Features

A huge dose of infotainment needs to be digested properly before you drive the MKZ and venture deeply into its voice controls.

The Lincoln MKZ can be trimmed out with either gas-only or gas-electric drivetrains, but in either case, it's one of the most fully-featured vehicles in its class--even before the option packages come into play.

Both versions come standard with power windows, locks, and mirrors; automatic climate control; an 11-speaker audio system with a CD player and satellite radio; power heated front seats; 18-inch wheels; adaptive LED headlights and LED taillights; adaptive suspension; leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel; wood dash trim; pushbutton and remote start; Bluetooth; and steering-wheel multi-function controls.

MyLincoln Touch is also standard. It controls infotainment, climate, navigation, and secondary vehicle systems with voice commands, touchscreen taps, or steering-wheel toggling. Our usual caveat applies here; MyLincoln Touch is a complex system with a steep learning curve, and in our experience, only about 75 percent of the voice commands make it through to actual execution, whether it's finding a track name from an audio source or hitting the right destination from the navigation database. The screen layouts have become clearer and response times don't seem to be the issue they were when the system was launched in the 2011 model year, but we've also found some similar Bluetooth-dropping bugs in Cadillac's CUE.

On gas-only models, the V-6 is considered an option, and all-wheel drive can be had with either engine.

Other equipment comes bundled in packages with exclusive-sounding names. The Select package adds a rearview camera and parking sensors; HD radio; and wood steering-wheel trim. Reserve brings navigation with real-time traffic; blind-spot monitors; a power trunklid; and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel. Preferred adds 19-inch wheels; a heated steering wheel; heated outboard rear seats; a 700-watt, THX II-rated audio system; and a choice of either a single-pane sunroof or a massive piece of retractable panoramic glass measuring more than 15 square feet. The light it brings into the cabin is striking--but the value/price point might be best at the Reserve level.

8

2013 Lincoln MKZ

Fuel Economy

Hybrids are among the top-rated vehicles for fuel economy, period--but your mileage will vary.

With the 2013 MKZ, Lincoln says it has the most fuel-efficient luxury vehicle on sale in America. By the EPA ratings, they have a reason to cheer, though some buyers may find their results vary from the official line.

Like its corporate cousin, the Ford Fusion, the MKZ comes equipped with a four-cylinder engine as standard equipment. In this case, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the MKZ delivers EPA-rated fuel economy just shy of that of the Fusion. It's 22 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway, or 26 mpg combined in front-drive MKZ sedans; in all-wheel-drive form, it's pegged at 22/31 mpg, or 25 mpg combined.

The V-6 is Lincoln's own exclusive engine offering in the MKZ, and predictably, its gas mileage numbers are lower--but not by that much. The EPA figures put it at 19/28 mpg, or 22 mpg combined for front-drive models; the all-wheel-drive version is set at 18/26 mpg, or 21 mpg combined.

Finally, there's the MKZ Hybrid, which shares the Fusion Hybrid's 2.0-liter four, teamed to lithium-ion batteries and an electric motor. While Lincoln points out its stellar EPA numbers--they're higher than diesels from the Germans, and well ahead of vehicles like the Lexus ES 300h--it's worth noting the widespread reporting of lower-than-predicted fuel economy in Ford's latest hybrids. Anecdotally, owners have reported mileage more in the high-30-mpg range; we've directly observed 41.6 mpg in the related Fusion Hybrid, with stretches of an observed 45 mpg.

What does it mean to you? You'll likely get gas mileage lower than that on the window sticker, but if you're religious about following the MKZ's SmartGauge to monitor fuel use, and you're very careful to accelerate slowly and smoothly, you'll maximize the benefits of the hybrid powertrain--and the same driving habits will do the same for non-hybrid models.

UPDATE: While the 2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid was originally rated at 45 mpg combined (45 mpg city, 45 mpg highway), in June 2014 the company agree to cut the ratings to 38 mpg combined (38 mpg city, 37 mpg highway) after discovering errors in lab-test measurements and calculations for aerodynamic drag. The EPA let Ford lower the ratings and reimburse 2013 MKZ Hybrid owners for the increased gasoline costs, as it did for owners of five other cars whose ratings were reduced at the same time.

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September 5, 2015
2013 Lincoln MKZ 4-Door Sedan Hybrid FWD

Great Luxury Hybrid

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Previous car was a Lexus ES350 and got the Lincoln MKZ because it had the same features and comfort but both the gas and hybrid were priced the same. Lexus wanted $6000.00 more for the hybrid model. Having the... + More »
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April 20, 2015
For 2013 Lincoln MKZ

MKZ hybrid is a great modern luxury car.

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I usually don't pay attention to car ads, but the Matt McConaghey gets the best parts of my car exactly right. The hybrid not only gets very close to 49 mpg, but the silence and smoothness of the 50% of the... + More »
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