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The Lincoln MKZ was completely overhauled last year, and it now embodies the future of Lincoln's design language. This follows what is essentially the third fresh start for the company since the late 1990s, and in this case, it's first car in what Ford is calling a reinvention of the entire brand.
The 2014 MKZ gives us some encouragement for what Lincoln has up its sleeve for future products, but it also tells us some hard truths about what the brand is today. Where Cadillac has successfully redesigned its brand from the ground up over the past 10 years, Lincoln has faltered along the way. The MKZ has been one of its only shining stars–bringing in a younger demographic of shoppers with improved gas mileage and modern technologies–but it's done so by essentially removing itself from anything else Lincoln has stood for the past.
And it's even more distant from the past, and from the rest of the lineup, in 2014 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.
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 MKZ Hybrid returns 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Best-in-class hybrid fuel economy
- Massive panoramic sunroof
- Sporty driving feel
- A technology flagship
- Distinctive styling
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- We miss the Fusion's manual
- Two driving modes too many
- MyLincoln Touch is complex for traditional luxury buyers
- Some coarse vibrations from turbo four
- The Fusion's not much less luxurious