- Best-in-class hybrid fuel economy
- Massive panoramic sunroof
- Sporty driving feel
- A technology flagship
- Distinctive styling
- The Fusion's not much less luxurious
- Two driving modes too many
- MyLincoln Touch is complex for traditional luxury buyers
- Some coarse vibrations from turbo four
The 2015 MKZ has great potential as a contemporary sports sedan--it's the Lincoln heritage that's missing.
The MKZ gives us some encouragement for what Lincoln has up its sleeve for future products, but it also reveals some hard truths about the brand's current state.
Whereas 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 in the past.
And this latest MKZ, introduced for 2013, is even more distant from the past. 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 than Cadillac. The bits of Lincoln heritage? They're reduced to the handsomely scaled-down grille and to the font used in the badges.
Inside, the lack of a shift lever is the eye-popping detail. The push-button transmission selector and dominant LCD touchscreen both play the modern card for maximum impact. We're not sure there's a single identifiably "Lincoln" element in either of them, or anywhere else in the interior for that matter.
For those who want a sporty, enthusiastic performer, there's never been a better Lincoln than this MKZ, which is available with three different engines, each with its own level of power and efficiency. 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 snaps off gearchanges well enough.
The MKZ Hybrid is again available, although Ford has toned down its claims for fuel-economy supremacy in the luxury class. After customer complaints, the company lowered its EPA estimates for six models, including the hybridized Lincoln sedan. (We've spent thousands of miles in the similar Ford Fusion Hybrid, and couldn't replicate the old EPA numbers over long distances--but had no issue besting 41 mpg.) Ratings were originally 45 mpg highway and city, then were revised to 38/37 for 2013 and 2014 models, and have now climbed back up to 41/39 mpg for the 2015 model. It's not clear what was changed to improve the ratings for this year, but we believe those are attainable numbers, and far closer to reality.
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 inflatable rear seatbelts, to 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 tight parallel-parking spots, 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 interface and reducing the amount of information on each display screen; it's still tough to learn at first and even then can return only mediocre results, but nothing else would enable that starkly imaginative console design. We expect future evolutions, like that found in the MKC crossover, will continue to correct some of the problems of this overly ambitious system.
In other respects the MKZ's luxury touches are fairly conventional. There's plenty of real wood trim around the interior, and leather is available. 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. It's the biggest roof of its kind ever offered, and you can tell when it's open, with the glass hanging what looks to be precariously over the rear window.
The MKZ 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.
Changes for 2015 include include making the rearview camera and sensing system standard, and replacing the standard leather seating with something called Lincoln Soft Touch seating surfaces. There are also four new colors available: Bronze Fire, Luxe Metalicious, Magnetic Metallic, and Guard Metallic.
While there are plenty of things to like about the latest MKZ, it's hard to tell what exactly makes it a Lincoln. In many ways it's just a swoopier Ford Fusion, which has been the recipe since it was called the Zephyr. While the design is its own, there's not much about it that speaks to the brand. That said, if you like the looks and have no attachment to the luxury brand's history, it's a pleasant mid-size luxury sedan with competent performance.