2015 Lincoln MKZ Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 28, 2015

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.

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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.

8

2015 Lincoln MKZ

Styling

The Lincoln MKZ ditches all shreds of nostalgia with its lean outline and its shifter-free cockpit.

The 2015 Lincoln MKZ is both sleek and substantial, wearing more character in one body panel than the previous generation had in its entire design. It's perhaps the most attractive vehicle Lincoln has built in recent history.

The MKZ is in many ways a product of the luxury brands Ford once owned–just look at its rear decklid, and you'll see some very Swedish-looking influence there. It's smooth and aerodynamic from head to toe–with exception to its mustachioed grille–something Lincoln claims as an homage to the 1938 Zephyr.

It's the car's thickness and length that really set it apart from Lincolns of yore. It's not beefy–it's far too elegant for that–but it still wears a bulk that other Ford products don't carry at this point. The MKZ does glom onto one recent design trend, with its fastback tail mimicking the shape of a hatchback-equipped four-door coupe, like Audi's A7. The MKZ makes do with a traditional trunk, and the shut lines surrounding it call attention to themselves a bit too much for the effect to land well. It is at least a sign that Lincoln is willing to try daring design, something the brand has lacked in recent memory.

It's what's absent that really distinguishes the MKZ's interior. There's no traditional console shifter for the transmission, but instead a set of shift buttons that line the left side of the car's LCD screen. Without the lever, the screen takes over the interior, and stylists have made the most of it, framing the display with metallic parentheses, and lowering the console. It's a striking cue, one that affects the whole driving experience as you continually forget there's no lever to rest your hand on. We also like the glow of the gauges, which include dueling displays for the MyLincoln Touch interface, itself not a design wonder of any sort.

There's a layer of Lincoln left unapplied to the MKZ, one we really hope is worked into future products. The MKZ is 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.

Visual changes for 2015 are limited to a quarter of newly available exterior colors: Bronze Fire, Luxe Metalicious, Magnetic Metallic, and Guard Metallic.

8

2015 Lincoln MKZ

Performance

The MKZ is the best-handling Lincoln in history, and its turbo and V-6 engines are up to the task--but the firm ride doesn't feel very luxurious.

There's never been a Lincoln as athletic as the latest MKZ. It seems to have come out of nowhere when you compare it to the last-generation model, and it's a completely foreign concept in light of the recently retired Town Car. For better or worse, the MKZ calls for a recalibration of Lincoln brand expectations.

As in the past, the MKZ shares its underpinnings with Ford's Fusion sedan. The MKZ uses the Fusion's electric power steering, but the strut and multi-link suspension setup gets adaptive shocks with three driver-selectable settings in the Lincoln. 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 the 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.

The 2015 MKZ offers a choice of three powertrains, each with its own spin on performance and fuel economy. The base option is a turbocharged four-cylinder engine coupled to a six-speed automatic with paddle shift controls, and either front- or all-wheel drive. It produces 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, leading to a 0-60 mph time of about 7 seconds; so even this base MKZ is a performer, but it doesn't have us convinced it belongs in a luxury car, or a near-luxury model, anyway. At the top of its rev range, there's a coarseness to the engine's sound. Lincoln even fits a noise-cancellation system to combat the unhappy sounds, but it can't contend with the sound the engine makes at full throttle. An engine that sounds perfectly refined in a Ford Fusion--we said it's "the most vibration-free, quietest installation of this powertrain we've yet experienced"--doesn't impress in something costing thousands more, and wearing a premium badge. The 2.0-liter returns an EPA-rated 22/33 mpg with front-wheel drive, and 22/31 for the all-wheel-drive version.

Those seeking the best fuel mileage will want to consider the MKZ Hybrid, which features the latest generation of Ford's hybrid drivetrain. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder hybrid drivetrain has lithium-ion batteries and a continuously variable transmission, better packaging and lower weight, and according is rated for 2015 at 41 mpg in the city and 39 on the highway. (See our Green section for more details on the numbers, their recent rounds of adjustment, and whether or not they're attainable in real-world driving.) The Hybrid is offered with front-wheel drive only. In terms of raw performance, the MKZ Hybrid is the least exciting--the tires have less grip, the steering is lighter, and it's no rocket ship--but the hybrid system is smooth and quiet, and includes a display that rewards an efficient driver with growing digital leaves. Just don't let yourself get distracted by it.

The MKZ continues to offer a V-6 version, a revamped version of the previous car's 3.7-liter. This 300-horsepower motor also offers 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 Fusion. Fuel economy is estimated at 18/27 with front-wheel drive and 18/26 mpg with all-wheel drive. Because of its smoother power delivery and calmer tone compared to the base 2.0-liter, we'd recommend considering the extra cost of the V-6, even if it does hurt fuel economy slightly.

8

2015 Lincoln MKZ

Comfort & Quality

There's plenty of cabin and trunk space in the MKZ, but it's finished to only a premium level.

Inside, the Lincoln MKZ is a well-finished and spacious. However, it leaves a few impressions–like its sound quality and a few interior materials–that don't sync up with the Lincoln brand, and it's not quite as roomy as the less expensive Ford Fusion it shares a platform with.

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.

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.

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.

The seats 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.

For 2015, Lincoln has replaced the standard leather seating with what it calls Lincoln Soft Touch seating surfaces. We haven't yet had the opportunity to sample the material.

9

2015 Lincoln MKZ

Safety

Safety scores are impressive, and the Lincoln MKZ now has a standard rearview camera.

The 2015 MKZ has a respectable roster of safety equipment, and manages to score well in nationally recognized crash testing, with only a couple blemishes on an otherwise good record.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rates 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.

Several advanced safety options are available, including 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. The optional Collision Warning System, part of the adaptive cruise control and collision warning system, no longer meets the minimum 'advanced' standard for the Top Safety Pick+ tier this year.

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.

Standard equipment, along with the usual stability control and airbags, also includes Bluetooth. And for 2015, a rearview camera and parking sensors are now standard equipment. 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.

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

10

2015 Lincoln MKZ

Features

You can do almost anything in the Lincoln MKZ with the gesture of a hand or tap of a screen.

Whether you choose the hybrid or one of the gas-only drivetrains, the 2015 MKZ offers more features that most other vehicles in its class–and that's before you add on the options.

Both gas and hybrid 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.

There's plenty of equipment that comes bundled in packages with exclusive-sounding names. The Select package adds 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

2015 Lincoln MKZ

Fuel Economy

Lincoln has downrated fuel economy for the MKZ Hybrid, but it's still very good.

The 2015 MKZ is efficient in all forms, but the Hybrid model hasn't proven to be as miserly as Ford originally claimed.

Before we dive into numbers, 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.

As a result of customer complaining that they couldn't reach the EPA numbers in six Ford hybrids--including the MKZ Hybrid--the company revisited the numbers and adjusted them retroactively. Owners of 2013 and 2014 MKZ Hybrids were given payments to compensate.

For 2015, the MKZ Hybrid once again gets a revised set of EPA ratings, although we're not sure what has been changed from the previous two model years to warrant it. The Hybrid is now rated at 41 mpg in the city and 39 on the highway, while the 2013 and 2014 models share revised ratings of 38/37 mpg. The original claim was 45 mpg city and highway.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the base 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 18/27 mpg, or 22 mpg combined for front-drive models; the all-wheel-drive version is set at 18/26 mpg, or 21 mpg combined.

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September 8, 2015
2015 Lincoln MKZ 4-Door Sedan FWD

Nice car but has numerous electrical problems that Ford/Lincoln refuse to fix.

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I bought this car new and from my first service appointment, I complained about the entertainment system. The radio changes channels randomly, it changes to other inputs like the aux input, ejects the CD at... + More »
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April 17, 2015
For 2015 Lincoln MKZ

Lincoln nailed it with this car!

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Was not in the market for a Lincoln but when I saw it at the L.A. auto show, I thought it was worth a test drive... was very impressed with the test drive and decided to lease an MKZ hybrid. This is absolutely... + More »
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April 17, 2015
For 2015 Lincoln MKZ

Great Looking Vehicle

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This is my first Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and I love the car. I previously owned a Prius, which I also loved, but I wanted a more luxurious riding car and my gas mileage with the Lincoln closely matches that of my... + More »
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