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.