2013 Lincoln MKZ Performance

8.0
Performance

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.

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.

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.

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