The Lincoln MKZ is a roomy, mostly well-finished sedan. But it's not quite as roomy as the less expensive, closely related Ford Fusion, and it delivers some impressions through its materials and sound quality that don't line up true to the Lincoln brand, or where it wants to go next.
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.
The seats themselves 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.
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.
How buyers will judge the MKZ's slightly off-mark execution of luxury remains to be seen. To us, it's straightforward and modern, and a little confusing, all at once. It's been at least a few generations since materials this lavish were applied in a base Lincoln, but the expectations for this MKZ run even higher, given its strikingly spare design.
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.