Substantial but sleek, the 2013 Lincoln MKZ is endowed with more character in its winged grille than the prior MKZ could muster on its entire being. It's still an occasionally puzzling look--it reads "Volvo" from every angle save from the front quarters--but it's one of the most complete, handsome designs Lincoln has put together in its modern history.
The MKZ's sheetmetal owes much to Ford's ex-luxury bandmates. The execution of the rear decklid, how it's shouldered, is clearly infused with some Swedish design, even if the rest of the car is assertively without a national origin. It's aerodynamically clean in a global way, only breaking the mold with its faintly mustachioed grille--which Lincoln still says pays homage to the 1938 Zephyr, though it's just as indirectly BMW or even Kia in this era of instant nostalgia. More than any single design cue back from that grille, it's the MKZ's thickness and length that make it a big departure from its past iterations. It's not hulking--it's too elegant and relaxed at the roof and sill lines and fenders to call it that--but it has a heft that the Ford Fusion doesn't carry at all.
Inside, the MKZ's cockpit is striking mostly for what's not there. The column and console shifters we're used to placing inside are gone, replaced by pushbutton shift controls that form one of the brackets framing the MKZ's big LCD touchscreen. Without the shift lever, the screen takes over the interior, and stylists have made the most of it putting metallic parentheses around it, lowering the console in front of it, trimming out space beneath the armrests to accentuate the center of the car as much or more than the coolly glowing gauges themselves. It's a striking cue, one that frames the whole driving experience as you continually forget there's no lever to fall to hand.
All that digested, there's a layer of Lincoln left unapplied to the MKZ, one we really hope is drizzled into the batter of future products. The MKZ is almost 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.