In the pantheon of new vehicle prices, the “as tested” price of the 2013 Lincoln MKZ that Ford provided for review is not really that expensive at $45,550. The MKZ is supposed to be the car the reboots the floundering Lincoln brand. It is designed to target luxury buyers who may not be interested in the normal establishment. The biggest competition to the MKZ is likely Ford’s own Fusion vehicle. They share a similar architecture, as well as similar engines, drivetrains, and features. At $38,111 for a similarly equipped Fusion, it might be hard to justify the price. However, I set out on a week-long adventure to see if the MKZ was really worth the premium price-tag. It took me the entire week, and over 1,100 miles of driving, but I can safely say I did figure out the point of the MKZ. While ultimately this vehicle may not be the right choice for many people, if I were about to purchase a new midsize sedan I would definitely purchase the MKZ over a similarly-equipped Fusion.
Lincoln sent us a loaded up MKZ with the Reserve Equipment Group ($3,150) that includes the rear-view camera system, navigation and blind-spot monitoring. It also included the Technology Package ($2,250) that sports Adaptive Cruise Control, automated parking assistance and a lane-keeping system.
These options add some additional geek features over the standard equipment, which includes items like adaptive LED headlamps, MyLincoln Touch and an automatically dimming driver-side mirror. Some auto enthusiasts (and reviewers) may look at these features as un-necessary fluff, but it does create a technology-lover’s dream cabin.
Connecting a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone is a relatively easy process, and once it is connected allows the driver to access all the music and audio from the phone. Also, when paired, the vehicle can be used as a hands-free device. Lastly, if the vehicle is in an accident, the car will automatically use the paired phone and dial 9-1-1; providing the operator with location and details of the crash. This particular system is advantageous over systems from BMW and General Motors because there is no monthly or yearly fee.
Call quality is quite excellent compared to other Ford vehicles that I have tested. There appear to be two microphones instead of one listening to the driver. It seems like one microphone is used for active noise canceling, while the other is used for the call. My test caller did not know he was on the handsfree. The test call was even placed on horrible Michigan roads. I have talked to the same person on handsfree in my own Fiesta and, according to the person on the other end, the difference is night and day.
Continuing the technological safety trend, the MKZ features an adaptive lighting system. When driving on a twisty road at night, the headlights will turn the direction that the steering wheel turns, lighting up the future path of the vehicle instead of straight ahead of the vehicle. Typically, when driving, the steering wheel turns the direction of the driver’s eyes. This direction changing of the headlights is extremely natural and makes a great deal of sense when driving the car at night. The lights also feature an automatic high-beam function. When the ambient light sensor detects that it is really dark, it will automatically enable the high-beams. When light is detected (oncoming headlights, taillights, or city lighting) it turns the high-beams off. In theory that is a fantastic idea; however, in practice almost any ambient lighting would cause the high-beams to turn off. In some situations, when I was just driving down the road, my high-beams would be flashing on and off like I was a crazy person.
An interesting additional safety feature is the optional lane-keeping system. This system, when activated, utilizes a camera behind the rear-view mirror to watch the road ahead. It will identify the lines on the road and warn the driver if he or she strays to close to the lines. Unlike other lane-keeping systems, however, this system will actively apply turning force to the steering wheel, steering the vehicle back into the lane. Under normal driving, the tug on the wheel is barely noticeable. That is fantastic because the first time that the system tried to correct my driving, it did not startle me (which could make the driving situation more dangerous). Interestingly though, the system will even function if the driver’s hands are off the steering wheel. While this is definitely a “Do Not Try This At Home!” request, I have included a video of the MKZ literally driving itself.
Because the MKZ is littered with as many sensors as the Starship Enterprise, the vehicle is aware of an impending crash and will warn the driver appropriately. This pre-collision intelligence flashes a red light onto the windshield, pre-charges the brakes, and pre-tensions the seatbelts. It will even unlock the doors and turn on the hazard lights after an impact. An added everyday benefit to the pre-collision system is adaptive cruise control. The brain of the MKZ, to help identify a potential crash, scans the road ahead. It locks on to vehicles and determines their course and speed relative to the MKZ. The adaptive cruise control takes the same information and then paces the vehicle in front of it. When I was driving down the highway, if I approached a slower vehicle, the MKZ would slow down to match its pace. When the vehicle would exit the lane or speed up, the MKZ would resume the pre-set cruise control speed. This technology is truly a stress reliever for the driver, especially in heavy traffic or construction areas.
MKZ Driving Dynamics
It is safe to say that driving a Lincoln MKZ is a lot like driving a Ford Fusion. Being built on the same platform, that is to be expected. My AWD-equipped version features a Haldex unit. In laymen’s terms, it means that power is sent to the front wheels almost all the time. Only when the system detects slip in the front wheels will it then send power to the rear. When driving my “dynamic test route” I could definitely feel the system transferring power to the rear during more than just front-wheel slippage. In fact, for a heavy vehicle, I’d consider it pretty well sorted. I do not know if I would go as far as to call it “well balanced,” but it does drive quite well. It drives like a Fusion, but a little better. There is no noticeable torque-steer on the MKZ, and the EcoBoost motor is quite peppy around town.
For a traditional automatic gearbox, the shifts are quick and can be shifted manually from steering-wheel mounted paddles. One nice thing about the Lincoln is that it comes standard with Continuously Controlled Dampers. This means that the suspension features sensors that monitor road conditions and driver input, and pre-set settings to adjust the quality on-the-fly. In “Comfort” mode, the Lincoln glides over bumps. However, since the suspension is constantly adjusting, it does not feel like a cruise liner wallowing back and forth. It rides quite nice.
In the “Sport” setting on the dampers, the ride firms up a teeny-bit, but nothing particularly noticeable. Where it is noticeable is taking a corner quickly. The suspension does a great job at keeping all four wheels planted and helping the MKZ corner flat. It is still a heavy car, and there is still some body roll, but it is noticeably less in the sporty setting. Also in “Sport,” the steering input firms up and becomes heavier. The transmission will shift later and hold gears longer as well. If I opted for paddle shifted shifts, the car would still shift at redline on the twisty bits of road. Interestingly though, if I started off in a straight line, and did not turn the wheel, the MKZ would bounce hard off the rev-limiter in first gear. I found this quite surprising because I did not know when the car would actually shift and when it wouldn’t. On downshifts, whether or not they were ordered by the paddles, the throttle would seemingly “blip” to provide a smooth downshift.
Noise from the 2.0L EcoBoost motor was actually quite good. Little exhaust noise makes it into the cabin, but like some of Ford’s performance-oriented EcoBoost motors (the 2.0L Focus ST comes to mind) there is a good amount of induction noise in the cabin. It is not as raucous as the Focus ST, but it does sound quite sporty. And unlike BMW, who now pipes engine noise through the stereo system, the MKZ sounds genuine.
The dampers, steering input and throttle response must be preconfigured through the MyLincoln Touch system. I set the vehicle to be in “Normal” steering and “Comfort” suspension when the car’s transmission is set to D. But when the car is set to S, I chose to have the dampers and steering both set to “Sport.” Lincoln does offer a sportier option for the dampers and traction control, and I really would like the opportunity to test one of those vehicles in the future. As it stands, the car handles well for a midsize sedan, and the optional 19″ wheels and all-season tires my tester came equipped with gripped really well. Under spirited driving, the brakes actually gave up before the tires did.
The $38,111 Elephant In The Room
A quick trip over to Ford’s configuration tool for the 2013 Ford Fusion shows that a Fusion can be ordered with almost every option that the test MKZ came equipped with. The noticeable differences are the air-conditioned seats (which should be coming with the ’14 Fusion), the LED headlights, the Continuously Controlled Dampers and the power trunk. I would argue that the MKZ drives a little nicer, but my colleague just reviewed the ’13 Fusion and he loved it! For many people, the Aston Martin-esque looking Fusion is a great buy, and there would be no reason to purchase the more expensive MKZ. Also, at $45,550 there are a lot of other cars on the market. It took a long time for me figure out the point of the MKZ, but I assure you that I did.
MKZ Final Verdict
It took a considerable amount of driving the MKZ, in a variety of different environments to really figure out the point of the MKZ. Surely, a 23.3mpg average over the course of the week isn’t good enough to truly brag about. Also, the styling of the MKZ is polarizing; some people really like it, some hate it. I actually like the looks of the MKZ far better than I do the looks of the Fusion. I also believe the Fusion is one of the most beautiful midsize sedans on the road today.
Yes, the heated and cooled memory seats are comfortable on long trips. Yes, the ride quality is great and there is very little road noise in the cabin. The stock stereo leaves a little to be desired, but an optional THX-certified system is available. The dark wood trim clashes with the black interior and aluminum-looking trim pieces, and resemble chocolate pudding when looking at them.
The interior pieces are all soft-touch, which are nice. The wood is obviously fake (and if it is indeed real, it needs to feel better), and I would rather order the aluminum trim. The cabin, overall, is a nice place to be. There is plenty of room in the rear seats for passengers as well. The trunk is even extremely spacious.
MyLincoln Touch is good, but not great. It suffers from some of the same problems as its Ford counterpart. During one re-fueling, the system did not recognize that I put more fuel into the car and the fuel gauge stayed the same. Only after putting more fuel in the vehicle later did it recognize the change. Also, the capacitive touch buttons that replace traditional buttons often sit right where the driver keeps his hand on the center console. Since the gear shifter has been replaced with buttons, the center console is cleared up quite nicely, but I often found myself tapping the Rear Defrost button driving down the road.
The MKZ’s touch screen is also angled just right to show smudges easily, and the MyLincoln Touch screen does collect them easily enough.
“So what is the point?” you ask.
The MKZ is cool. Because of the slow sales figures, there are not that many on the road. I was fortunate enough to attend the Ford Trends 2013 Conference, and spent time with Harvey Briggs of Pursuitist exploring the artistic and architectural side of Detroit. When picking up the MKZ from the hotel valet at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, I realized that the car looked epic. In the urban, concrete jungle that is Detroit it just looks and feels appropriate.
I also spent time at Motor City Casino and when the valet walked up to the MKZ, he complemented me on a great looking vehicle. Surely, he sees some fine automobiles roll through, so to catch a valet’s eye must mean the car is special.
The car is very “Detroit,” and I mean that in a good way. I believe that Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” campaign would actually be more apropos to the MKZ than to anything in the Chrysler fleet. The MKZ represents a new Detroit, but pays homage to the city’s heyday. And quite honestly, in that environment, it just looks and feels cool. Surely part of the point of a luxury car is how it makes you feel, and when I combine that with the added features the MKZ offers, I can justify the price difference to myself.
Is it everyone’s cup of tea? No. I doubt the car would feel as at home in San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles. And yes, there are surely sportier vehicles out there to drive. But I do not believe that the MKZ is a bad car, and for the people who “get it” I believe they will truly enjoy it.
NOTE: Photos and Videos Shot By Josh Smith (and I), and the vehicle was provided by the Lincoln Motor Company for review.