Lincoln MKZ — Runs well with the heady competition

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We found the revitalized 2010 Lincoln MKZ a very livable, competent entry-level luxury sedan that answers all the relevant questions.

It comes with a revised and very attractive — if somewhat conservative — interior layout, a responsive 3.5-liter V-6 generating 263 horsepower mated to a modern six-speed automatic transmission, numerous available amenities including the highly regarded Ford Sync multimedia system, excellent navigation with backup camera, and a full compliment of safety equipment including five-star government frontal crash-test ratings.

So after a pleasant week test driving a front-wheel drive model with more than $6,000 worth of options, and then another week spent with the all-wheel driver version we asked ourselves would we purchase the MKZ over the Cadillac CTS, Acura TL, Lexus ES 350 or Mercedes C-Class.

Maybe it’s just us but we had a hard time answering the above question. We didn’t expect the Lincoln to be so competitive.

We think perhaps the MKZ is aimed at an older demographic than perhaps the Acura or the Cadillac. But again, we know a 30-something who was so excited about taking delivery of a new MKZ that she could hardly stand the 24-hour wait.

One thing’s sure; Lincoln has made the MKZ more attractive in many ways for the 2010 model year. And that should bode well for a very competent mid-sized entry-level luxury sedan.

We think the MKZ especially with AWD is worth the price of admission.

Styling has been enhanced with most of the exterior pieces all new.  Probably the most notable is the Lincoln signature twin-port grille, which has become bigger and bolder. It’s possible to take the front- end styling cues too far, but in this case the reworked grille gives the smallest Lincoln a significant presence on the road.

The most dramatic styling upgrades have come inside the car. While the dash design retains the same basic theme, it has been revised into less squared-off more handsome rendition of the previous edition. Lincoln has upgraded the materials — a good thing in this competitive segment — now using real wood and metal and high-grade leather. The center stack now features a darker, more attractive finish, and virtually everything that can be reached is covered in soft-touch materials.

Very useful and attractive are electroluminescent gauges fixed in a cowl-shaped enclosure replacing the old Lincoln-style square enclosures that harkens back to the ’80s and ’90s and dated the previous sedan.
Our front drive test car came with a couple of option packages including Sport Appearance featuring seats that are attractive in Scottish Bridge of Weir leather and featuring ventilation. Heated and cooled seats are standard equipment.

Our of our test cars included among other items the Ultimate Package; THX II Sound System; Technology Package; Navigation Package; a power moonroof; and 17-inch aluminum 9-spoke chrome wheels.
The only engine choice is a good one, Ford’s 3.5-liter V-6 generating 263 horsepower and 249 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic with revised gearing and a manual shift feature. Lincoln says its tweaks have improved 0-to-60 time about a half second to 7.1.

The front-wheel-drive MKZ has a solid EPA rating of 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway using regular-grade gas. You pay a slight penalty with the AWD which is rated 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg out on the highway.

We certainly do not have an issue with the car’s performance, but we think Ford should consider the MKZ for a version of the EcoBoost twin- turbo V-6 that is being used in several vehicles for 2010 including the new Ford Taurus SHO, Lincoln MKS and Ford Flex. It would give the MKZ a performance option that if nothing else would provide the sedan with some very healthy bragging rights over the CTS and Acura TL.

The Lincoln’s suspension was also tweaked, and a special sports-tuned suspension package brings stiffer springs and bigger stabilizer bars giving the MKZ a more aggressive stance in the curves. We found the front drive sedan acquitted itself reasonably well through one of our winding test roads with responsive steering and very little body roll. More important to many owners is a smooth, quiet ride befitting a luxury sedan.

As noted the MKZ can also be purchased with all-wheel drive. We think this is a big selling point, giving people the opportunity to purchase extra peace of mind for bad-weather conditions.

Our experience with the AWD included a trip through a nasty storm encountered in the mountains of West Virginia. Whether we would have done as well with front-wheel drive, we can’t say, but the Lincoln gave us a measure of confidence as we pushed through the storm and over the leaf laden slick roads to the dry pavement of North Carolina. The ride and handling and the excellent road holding in sever conditions proved the value of all-wheel drive in the MKZ.

Generally, we found the switchgear useable and the gauges clear and easy to read, even in the bright sunlight thanks to the electroluminescent feature. We do have an issue with some tiny climate controls. More than once in we were forced to take our eyes off the road to adjust the fan speed, a tiny control at the bottom of the center stack. While the temperature controls are round knobs, such things as fan speed and air direction are relegated to second-class status.

On the other hand, we were delighted with the audio and Sirius/XM satellite radio readouts on the large optional navigation screen. And we had no problem with the optional THX II 5.1 600-watt surround sound system that includes a 12-channel amplifier, 14 speakers, two subwoofers and a 10-gig hard drive. We found solid lows and crisp highs, a system that should make most audiophiles smile.

Rear-seat leg room is good and two passengers can live very comfortably in the back seat for long trips. The trunk will swallow up 16.5 cubic feet of trip-related cargo, three more cubic feet than CTS and two more than a Lexus ES 350.

There are only two trim levels, starting at $34,965 for front-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive trim runs $1,890 more at $36,855.

Both of our test cars came with the $5,595 Rapid Spec package that included the equipment noted above. The front drive MKZ also carried the Sport Appearance package option at $795 that includes 18-inch chrome wheels, leather steering wheel and aluminum trim. The bottom line was $41,355. The AWD version included a dual-zone climate system at no additional charge for a bottom line of $42,450.

Lincoln has continually upgraded the MKZ since it entered the market several years ago under the Zephyr name. It has become a solid addition to the competitive entry-level luxury segment for 2010. You might be surprised at how much you like it.

Base price: $34,965; base w/AWD: $36,855; as driven, $42,450
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 263 @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 249 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm
Drive: front wheel/AWD
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 107.4 inches
Length: 189.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,598 pounds
Turning circle: 37.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 24 mpg highway, 17 mpg city
0-60: 7.1 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Cadillac CTS, Lexus ES 350, Acura TL

The Good:
• Available all-wheel drive
• Well equipped for 35 grand
• Competent handling with smooth ride

The Bad:
• V-6 engine performance not up to some of the competition

The Ugly:
• Lacks the desirability of such rivals as Cadillac, Lexus and Mercedes