Lincoln MKZ — A ground-rule double

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We waited patiently for a couple of months to get our hands on the all-new 2013 Lincoln MKZ mid-sized entry-level luxury car. Lincoln's hype over what has been proclaimed the first all-new car of the newly named Lincoln Motor Company and the foundation of what promises to be a reinvigorated lineup that will bring the brand back on equal footing with such competitors as Cadillac, Lexus and Mercedes raised our anticipation level.

Perhaps because of these heightened expectations, we were a bit underwhelmed with the new Lincoln. It lacks the sophistication and in some areas the upscale materials of a modern luxury vehicle. So while we were expecting a grand-slam home run it seems we got a ground-rule double.

As a mid-sized sedan, the MKZ is acceptable — indeed, capable — but as Lincoln's game-changing representative against the heavyweights of the segment it doesn't seem to stack up quite as well as we had expected. We’re not sure it’s the magic formula that will elevate the brand to a new level of excitement.

Without a doubt it has some good things going for it. Exterior styling is eye catching — perhaps game changing. The MKZ has a presence that draws attention. We don't think the Lincoln waterfall grille works as we
ll as the Aston Martin-derived Ford Fusion grille, but it gives the MKZ a luxury statement with gracefully flowing lines wrapped neatly into the stylish headlights. And we like the long narrow taillight design that runs across the rear of the car. To really make a statement opt for the striking 19-inch optional wheels ($750). They are worth the cost.

The interior is luxury quiet with the standard all-season tires and the seats are comfortable, although for some inexplicable reason there's less rear-passenger space than in the Fusion. It's adequate, but not as spacious as we had hoped, and headroom for some is limited because of the sloping roof design.

It's the look and feel of the interior that lets the Lincoln down a notch. For instance, the automatic transmission push buttons on the dashboard in lieu of a standard floor-mounted shifter seem to us a rather quirky styling statement. Lincoln could have pulled it off, but, unfortunately the buttons — located left of the center stack — have an inexpensive feel reminiscent of GM and Ford "low budget" switchgear at the turn of the century. The turn signal
stalk has the same clicky and clunky malady. Interior materials in some areas including the lower door panels are a letdown.

Ghee-whiz features found on the MyLincoln Touch electronics interface such as touch bars to regulate audio volume and fan speed for the climate control system are difficult to accurately modulate while driving. In fairness to Lincoln, that same setup is part of the Cadillac Cue system, but it’s not any easier to use. So many of these features now found in variety of new cars work well when you are parked and can concentrate on their functions. At 60 mph they become serious distractions.

Fortunately there's a toggle switch on the steering wheel that can intuitively regulate the volume and mute the audio system if necessary. And all controls are voice-activated if you choose to go this route, and that might be your best bet.

There are three drivetrain choices — a standard 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque is slick, and a more conventional 3.7-liter V-6 produces 300 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic and both can be purchased with all-wheel drive. Also available is a hybrid variant driven by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with an electric motor good for 188 horsepower mated to a continuously variable transmission.

The best choice is the hybrid, which is rated at 45 mpg both city and highway. Over the past few years Lincoln has provided a great service to those desiring the best fuel economy by pricing the hybrid the same as the gas engine model. Most hybrids carry MSRPs of $3,000 to $4,000 more; but at Lincoln the base MKZ turbocharged model and the hybrid each start at $36,800.

Lincoln is offering a full array of cutting-edge technology and safety features. Two option packages ($5,400 in total) bring you adaptive cruise control, active park assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and lane assist, and collision warning with brake assist. Also included is navigation with back-up camera and cross-traffic alert, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a power close trunk lid.

Our well-equipped front-wheel drive turbocharged four test car carried a bottom line of $43,145. Well hit, but short of a home run.

Base price: $36,800; as driven, $43,145
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 240 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 270 foot-pounds @ 3,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Length: 194.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,911 pounds
Turning circle: 38 feet
Luggage capacity: 15.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 33 highway, 22 city
0-60: 6.6 seconds (MotorTrend)
Also consider: Lexus ES 350, Cadillac CTS, Mercedes E-Class

The Good
• Head-turning exterior design
• Excellent gas mileage from turbo four
• Loaded with high-tech features

The Bad
• Electronics interface distracting

The Ugly
• Interior quality not up to segment standards