2013 Lincoln Motor Company MKZ: Little More Zest, Less Zzzzz

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The last time I drove an “entry level” luxury car that shared bones with some of Ford’s European DNA was my 2002 Jaguar X-Type 2.5 Sport with a manual transmission.  Haters can hate but I liked that car because it was more Ford than Jaguar.  Before the X-Type I had a 2001 Focus ZX3 and before that I had a Mercury Cougar.  The front-wheel drive one that was made in Michigan and exported to Europe.  Before that I had a 1996 Contour Zetec 5MT.  A 1999 SVT Contour was also in there somewhere.  Regardless, I’ve always been jealous of what Ford has offered in Europe.  I did what I could to get my hands on the closest thing to a European Ford, even if it wasn’t always the real deal.

When Ford announced that the Fusion and MKZ would become one with their European brothers, I was overjoyed.  I was so excited that I asked for a Mondeo to borrow while I was in England for a long weekend to could get an indication of what we had coming to us.  Before that I took a 2010 MKZ from Boston to Prince Edward Island and back.  To say that I’ve had some time in Ford four-doors is a pretty fair statement.

In the autumn of 2011 I was given a sneak peek at the 2013 MKZ.  No, not the concept, but the real deal.  I hadn’t seen the production Fusion yet.  I ended up having a man crush on the MKZ.  I wanted to love it so bad.  I loved the rear end.  It wasn’t like anything from Lincoln before.  The long wheelbase, small fender gaps, integrated exhaust, and glass roof started to woo me over.  It was like Lincoln knew I loved Ford sedans sprinkled with a dash of the old country.  The MKZ looked anything but old.

I started to get into the details.  Lincoln executives promised the MKZ would not share a suspension or any sheet metal with the Fusion.  OK, so far it sounds pretty good, right?  Keep going.  Also, they planned to give the powertrains unique characteristics when compared to their Ford brethren.  A V6, a 2.0L turbo, and a hybrid.  A suspension with some technology borrowed from the old Volvo S60 R.  I could hardly keep calm.  I wanted one.  I didn’t care if it was a Lincoln.

It wasn’t long ago that Lincoln was the number one luxury brand, courtesy of the Navigator.  When the Navigator debuted, Lincoln also tried to do things a bit differently with the first use of high intensity lighting (dubbed Luminarc) and a gauge cluster on the late 90s Continental that seemed a bit too early for an aging crowd.  I was ready to see how Lincoln planned to start a come back of sorts with the 2013 MKZ.  It’s all about product though…not silly name changes.  I spent five days getting to know the 2013 MKZ during December of 2012.  I was finally able to see what this thing could do on the open road.

Exterior

The exterior catches you like no other.  The front end is OK.  It doesn’t do much for me, honestly.  Maybe it is overshadowed by the hind quarters.  The hiney is where the action is.  The rear has a lot going on back there.  Day or night, it looks good.  The MKZ has a unique partially blacked out deck lid that gives the illusion of a very long rear window.  It’s aggressive, and doesn’t exactly match what is going on in the front.  The front has some interesting LED accents to help you identify a MKZ at night.  No glitzy “me too” LED daytime running lights here.  My tester was a Ruby Red Metallic that cost an extra $495 because the clearcoat is tinted.  It looks good.  Really good.  One of the better colors on a Lincoln or a Ford.

The last generation MKZ is basically a higher trimmed Fusion.  They are a dime a dozen in southeast Michigan.  Low lease rates make them attractive to people with a discount for new Ford and Lincolns from a friend or family member.  Even with last gen MKZs as common as a pothole here in Michigan, the 2013 MKZ brought the valets to a standstill at a hotel in Detroit.  It had people following me around town me to ask me about it.  People at the gas station wanted to know more.  It does get noticed and doesn’t blend in with Camrys and Accords.  At night, it has very distinctive front and rear lighting, which will continue to bring stares.  You’ll know when you see one on the road.

The exterior is the part I love.  It’s very unFord-like.  It’s not something I’d picture a guy with white hair driving either.  I have to give them credit for trying something different.  Based on initial feedback, people like it.  The $3,000 glass roof that partially sits on the rear window when opened is a bit of a novelty.  Personally, I like sunroofs.  This is not like any sunroof you’ve ever seen before.  It’s huge.  It also sits on the rear window when opened and obscures part of your vision, especially if you’re tall.  It’s quiet and didn’t leak or give me any issues.  It’s a pricey piece of glass though.  You have to decide if you want one window in your car or all new windows in your house.

Powertrain/Suspension

I’ve had the opportunity to spend a limited amount of time with the 2.0L AWD MKZ at the Ford proving grounds.  I liked it but when I asked some engineers if they preferred the 2.0L EcoBoost or the 3.7L V6, they all said the V6.  OK, so V6 it must be.  Still a bit perplexed at offering a 2.0L EcoBoost engine, which is essentially a V6 replacement AND a 3.7L V6.  Seems like overkill to me.  Give me the 2.0L EcoBoost and the 3.5L EcoBoost.  Now we’re talking.

The 3.7L is a bit gritty, like other Ford V6 engines.  The Lincoln Drive Select is supposed to make the V6 sound basically perfect by canceling out the stuff you wouldn’t want to hear and enhancing the stuff you’d want.  I had a hard time hearing a difference.  The 2.0L EcoBoost does a better job with this.  The 3.7L is also a bit of a fossil fuel junky.  I was getting about 16 MPG around town.  Save yourself the $1,200 and get the 2.0L EcoBoost.  It’s lighter, has just as much torque as the V6, gets better miles per gallon, and seems to more at home in the MKZ.

The six-speed automatic is OK.  A bit slow to shift but should be fine for your normal MKZ driver.  Paddle shifters are a bit pointless here.  The “S” (S for sporty!) mode for the transmission gets a bit tiresome with the V6.  The thrashy sound and unintended gear changes get wears on you.  I ended up putting it in Sport mode but turning off the transmission changes.  Much improved!

I really expected the suspension to be more Jekyll and Hyde.  The Lincoln Drive Select was supposed to offer up three different modes of suspension tuning: comfort cruiser, normal, and sporty.  I had a difficult time telling much of a difference between comfort and sport.  Maybe a bit less suspension rebound?  Maybe the all-season tires gave up some of the fun?  I noticed more of a difference with the 2.0L EcoBoost than the V6.  Another vote for the 2.0L EcoBoost.

I was expecting something like this for the suspension.  The cup of water test didn’t yield much of a difference in the MKZ.  The suspension borrows some technology from the S60 R but it comes from a different supplier.  Kind of a let down.  If you have the capability to turn the car into a wild animal at the touch of a button, well, why can’t it?  There just isn’t enough of a differentiation between the modes to say that Lincoln is getting their money’s worth out of this technology.  Turn up the dial a bit more, please!  Nürburgring all-star?  No way.  Pothole soaker upper and quiet ride champ?  You bet.

Interior

Let’s start with the rear seat.  Plenty of legroom here, just as there should be.  The wheelbase is a hair shorter than the bigger MKS.  That hot sloping roof eats away at the head room though.  My 6’3″ body didn’t fit.  Front seat only for me.  The MKZ also offers $195 inflatable rear seat belts.  The technology makes a lot of sense, especially if you have kids.  As an OCD safety nut for my kids, I was happy to have this feature until I went to buckle my kid in.  The inflatable seat belt has a very thick belt and the buckle is stiff and bulky.  Trying to get a booster seat in with this seat belt requires yoga moves and some sort of super powers, of which I lack both.  Give me some thorax airbags back there like the Germans and I’ll be happy.  The seats were heated in the rear but the low roof wasn’t exactly welcoming.  Form over function here.

The interior was very quiet.  No squeaks or rattles.  Wind noise was nonexistent.  Even with that huge sheet of glass, noise was hushed.

The interior of the MKZ makes some big changes for Lincoln.  Big props for trying.  I really liked the new MyLincoln gauge cluster.  It was simple to use, looks more like a traditional cluster, and the attention to detail was fantastic.  The speed limit is displayed in the cluster of the road you are driving on.  Great feature but it was often reading the wrong speed.  On a 70 MPH interstate it read that the speed limit was 40 MPH.  Otherwise the cluster is far better than the last MyLincoln Touch cluster I used.  There is even a fake pin where the needle would connect on the speedometer.  It’s better than the German and Brit clusters that use screens.

All of the switches are capacitive.  It’s a love-hate thing here.  They look cool but require you to take your eyes off of what you are doing to complete your task.  The wiper stalk looks and feels like it came right out of a European Ford.  Not a bad thing!  The transmission PRNDS is a series of buttons located on the center stack – not capacitive though.  Engineers has to integrate a special motor to electronically select the gears and it worked well.  When you want to turn the car off you can just hit the ignition and it will automatically go from drive to park and turn off.  Nice.

This car is loaded with tech and gear.  Some of it I’d pass on but that is just me.  My tester had an ear drum popping THX certified audio system.  It’s one of the very few audio systems that doesn’t rattle when you play The xx at elevated volumes.  THX doesn’t actually make any of the audio system but it’s worth every penny.  I did try out the automated parallel parking system.  Other than totally freaking me out, it did just what it was supposed to.  I’m not used to a car steering for me just yet.

That brings me to another point.  This MKZ also had a lane keeping system that works to keep you in your lane if you hit the painted lines in the road…or grooved pavement…or a crosswalk.  Other experiences with lane keeping systems use the rear brakes to pull you back into your lane.  The MKZ uses the electric power steering and gives you a very unnerving feeling of grabbing the wheel at 75 MPH and turning it for you.  It started to see grooved cement as lines in the road and would steer the car out of the lane.  Not cool.  It also would hiccup at certain crosswalks where the paint would be in just the right location to confuse the camera reading the lines.  The technology package isn’t worth the $2,250 because it just isn’t refined enough.

Refinement.  That is where the MKZ missed the mark.  The MyLincoln Touch infotainment system almost became Punch MyLincoln.  Odd issues started to creep up like the screen said the climate control was off but the switch said it was on.  I could also hear the fan going.  Sometimes in reverse the rear view camera picture would vertically scroll on the screen for no reason.  I even tried to ask for simple directions to Starbucks and the system froze up but the lady kept talking.  I had to turn the car off to reboot.  CTRL ALT DEL was no where to be found.  Manually adding a destination to the navigation system was difficult.  The system is slow to respond and the screen fails to accept each touch.  Lincoln supposedly has a new version of software geting ready to ship out.  Still, no excuse.  Oh, you want me to use the voice commands and not the slow touch screen?  I have two kids, which renders voice recognition useless.

The Bottom Line

So, how much did this 2013 MKZ cost?  $51,185.00  I know, I know.  You’re thinking you can get an Audi S4 or a Lexus ES for that kind of money.  Yup.  You sure can.  You can get a lot of cars for that kind of money.  You can’t get the giant sunroof.  You can’t get the awesome exterior styling either.  If you want a sedan for the occasional rear passenger that is quiet, on the automotive bleeding edge of technology, and handles better than any Lincoln in the recent history, the 2013 MKZ will please you.  This is not an American interpretation of a BMW.  Go get a Cadillac if you want that.  This is not an American Lexus ES.  This is not a Fusion either.  Other reviews will fault the MKZ for being front-wheel drive.  Obviously people are pretty happy with cars that put the power to the front.  Accord, Camry, Civic, and Altima are all top sellers and are all front-wheel drive.  Does a luxury car need to be rear-wheel drive?  Does Audi make good cars?  Point proven.  No, the MKZ is not an Audi but does offer optional all-wheel drive.

I’m cool with that actually.  I equate luxury vehicles to a nice pair of shoes.  Everyone has a brand of shoes they prefer.  Your shoes say a lot about who you are, how you spend your money, and how you want people to view you.  Hipster?  Dressy? Preppy?  Boots?  Name brand?  Bruno Magli was a pretty hot brand after O.J. wore a pair.  Anyways, your car also says a lot about you.  Lincoln sales are now to the point of almost being a boutique brand.  Like a nice pair of shoes and excellent service you might find at a high end retailer, Lincoln wants to use their small volume to bring that attention to detail and relationship back to buying a vehicle.  Taking a lesson from Lexus, Lincoln wants to start over with consumers.  It’s taken Cadillac more than a decade to shake some of their old man image off.  It’s going to take Lincoln just as long, if not longer.  The question still remains if shareholders and management can wait that long.  If there was ever a time to question Lincoln it would be after reading this.  Some good points made there that management should consider before spending another penny on Jimmy Fallon.

This article has 1 comment

  1. bp 08/23/2013, 5:11 pm:

    In response to Dave Sullivan.
    I’ve purchased the 2013 MKZ several month ago, with the following observations:

    Purchased the “Hybrid” which lists at exactly the same base MSRP as the 2.0L turbo. There was no premium for the hybrid which has a 2.0L (non turbo). The MKZ Hybrid system is identical to the Fusion Hybrid, the difference in MSRP is about 7k. But my MKZ has 11k in options, most of it “technical” stuff. And as for Ford’s technology – it’s put together as if none of their “developers” have ever driven a car before. Ford should immediately contract with “Apple” (or some other software developer) to revamp their entire technology systems. There software and user interface are at the polar opposite of proficiency and thereby not efficient (particularly while operating a vehicle). Since there has been some time since your article, as an example, I’d like to offer Ford’s ECM software upgrade on the MKZ and Fusion, that allows them to operate in EV mode up to 85mph (up from 62mph) because owners complained of not reaching the advertised city/highway 45mpg.

    Otherwise it’s not too bad, it’s a little clunky whenever the gas engine kicks in for acceleration or to charge the battery, and it’s completely absurd that, even though I have the “running light” option, you can’t use them in conjunction with the “auto” headlights (there’s a rotary switch that controls both functions). That’s not a big thing, but I like daytime running lights and for 48k, I should have running lights, LEDs or otherwise.

    Beneath it all and to their credit Ford, is the only American car mfr offering 3 different electric/hybrid cars. I just got tired of waiting for the Cadillac version of the “Volt”, for which I tried to get on a waiting list (even though they didn’t know, and still don’t know the price range).

    At any rate, it’s an American “Luxury” hybrid, with technology licensed from Toyota, that’s comfortable, and never fails to get at least 35mpg. But like most computer technology, once it’s set to your comfort zone, it’ll be ok, I’ve just got better things to do, and learning new computer stuff is not on that list. If we can put a man on the moon, . . . etc.

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