2007 Lincoln MKZ – What A Difference A (Model) Year Makes
- November 2, 2006
- On The Road: Driving Impressions
- Posted by admin
- Comments Off on 2007 Lincoln MKZ – What A Difference A (Model) Year Makes
For 2006 Lincoln got its own version of Ford’s latest mid-size sedan the Fusion. With specific sheetmetal at both ends and a unique interior the shortest car to ever carry a Lincoln badge was dubbed the Zephyr. A name for Lincoln’s illustrious past, the original Zephyrs were more modern than the KB-Series the company had been offering. They were also far more affordable carrying sticker prices a fraction of the essentially hand-built KBs.
While the latest Zephyr didn’t carry quite the same type of pricing relative to a Town Car, it did share the original Zephyr’s mission of bringing new customers to Lincoln. And while the new Zephyr sold beyond many people’s (and Lincoln’s own) expectations, a bit of Town Car style old-think found its way into the 2006 model… specifically its chassis setup. Timing constraints meant the Zephyr would have to carry over the entire drivetrain from the Fusion. This meant a modern but workmanlike 221HP 3.0L V6 and a pleasant Aisin-sourced 6-speed automatic gearbox. The Fusion’s front drive chassis was employed and received some minor, but as it turned out, rather unsettling tuning. Somebody decided that since the Zephyr was going to be a Lincoln it should ride like one. But apparently this was interpreted to mean Town Car rather than “Lincoln.” Compared to the original donor vehicle the Zephyr was softer with a far more “floaty” ride than the Fusion. The Zephyr was also shod with a V-rated “ride tire.” Biased for comfort and low-tread noise over adhesion, the Zephyr turned out to be a car better suited to riding in the passenger seat than sitting behind the steering wheel.
Charged with bringing some new blood into Lincoln, the Zephyr has been rejiggered into something different. Along with the mechanical makeover came a (slightly) bolder grille, and extra 500cc of engine displacement, an all-wheel-drive option and a new name… MKZ. There is no need to go into the thinking and rationale that has gone into Lincoln’s new naming strategy right now. As a matter of fact, the subject has been the meat for several blogs on this very website.
The new engine and AWD are both excellent improvements, but to put it bluntly, the 263HP 3.5 would make MKZ a real turkey to drive if the knock-kneed chassis went untouched from the Zephyr. This was something that wasn’t lost on the ride and handling engineers that were responsible for the car. A major retuning effort concentration of springs, shocks, bushings, bars and, maybe most importantly, the tires. Still the same 225/50 size as the Zephyr’s seventeen-inch tires, the new ones (still VR rated) are designed deliver grip and steering precision over pure hedonistic comfort. The result is a car that is far more at home on two-lane roads where corners are the order of the day.
For the model’s media launch, Lincoln had curiously selected a route that took the cars up the infamous “Tail of the Dragon.” A stretch of U.S. 129 that crosses Deals Gap at the Tennessee/North Carolina border, the road is a stunning collection of twists, rises and descents that promise to captivate the most demanding drivers. On the Dragon, the AWD MKZ managed the road well. To be sure, it’s no sports car but the smallest Lincoln purported itself as well as a number of comparably sized performance sedans. If you think of something like a 3.2L Audi A4 with Quattro, you’d not be too far off the mark. The car’s “needs work” list is pleasingly short with brakes better suited to aggressive driving and a new transmission gear selector setup that allows full use of the car’s six forward gears pretty much it. Knee-capped by an infuriating transmission selector quadrant that does not allow full and proper use of the otherwise outstanding 6-speed automatic, there were times during the descent of the Dragon when it was a physical impossibility to select the proper gear. Here the MKZ has been victimized by some mindless cost-cutting that happened during the development of the Fusion. This is the automotive equivalent of the old “Sins of the Father” adage and has never been more applicable.
So while shifter and brakes are in need of improvement for anybody that has more than a passing interest in flinging a machine through the twisties. the MKZ is still a significant improvement over its better-named predecessor.
After all, being a U.S. made Audi A4 ain’t all bad.
COUNTERPOINT TO JNORMAN’S OBSERVATIONS
For the most part, Mr. “JNORMAN” Hall is right on target in his assessment of the MKZ (uh, it’s difficult not to hesitate and sort out the names when discussing these vehicles – MKX?, hesitate, MKZ? Oh, yeah the “X” is the Crossover SUV). Having driven the same route a day later with USA Today’s intrepid auto reporter Jim Healey, we found that the brakes could be a shade more competent and that the shifter could be made to work pretty well. But the shifter logic took explaining by Ford’s Chief Vehicle Engineer Jim Baumbick. First, Ford contends that most folks really don’t need or really want a shiftable automatic (i.e. a Tiptronic-like device). AutoPacific‘s research confirms that most folks will use this feature for a week or two and then leave the tranny in Drive for the rest of its life. This, however, does not satisfy an enthusiastic driver like AutoPacific’s Jim Hall. He finds the lack of a shiftable automatic unacceptable. But, in reality, the shift logic (as explained by Baumbick) in the MKZ probably would satisfy even Hall if the logic had been explained. Won’t go into it here, but MKZ’s automatic will satisfy all but the most berserk Lincoln drivers. And, realize that the automotive media (like the political press) has somewhat of a herd mentality. If one guy says it’s true, then it must be.
Read Jim Hall’s opinion. Read my counterpoint. Drive the MKZ. Make your decision. Probably is not a deal breaker.