Monday, December 3, 2012

2013 Lincoln MKZ test drive review. Is this car worthy of Lincoln's heritage?

Lincoln is an automotive icon that has experienced some ups and downs throughout its history. During the peaks, their cars are the choice of presidents, athletes, and celebrities. During the valleys, they have been considered old ladies cars, airport shuttles, and tarted-up Fords. But right now, the folks at Lincoln are definitely climbing back up the mountain, as evidenced by the beautiful new 2013 MKZ sedan.

Historically, people associate Lincoln with Cadillac. But the designers of the MKZ clearly had a different bogey in mind this time. This is a Lexus ES 350 fighter. It looks like it (only better), it performs like it, and it feels like it. So while Cadillac has set its sights on BMW and Audi with its rear-wheel-drive offerings, Lincoln is targeting Japan with the front- or all-wheel-drive MKZ.

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a high-level marketing presentation and drive the new MKZ through some twisty, mountain roads near San Diego. And I have to admit, I was very impressed with how much better this car was than the one it replaces. The old MKZ was probably considered a decent car when it came out a few years ago, but this one beats it by leaps and bounds.

Of course, Lincoln has a tough road ahead right now. They want to attract younger, more affluent buyers, and they want to appeal to trendsetters that live on the coast. And while the car itself may be able to do that, the stodgy stigma of the Lincoln brand is going to be hard to overcome. It isn’t impossible. Cadillac has changed their image over the past few years with their sporty, modern offerings, and Buick is headed in that direction with their China-centric offerings. So even though their goals seem difficult, we still have proof that good products and effective marketing does move the needle.

So what makes the new MKZ so much better than the old one? Well, when they are sitting side-by-side, that question is answered with just one look. The old one wasn’t a bad car, but now it seems boxy, unsophisticated, and old-fashioned. The instrument panel looks like it would be at home in an F-150. Heck, a Chevy Malibu has a more modern interior.

But then you get into the 2013 model. Wow, what a difference. You are surrounded by organic, flowing shapes. The open area under the console looks like it belongs in a concept car. And is that real wood and leather? Why yes. Yes it is. Oh, and you can get a huge, 15.2 sq/ft glass roof panel that opens up to reveal the sky like nothing since the ’53 Nash Airflyte convertible.

Things are just as impressive on the outside. With its tight gaps, complex body lines, and classy trim, this car was dressed to impress. The mirrors were designed for aerodynamics, but they are bold and attractive. Details like the LED driving lights, the trim around the windows, and even the wheels evoke quality. The trunk-width, pencil-thin LED taillight cluster is impressive, although it does evoke the new Dodge Dart a bit.

I was able to test out all three powertrains, including the 240-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo; the 45-mpg, 188-hp, 2.0-liter hybrid; and the 300-hp, 3.7-liter V6. Of course, I’m always game for more horsepower. But even when climbing into the mountains, the 2.0-liter turbo didn’t protest much. Ford has come a long way with these turbo engines lately. Even as someone who has always lived by the adage of “there’s no replacement for displacement,” I have to give them credit.

The MKZ is built on the same midsized platform as the Ford Fusion. I drove the Fusion earlier in the year, and it was such a nice car, I wondered how they could make the Lincoln worth the extra cost. But somehow, they did. The Fusion looks great, but the MKZ looks, well, premium. The interior is very nice in the Fusion, but in the Lincoln it’s downright luxurious. And on and on. Those designers really know what they’re doing.

Lincoln is embarking on a huge ad campaign that dubs the brand “Lincoln Motor Company.” The idea is to associate this new MKZ with high water marks in Lincoln’s history, like the early Zephyr and Continental Mark II. For years, they really weren’t making products that were worthy of this type of comparison. But this MKZ may be just such a product.

There are a few pictures in the slideshow below. I took some of them during the ride and drive in San Diego, although there are a few from Ford’s media department. Man, I wish I knew how to take pictures like they do. Anyway, a better version of the slideshow is available at this link.


  1. Exciting to see Lincoln buckle down, and step out of Ford's shadow. A really good looking car!

  2. That's a good looking car!

  3. I like that. Much better than the one it replaces. I'd love to drive one.