Lincoln is striving hard to reinvent itself and once again gain credence as an American luxury brand. Having refreshed the MKS sedan MKT crossover last fall, Lincoln is now rolling out the all-new 2013 MKZ sedan at the 2012 New York auto show. Although the car is essentially based on the 2013 Ford Fusion, there are few obvious similarities between the cars. The new MKZ has a striking, elegant design, as well as a laundry list of upmarket features, that demonstrate Lincoln's commitment to revamping its image.
Not surprisingly, the production car deviates very little from the MKZ concept shown in January at the Detroit auto show. The MKZ begins with Lincoln's signature split-wing chrome grille and angular headlights, which combine to form a V-shaped just in front of the hood. The hood itself stands tall with numerous strakes and folds. A curved character line runs from the headlights to the taillights, bisecting the door handles and breaking up the rather tall doors.
In profile, the MKZ apes four-door coupes like the Audi A7 and Mercedes-Benz CLS, with a raked windshield, gently sloping rear window, and a fat, buttress-like C-pillar. The car resolves with a concave trunklid that wears a full-width array of LED taillights, and is topped by a prominent integrated spoiler.
Clever design elements include mounting the exterior mirrors to the door, allowing for slightly larger front windows, and a new panoramic glass roof. A 15.2 square-foot glass panel can slide back dramatically to create a large roof opening. When closed, the glass reportedly provides the same protection from harmful rays as SPF 100 sunscreen.
The 2013 MKZ has grown 4.3 inches longer and 3.2 inches wider than the outgoing car. It also is 2.4 inches longer and 0.1 inch taller than the 2013 Ford Fusion, with which the Lincoln shares its basic platform. Even more important, Lincoln says the new bodywork is 10 percent more aerodynamic than the outgoing MKZ.
Equally important was revamping the car's interior, which again closely resembles the handsome and understated design seen on the Detroit concept car. High-grade leather is standard on the seats, while real metal and wood trim adorns the steering wheel, door panels, and edges of the dashboard. The center stack is headed by an eight-inch color screen for the MyLincoln Touch interface, then sweeps down into an almost totally flat center console with several concealed storage compartments. There's a small opening behind the center stack, a design cue present on many Volvos.
Rather than a traditional shifter, the MKZ has five push buttons on the left-hand edge of the center stack, along with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Rather than traditional gauges, the instrument cluster is a 10.1-inch color screen. It displays an analog tachometer and speedometer, separated by a display for information like navigation and vehicle parameters.
Standard on the 2013 MKZ is a system called Active Noise Cancelation, which works like noise-canceling headphones to reduce unpleasant sounds inside the cabin. It should make the car feel even more quiet and insulated. Other standard features comprise heated front seats, remote start, and an 11-speaker audio system. The options list will include a 700-watt, 14-speaker sound system and seat belts with built-in airbags for the rear passengers.
Under the Hood
It's no surprise that Lincoln will chase lofty fuel economy numbers by continuing to offer a hybrid drivetrain, but there also will be two traditional engine choices, both mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The first is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. It should return 22/33 mpg (city/highway) with front-wheel drive. The upgrade engine is a 3.7-liter V-6 rated for 300 hp and 277 lb-ft., which is significantly stronger than the 263-hp 3.5-liter V-6 in the current MKZ. It should return 18/26 mpg with all-wheel drive -- increases of 1 mpg in the city and on the highway compared to the all-wheel-drive 2012 MKZ.
The MKZ hybrid uses a 2.0-liter inline-four engine and an electric motor-generator. Peak power from both sources is 188 hp, while the gas engine alone makes 141 hp. The hybrid comes only with a continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive. It is predicted to be even more economical than the current MKZ hybrid, which returns 41/36 mpg. The hybrid model will probably debut later than the regular 2013 MKZ.
Drivers can pick from three modes using Lincoln Drive Control, which has Normal, Comfort, and Sport options. Each mode alters settings for the electric power steering, engine and transmission, Active Noise Cancellation, and stability control. It also influences the Continuously Controlled Damping adaptive suspension. Set to become a signature Lincoln technology, the suspension automatically adjusts up to 500 times per second to provide the best compromise possible between sporty handling and a compliant ride.
Lincoln already introduced the Lane Keeping System on the MKS and MKT, and now the camera-based safety technology joins the 2013 MKZ. It provides Lane Keeping Alert, which vibrates the steering wheel if the driver leaves the current lane without signaling; and Lane Keeping Aid, which uses the electric power steering to keep the car in its current lane. The Driver Alert System provides chimes and warnings if it thinks the driver is tired.
Will it Work?
It's too early to say whether the 2013 MKZ will reverse Lincoln's fortunes, but the car is a strong entrant in its segment. As well as updating its products, Lincoln plans to work on reimagining -- perhaps creating is a better term -- a unique Lincoln experience. The company's dealerships will be reworked to have a more hospitable, personal feel for customers; employees will be trained at the Lincoln Academy by concierge association Les Clefs d'Or to help deliver "world-class customer service." The holistic approach is supposed to make Lincoln a more glamorous and aspirational brand that will once again be associated with luxury cars.