The 2013 MKZ is Lincoln’s valiant attempt to create a better Lexus. Like the brand-new Toyota luxury division 20 years ago, Lincoln management hopes to redefine luxury. Its first effort, the 2013 MKZ, is quite good. It’s not enough though, because Ford Motor Company is not willing to give its remaining premium division adequate cash and resources.
Lincoln needs more than its own design studio – it should have a bespoke engineering team, at least one exclusive platform (preferably rear-wheel drive), and potentially its own manufacturing space. Toyota pumped resources into its secret project F1, and the 1989 Lexus LS400 that resulted blew away the competition with its competency. Even the entry-level ES250, despite humble Camry roots, stood apart from its more plebian Camry relative. The LS that established Lexus’ reputation was unrelated to any Toyota. Lincoln needs a model like this to sit atop its range.
Radically different sheetmetal and unique interior design doesn’t adequately distinguish the MKZ from the Ford Fusion on which it is based. The MKZ’s standard engines are the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four and a version of the hybrid powertrain available in the Fusion, though the Lincoln offers an optional V-6 you can’t have in the Ford. Some of the Lincoln-only content, like dynamic chassis control, doesn't improve enough on the Fusion.
In August, we reported that Lincoln would focus only on high-volume luxury segments. There will be no halo car for the brand. The segments are just too small to rationalize production of such a model for Lincoln alone. But Lexus’ prestige didn’t come from its bestsellers, the RX crossover and the ES. It came from the LS, a model not duplicated in the Toyota range that put sheen on the less-expensive, Toyota-based models, plus the effortless dealership experience and the luxury of starting with no reputation at all. Lincoln’s 95 years of history can either boost its image or hold it back.
Ford’s latest last-ditch attempt to save Lincoln was to reintroduce the company’s old name. Corporate marketing gurus are trying to recapture the glory and the spirit of the brand at its high point, but instead this reminds consumers of how good Lincoln was, and how lost it is now. I have sat in classic Continentals with their palpable mid-century luxury. I’ve run my fingers across the sinewy lines of an early Zephyr and understood how tracing these lines were like tracing muscles under human skin. While the MKZ is a stunning looker, it’s missing that certain something that comes when the design team is allowed to roam free with ideas.
Lincoln’s future models will mimic the MKZ’s formula. A Ford Escape-based crossover comes next. New versions of the MKX and MKT crossovers, and the MKS sedan are also in the works. Don’t expect anything revolutionary from these models. I doubt that Ford will spend the money or create the models necessary for Lincoln to be more than a branding exercise.