First Drive: 2013 Lincoln MKZ 3.7 AWD

Patrick M Hoey

The split grille on the front of Lincoln's newest car has been described by Max Wolff, the brand's hip new director of design, as an eagle spreading its wings, but we think an association with a phoenix might be more apt. That's because the 2013 Lincoln MKZ is supposed to represent Lincoln's emergence from the ashes of the past as important new player in the future, and this means not only here in the U.S. but more importantly also in China, where serious money is at stake in the country's developing luxury market.

So far, Lincoln's renaissance has been troubled. The link between its premium cars and humble Ford versions of similar vehicles has been too apparent, and the Lincoln examples have not offered the performance or luxury credentials that could help us overlook the resemblances, visual or otherwise.

With the 2013 Lincoln MKZ AWD, there's still some badge engineering going on, yet we think this car shows that Lincoln and Ford might have finally figured out how to spin two very different vehicles from the same parts.

Think Audi and Volkswagen

With the 2013 Lincoln MKZ, Dearborn's top brass hopes to recreate the same sort of relationship between Lincoln and Ford vehicles that we see in Audi and Volkswagen. That is, much is identical under the skin, but the driving and ownership experiences exist on separate planets.

In the past, the Lincoln MKZ and Ford Fusion shared everything except their dashboards and the front and rear bodywork fascias. Now only the powertrains and the basic chassis structure are shared. Both the MKZ and the Fusion feature the same turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 engine, which is rated at 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. At the same time, this is just the base engine in the Lincoln, while it's the top of the range in the Ford.

Of course, both cars share the same powertrain in their respective, front-wheel-drive hybrid models, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with a 35-kW electric motor that draws on a 1.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Also all U.S.-specification MKZs and Fusions are being built at Ford's assembly plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, and both brands of the car are available in front- and all-wheel-drive configurations.

Yet that's where the similarities between the two cars end. Furthermore, only the Fusion offers an mpg-enhancing, turbocharged 1.6-liter engine, while only the MKZ has an mph-enhancing 3.7-liter V-6, which develops 300 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque.

A different approach to driving

Just as you'd expect, the 2013 Lincoln MKZ AWD represents a distinctive approach to the way a Lincoln is meant to go down the road.

For this, credit Lincoln Drive Control (LDC), which is electronic control of suspension damping, steering effort and transmission shift points. When LDC is set to Comfort mode, the car soaks up road irregularities and the light-effort steering is still communicative. When LDC is set to Sport, the car is appropriately taut in its ride and response without being harsh, although the heavy effort level in the steering feels unnatural to us. The Normal mode between these two extremes actually combines the worst of both, delivering a floaty ride even as the suspension crashes over road imperfections.

The MKZ does business with a six-speed automatic transmission that feels fine in a Comfort mode but seems a little too aggressive in Sport, as it holds onto gears for a moment too long and snaps off shifts in an unrefined fashion. Shift action is even a bit clunky in Normal mode, although Lincoln engineers tell us that the final calibration is yet to come.

This is a good thing, because the combination of the 300-hp V-6 and six-speed automatic is fantastic. The V-6 always pulls strongly, and there's a throaty roar from the twin exhaust outlets. A broad spread of torque helps to ensure that the six-speed automatic always seems to find the right gear.

As good as the V-6 is, we wonder if the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder might be a better choice overall. So far, we've only experienced this engine in the Ford Fusion, and it felt nearly as robust as the V-6. We would happily give up the aural delights of the V-6 in exchange for 4 mpg more in the city and 5 mpg more on the highway, as the all-wheel-drive Lincoln MKZ V-6 is rated at 18/26 mpg city/highway, while the all-wheel-drive 2.0T is good for 22/31 mpg.

Don't you deserve some glitz and glamour?

The design of the 2013 Lincoln MKZ design is striking. The split-wing front grille is just as eye-catching as Max Wolff promises, while tasteful detailing with satin-finish aluminum adds a premium tone to the exterior. The wide, wide LED taillights successfully interpret past Lincoln designs. And we have to say that the combination of our test car's ruby red bodywork and gunmetal-grey 19-inch wheels proved downright dazzling.

Of course, it did take us a little while to see the car clearly, since the proportions seem slightly off a first glance. The headlights and taillights are too slim, which make the surrounding bodywork seem a bit too massive. The arcing roofline in combination with a stubby tail creates an awkward C-pillar and tall trunk. And finally the roof has been pressed down so tightly on the bodywork that the windows look like gun slits.

Even so, the MKZ's shape called out to us every time we walked up to it and the nuances of the design eventually became clear. The slim LED lighting fixtures create a crisp, striking - and instantly recognizable - visual signature. The graceful roofline permits the incorporation of a panoramic sunroof (a pricey $2995 option) that opens to the heavens. Finally, the C-pillar and rear deck lid combine to reduce aerodynamic drag, while the trunk beneath has an amazing amount of capacity.

When you're behind the steering wheel, the high seating position and that giant transparent roof help make the interior seem light and spacious, plus the driver's sightlines are unobstructed. The window sills are indeed a little high, but the effect is nothing like a Chrysler 300. At the same time, rear seat passengers might feel claustrophobic, since the MKZ's dramatic roofline allows rear headroom of only 36.5 inches, the least in this car's market segment. With the 2013 Lincoln MKX, chief designer Solomon Song has delivered the "elegant simplicity" that Lincoln design director Max Wolff describes as the new theme for the brand, even as the car conjures up glamour straight out of old Hollywood.

Welcome to a special environment

Slip inside the cabin and the new Lincoln MKZ feels special from the first. A high center stack sweeps down from the dashboard into the center console in one fluid form. The stack of controls itself is dominated by a large touchscreen interface with touch-capacitive faux-buttons.

To the left of center stack you'll find the buttons that control the transmission, the first push-button transmission we can remember for decades. It is surprisingly intuitive to use, as the gears are presented in a traditional PRNDS layout. The ignition button is above Park and it's a bit of a reach. This push-button transmission interface opens up worthwhile storage space in the center console, but the two tiers of rubber-lined shelves are too shallow, we think.

The interior plastics within the cabin don't match the standard found in a BMW or Mercedes-Benz, but the color values are excellent. The dash and door panels are highlighted by tasteful wood and chrome accents. The gauges recall the previous generation BMW 7-series, and driver-controlled information screens are incorporated into the instrument binnacle. The MKZ's electronic displays are crisp and clear in their presentation, prove easy to navigate, and show the right amount of information without being distracting. Just like the transmission control, the interior trim and the watch-like instruments, the seats also set the MKZ apart from the Fusion, and we found them supremely comfortable with just the right amount of support in all the right places.

Lincoln's electronic interface and you

Each of the luxury brands has some form of all-encompassing electronic interface for its infotainment system. Among others, there's Acura's AcuraLink, Audi's MMI, BMW's iDrive, Lexus' Remote Touch, Mercedes-Benz's Command, and even Volvo's Sensus. What Lincoln features is MyLincoln Touch, a branded version of Ford's touchscreen-based system.

Sadly, MyLincoln Touch reminds us all too much of MyFord Touch. The touchscreen is slow to respond, while many of the accompanying buttons are too small to locate and operate. More important, it takes too many taps to accomplish even the simplest tasks, and this is not the kind of thing you want in a luxury car. At least the THX-branded sound system is fantastic. For all this, the touch points on the center stack are easy to locate and react quickly to inputs. We wish that they had little physical nubs to better indicate their locations when you're trying to keep our eyes on the road, although the backlit buttons elegantly disappear from view when the ignition is shut down. The slider controls for audio volume and fan speed are also lightning-fast to respond and feature neat LED lighting that follows your finger.

All of the active safety features -- adaptive cruise control, active park assist, lane keeping system, and automatic high beams -- are part of a $2250 technology package, and they work flawlessly. Blind-spot warning (which includes rear cross-traffic alert), is standard on the MKZ's Reserve and Preferred trim levels, but unavailable otherwise.

The lane-keeping safety system is really remarkable, as the electric-assist steering edges the car back into its lane when the driver's attention begins to wander. Systems from other car-makers use the stability control electronics to grab the brakes and push the car away from the highway's lane markings, but the Lincoln steers with the same predictable yet insistent pressure that human control would produce.

Does the phoenix rise from the ashes?

Will the 2013 Lincoln MKZ single-handedly save Lincoln from the trash heap of history? Well, let's not ask too much, lest we seem like one of those lame-brain Wall Street analysts who tries to predict a company's stock price from what the CEO had for breakfast. At first glance, the MKZ is a good car, and it stands on its own merits in terms of style and performance - a breakthrough for the brand, really. What it really does is set the stage for a number of forthcoming new models that will help to shape Lincoln's place in the automotive landscape.

The Lincoln MKZ is really meant to match up against the Lexus ES 350, which is the kind of comparison that reveals the marketing plan that Lincoln has set for itself. Compared to the midsize Lexus (the top-selling vehicle from Toyota's premium brand), the Lincoln has comparable variants powered by either a V-6 or a hybrid powertrain, while it also offers a turbocharged four-cylinder engine for improved mpg at an affordable price, plus all-wheel drive for all-weather traction.

At this point, we think the Lincoln MKZ is a better car than the Lexus ES, which is a big statement from us. It drives better, looks better and offers as much luxury, though the dealership experience is another thing, of course. Yet the midsize market doesn't end with the Lexus ES, as the comparative set includes the Acura TL SH-AWD, Audi A4 and Volvo S60 - three cars that deliver the same prestige, price and package size as the MKZ.

For those looking for something daring, dashing, and different in the midsize luxury segment, the 2013 Lincoln MKZ is a genuine player. And so for Lincoln, the game begins.

SPECS
On Sale:
January 2013
Base Price (with destination): $39,920
As-Tested Price: $51,185
Engine:
3.7-liter V-6
Horsepower: 300 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 277 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: All-wheel
Wheels and Tires:19-inch aluminum wheels
245/40R-19 94V Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires
Curb Weight: 4002 lbs
Capacities:
Doors/Passengers:
4/5
Cargo: 15.4 cu ft
Legroom (front/rear): 44.3/37.0 in
Headroom (front/rear): 37.9/36.6 in
Towing: N/A

talencora
My brother drives an  Audi A7.   I drive a 2013 MKZ (a fully loaded Preferred line model with the 3.7 V-6 and AWD).   My brother thinks that my 2013 MKZ is a nice car, and a good buy when comparing amenities with the A7.  Personally, I don't know how anyone can justify the $20,000 price premium of the A7 (though I do like the 8 speed transmission, but two additional gears isn't worth twenty grand).  In making my decision on the MKZ, I compared it with BMW 5 series, Lexus GS, Audi A6 (I didn't consider the A7 because I gave up on hatchbacks in the early 1980s), and the Cadillac CTS (including test driving the cars).  The dealerships for BMW, Lexus, Audi, and Cadillac gave me a "take it or leave it" attitude with the deals they offered, and allowed me only short test drives with the cars.  The Lincoln dealership gave me several trim levels of the MKZ to keep and drive in real world conditions over weekends.  The conclusion that I reached was that the MKZ offered greater value (ie. equivalent or better quality, equivalent performance, and more amenities for the price).  To appreciate the MKZ is to drive it.  Lincoln has stated within their marketing material that they are not trying to be all things to all luxury car buyers, and that they are targeting buyers looking for value.  I guess that I fit within that target market.
Not ur mama's oldsmobile
Its a gorgeous car and I am not usually a fan of luxury cars or anything with 4 doors till now. Though, i dislike the rims, and that can be changed. My other dislike is they did not stuff the Taurus SHO engine in there, and keeping the AWD system. If it had that, I would be to the dealership right now.
RKay
I received very personalized Lincoln service from the get-go. A pre-production 2013 MKZ was driven to my house for a test drive, and when I said that I was interested in the hybrid, they immediately arranged another test drive delivered to my driveway the next day. This was obviously a sign of good things to come. When the car pulled into the driveway I had to stare at its striking appearance for several minutes. The car (both hybrid and regular) drove beautifully.  I wasn't as spellbound by the retractable roof as I originally thought, so I settled for the normal moonroof. When I went to the San Diego Auto Show in December 2012, the MKZ was obviously the hit of its class, attracting more crowds than the Lexus, Audi, and BMW combined. The car looks better in person than in pictures. What's more, the owner of the SD dealership, Ed Witt, sat down with me for nearly an hour to discuss my interests, and then personally escorted me to a waiting limo (Lincoln SUV) for a short trip to the MKZ for another test drive. The follow-up from the dealer was exceptional - each person I spoke to returned my calls pronto, and with courtesy - no pressure.  Every experience with the 2013 MKZ has been first class. I looked at all of the luxury brands: BMW (300 sporty, but too small and overpriced and a little dated), Audi (old-style and over priced), Lexus (unimpressive styling and arrogant customer service experience), and Mercedes (well built and kinda like the old Volvo line: boxy but good).  Needless to say I bought an MKZ, and now my neighbors with all of the aforementioned other brands will be looking at my car (at 45 MPG) in the driveway and on the road as I take off for the road while they head for the gas station.  I am proud to be a part of the Lincoln revival - go USA, and way-to-go Lincoln!!
757driver
One thing I'm sure all the Germans wish they had are such good Dependability ratings (after three years) from the J.D. Power folks. Lexus, Buick, Cadillac and Lincoln all have done very well the last few years.
ralander
I think that the Lincoln Motor Car Company should use Audi as it's example of a model (similar sized) line up with a entry Lincoln (A4) and the ultimate Lincoln  (A8) with models in between i.e., a Continental  (S5 coupe and convertible), etc. I really want Lincoln to make it!I really RossFlint, Lansing, Tampa
Sophia26
@retrostang 
What are you trying to say?  I don't understand the 1976 reference.  It makes no sense whatsoever. Anyways, this is a very insightful and well written article that accurately describes both the car and it's place in the current market.  Well done, unlike some of the drivel that's been published at other web-based auto sites (here's looking at you, Edmunds).As for the car, I think it's a fantastic new breath of fresh air to the luxury market.  Like some new Jaguar designs, this car has a commanding presence that shouts luxury, style, and status.  It's an impressive package.  I wish this were built in the USA, but that's the only demerit in my book against it.  Now if only the sheep consumers out there would think for themselves instead of asking for the same old "luxury"recipe like all the other brands, Lincoln might stand a chance.
retrostang
I am a Ford guy but this is pretty sad. Last time I checked it is 2012 not 1976!
Howard Beale
Ford has masterfully prepared the terrain; investing handsomely in communications to persuade everyone that a major Lincoln renaissance was in the making. That "everyone" included Lincoln dealers who early on were implored to believe, while being told that the price of entry would involve an expensive makeover of their showrooms. Never mind; this is truly exciting!

And so the stage was set; the only thing needed was a shatteringly beautiful product that would finally show everyone that America does indeed know how to produce it's own sensational luxury car according to it's own definition. What a fantastic opportunity for anyone associated with the project.

Imagine now that you're one of the above-mentioned Lincoln dealers attending the grand unveiling... The band is playing and the curtain is about to rise as you attempt to calmly sip your champagne, bracing yourself in anticipation. Now the curtain is up and the smoke is clearing.

"Hey wait... What the hell is that? OK, I get it; Ford has a sense of humor... My god, for a moment there I thought I had made a huge... But it's now obviously a joke. Haha! Well done chaps; very clever using that five year old Volvo and a bit of tromp l'oeil as a tease. My god you had me going! Now can we please see the real car?Oh my..."Yes the MKZ might handle adequately or even admirably but this cannot undo the weak, stammering, apologetic rolling tour de force of aesthetic mediocrity that is the exterior design.

Don't think for a second that Ford design does not know this; it is why the "hip" Max Wolff is being allowed to hang himself by claiming the design as his own while his boss, J Mays stands silently sweating in the shadows.

Notice also how the raft of early negative but for the most part true comments posted below is followed by a sudden change in the tide. It is not unreasonable to suspect that Ford has started to enlist the help of a second line of defense; a brigade of "readers who like the MKZ". The first line of defense being of course the press; see Exhibit A, this article.
grrr428
The whole "Lincoln Death Watch" is getting old. I'm amazed to see how many people have invested in hate for a car they haven't even seen with their own eyes! I think it's way better looking than several of it's rivals (Jaguar, small Audi sedans, Acura, etc.). It's fresh and new. I bet few of them are in the market for a $45K luxury car anyway.  TTAC has an article about auto journalist "wobble" and the lemming who follow. BTW I love the fact that this "base" Lincoln can out handle a BMW M5 wearing the same (but smaller?) tires. I think this car will surprise a lot of people and it will sell reasonably well.
Vermontn8iv
Check out the misalignment of the chrome pieces in the photo of the driver's-side rear-view mirror, and the imprecise body panel gaps. THIS is representative of the QC at the "new Lincoln"? Pathetic.
TheClassicCarFactory
Max Wolff should be fired for creating the HVAC return grille. There is absolutely NOTHING about it that says Lincoln. It says Home Depot, Heating & Ventilation Aisle.
Pa1neRacer
Still front wheel drive based?  Still doesn't cut it.
Frank Linzner
I got the opportunity to drive both the 2.0 turbo & the 3.7 AWD MKZ & I have to say I was impressed with both the available technology & the performance.  As far as the styling goes, I kow we all like different things but I really like the design which is unique in the category. I drove the 3.7 on a curvy road at a speed that probably worried the Lincoln representative & the car handled beautifully with the suspension in sport.  The ride & handling compromise was spot on especially when compared to my daughter-in law's BMW 335 coupe with sport suspension.  I would like them to also offer a halo SVT version with a tire & wheel pkg. powered by the 3.5 eco-boost with 365 hp. I don't know if they can justify the performance version from a business stand point since take rate might not be high enough to justify the investment, however I'm sure the BMW M5 take rate vs. the regular 5 series is not very high either but it lends a performance & more youthful aura to the entire line.
jmccool6969
When the best looking part of a car is the tail lights, you know you are in trouble. It's a shame, but good bye Lincoln.
Howard Beale
It's always a bad sign when a new car is launched and in the first sentence the audience is directed to take note of details such as grill openings and tail lamps. But that was the precisely the case at the unveiling of the MKZ and it is once again the case in this article. Come on Lincoln; is that all you got?On paper, I'm the guy Lincoln would like to have as a customer; I'm in my mid 40's, make good money, dress like Max Wolff (without the "I'm really not old" hairdo), and drive an Audi A7. Given half an excuse, I'd buy a Lincoln; I love what American cars should be but I refuse to be associated with a brand that so unabashedly apes more successful and in this case, foreign brands; it's just cheap, unauthentic and NOT COOL.This is nothing more than a watered down Audi crossed with a Volvo S60/S80."If you have to copy what everyone else is doing...you've got no damn business in this business"....Bill MitchellIndeed, the grill is about the only original part. That's not to say it's any good; it's far too noncommittal and two dimensional to make any sort of real statement; it is mumbling lines it hopes like hell might get it through another day. NOT COOL.So what would it take to get me into a Lincoln showroom, feverishly fondling my checkbook? The car that Ford communications promised in all their propaganda when telling us how they were going to reinvent the brand; in that context, the MKZ is just a huge letdown. I mean come on, it looks like road kill that has started to bloat in the sun. Seriously; take another look at the photos! Try to imagine a 5 year old MKZ parked along Woodward...My conclusion: The MKZ's future lies in fulfilling the role of top lease option for mid to upper management in not so hip corporations. Not the sort of thing resurrections are made of.
btc909
For a 3.5L motor those are some ok numbers, but for a 3.7L that's sad.  51K for only 6 gears.  I see this also has the sky high back seats (the angle of the bottom seat cushion) as the Fusion.  Looks stupid & is even worse when you sit in them.
Quête
"With the 2013 Lincoln MKZ, Dearborn's top brass hopes to recreate the same sort of relationship between Lincoln and Ford vehicles that we see in Audi and Volkswagen. That is, much is identical under the skin, but the driving and ownership experiences exist on separate planets."___________________________________I've noticed Ford/Lincoln using the Audi-VW relationship as an example of what they're trying to mimic; I find it amusing as it's PR at its best. The only Audis that are related to VW's (also Skoda and Seat) are the A1, A3, TT and Q3. All the rest (A4, A5, A6, A7, A8, Q5, Q7 (others to come)) have relatives under the skin in Bentley, Porsche and for the R8 Lamborgini but not VW (Skoda and Seat).I find it interesting that most of the automotive press are not calling Ford out on the above facts.The MKZ will not save Lincoln. Your review is the only - remotely - positive on the car so far. Most of the reviews on the this car can basically be summed up as: decent car but not for the price.
Sophia26
@Howard Beale This is mediocre design?  I think you're referring to the ATS, another 3 series copy that is mediocre in execution.  This is a breath of fresh air to a stale segment of the automobile market.
Sophia26
@Pa1neRacer Even though it can post a higher slalom speed than an M5.
Sophia26
@Howard Beale You sound like a pre-teenager with your obsession of COOL-NESS, in CAPS.  I find the new Lincoln to be spectacular.  It looks better than the A7 you drive with the truck-like grill.  Perhaps you should get an eye exam.
grrr428
@btc909 .2 difference in liters makes it sad? LOL That's absurd.
FordCosworth
@btc909 I guess in your eyes Honda/Acura must suck then 
Sophia26
@Quête You're hilarious.  So the A4 is based on what Bentley, Porsche, or Lamborghini?  And which is the A6/7 twins based on?  What a ridiculous observation.  You do know that even Bentley's are based on the old VW Phaeton, right?  Don't fool yourself, there are no Porsches that have Audi relatives except for the SUV's that are shared with, yep you guessed it, VW.  So yes, all Audis some from base VW's.
Quête
@Sophia26 I don’t know or care whether your trolling or shilling for Ford but don’t try and pass off or defend what Ford is doing with Lincoln by using Audi-VW. Ford is being disingenuous – to say the least - in comparing Ford-Lincoln with VW-Audi.
The current A4, A5, A6, A7, A8, Q5 use MLB (modular longitudinal matrix); the VW Touareg, Audi Q7, and Porsche Cayenne use a derivative of the previous generation. The Panamera is based off the Cayenne (they’re built on the same line from the same parts), though Porsche likes to claim it’s a separate unique platform – a unique derivative. The next generation Audi Q7, VW Touareg, Porsche Cayenne and the upcoming Audi Q6 & Q8, Porsche Cajun & Macan and Bentley Falcon will all also use MLB. Additionally, there are other vehicles such as an A9 rumored.
The Bentley Continental flying spur; GTC and VW Phaeton use a platform that is related to the previous generation A8; the main difference is the A8 is extensively Aluminum. The Phaeton is a VW in name only; it lives due to Piëch’s ego.
In consideration of the above how is Lincoln’s approach to building its vehicles off D3/D4 (Taurus &MKS/Flex & Explorer, Lincoln MKT); CD3 (Edge & Lincoln MKX); CD4 (Fusion & MKZ) and C (Focus, Escape, Grand C-max and coming Lincoln CUV) similar to Audi? Audi only uses transverse VW volume platforms for the A1, A3, TT and Q3.

PS. I forgot to include the VW Touareg, a relative of the Q7 and Cayenne, in my original post.
talencora
Based on your discussion above, both Ford and VW share platforms across their brands (by the way the CD4 also underpins the European Ford Mondeo).  Given that Ford works at a financial competitive disadvantage with the world's other major auto manufacturers (given the mistakes of the past by Nasser, and the Company's refusal of taxpayer bailout money; something for which the Company should be admired), they have done relatively well with their recent product development for Lincoln (though this was at the expense of the demise of Mercury).  Quite frankly, I think the 2013 MKZ is a good start for Lincoln's return.  Also, I think that Piëch’s ego will eventually send VW down the road of GM, given that he desires to be the emporer of the world's largest auto maker that he hopes VW will become.  Economies of scale is an important concept to which egocentric automakers should pay greater attention.

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