The attention that Lincoln paid to refining the aging Lincoln MKZ (née Zephyr) platform was immediately evident when I wheeled our silver test car out of the parking structure. There's a newfound sense of solidity and refinement to the car that should be apparent to anyone who's ever driven the previous models. To be sure, the MKZ is not yet on par with the Lexus ES350 or the Acura TL, but it is much closer to a luxury-car experience than before.
The 3.5-liter V-6 returns with the same horsepower and torque as before, but it goes about its business more quietly due to a bunch more sound-deadening materials around the engine compartment and some other quiet-tuning efforts on the part of the engineers. Again, it's not as silky, unworldly quiet as the Lexus V-6, but it's pretty good. I was more impressed by the leather seats, which are quite richly detailed. Our test car had steel gray leather with wide, cream-colored piping, and it was very, very nice - a welcome change from the overly plasticized, overly homogenous leather treatments we see everywhere these days.
Elsewhere in the cabin, the instrument panel is pretty nicely turned out, with some aluminum or aluminumlike trim and FoMoCo's superb new navigation and audio system interface. Part of the pricey ($5595) Ultimate Package, the screen is intuitive, crystal clear, and bright. The THX audio system is also quite impressive.
I like the application of the new Lincoln family design here, also, with the split-waterfall grille. I think once the Lincoln MKT is on the roads and we see three or four similarly styled Lincolns out there, the whole family lineage will start to gel in the American mind.
All this praise aside, there's still no disguising the fact that the MKZ is a warmed-over version of the Zephyr, which was itself a warmed-over version of a Mazda 6 chassis. These are not exactly the bones of a pedigreed entry-luxury sedan. But the MKZ ought to keep enough buyers in the Lincoln fold to provide some trade-up opportunities to the MKT crossover and the MKS sedan until such time - clearly, well into the next decade - when Lincoln might reemerge as a truly viable competitor not only to Cadillac but also the usual European suspects.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor