The Lincoln MKZ is built on the Ford Fusion platform, but don’t hold that against it too much, as nowadays it’s not uncommon for a luxury car to be built on the underpinnings of a standard sedan. It’s still sporty, responsive, enthusiastic and entertaining (although that too is something that might be said of a good standard sedan). It’s not the flagship of the Lincoln line; that would be the larger Continental that was just launched in 2017. Competitors include the Lexus ES.
Naturally, the MKZ offers more, such as available Lincoln Drive Control, with three modes to set the dampers, steering response, and stability control; it also has active noise cancellation to help build luxury silence in the cabin. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available.
The 2017 MKZ gets a new nose to bring back some elegant conservatism, after trying to look aggressive for a few years, since its debut it 2013 to be exact. With its fastback profile and the new mesh grille, it looks Jaguar-esque.
The 2017 MKZ also gets a more refined V6 with more horsepower. It’s a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost making 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque with all-wheel drive, or 350 horsepower and 400 pound-feet with front-wheel drive. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic, and gets 20 miles per gallon with all-wheel drive. Available with this engine is a Driver’s Package that includes Dynamic Torque Vectoring to tighten cornering, and an active sport-tuned suspension.
Base engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 240 or 245 horsepower, with all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive. It gets 24 miles per gallon combined with front-wheel drive. There’s also a front-wheel-drive Hybrid model, a 2.0-liter four with two motors driven by a lithium-ion battery pack. It gets 40 miles per gallon combined, using a CVT transmission.
There are some changes in the cabin as well. The push-button gear selector remains, but the unpopular capacitive sliders have been replaced by more conventional and satisfying knobs and switches, unfortunately in conspicuous plastic. The MKZ gets an upscale version of Ford’s latest Sync 3 interface for infotainment and connectivity.
MKZ models are the Premiere, Select, Reserve, and deluxe Black Label with special interiors and membership extras. Prices range from $35,170 for the front-wheel-drive Premiere to $49,720 for the all-wheel-drive Black Label. These prices are all with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The powerful new V6 will be a big bunch more.
The front-wheel-drive Hybrid comes in the same models, at the same prices. So in the base Premiere, for the same price you could get the same equipment, but 40 miles per gallon instead of 24 miles per gallon.
Available safety equipment includes inflating rear seatbelts, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and collision warning with braking. There’s also parking assist, which takes control of the steering and parks the car for you.
The new mesh grille, although classier in its understatement, is a bit of a loss, as the old twin-wing grille with vertical bars paid homage to the original 1938 Lincoln Zephyr. At its center is the Lincoln four-point star, with the soft-edged trapezoidal grille bordered by thin LED headlamps wrapping inward.
The overall design is daring while being a bit curious in its lack of glitz and glamour. It emanates character. It’s smooth from the nose to the deck lid, almost a fastback like the Audi A7.
Compared to some other luxury cars, the interior might be seen as spartan. That is, unless you get the optional panoramic sunroof that opens up a vast 15 square feet to the sky, the most of any car in the world, says Lincoln.
Spartan is European. The standard upholstery is fabric. There’s still a lot of real wood.
The Black Label has supple leather sewn in diamond patterns, and it feels luxurious. As long as you don’t look at the plastic panels and buttons on the dashboard.
Because there’s no shift lever, the console has more space for storage. The MKZ copies Volvo’s good idea with storage behind the console, but it’s harder to reach.
The main screen dominates the instrument panel, mounted low and wrapped in metallic trim. It’s not as bad as it sounds; it suits the cohesive arrangement of the gauges, and their glow. But it’s a good thing there are redundant steering-wheel controls, because the Lincoln system is maddening. There’s also voice command, but don’t expect your Lincoln to obey your commands.
We got seat time in a Black Label, and it was interesting “seat” time, as the front seats are
sporty: slightly firm, narrow but not too narrow, and well bolstered. They go pretty far, with cushions that inflate and deflate depending on the G-forces in the corner, and frankly all that accomplished was distraction. Goosed while driving. We wish we could have gotten seat time in the sleeker and less ambitious standard seats.
The MKZ doesn’t offer expansive legroom like the Lexus ES, or even as much as less expansive competitors. Meanwhile the rakish roofline steals headroom; there’s less than the Fusion, which isn’t exactly ample itself.
The trunk holds 15.4 cubic feet, a bit above average.
The new V6 works better with 400 horsepower than 350, not because of the power but because of its all-wheel drive with the optional Torque Vectoring. With front-wheel-drive and 350 horsepower, it can spin the inside front wheel when accelerating hard out of slow corners; in the wet, that might be an issue. But the 400-horsepower all-wheel-drive with torque vectoring prevented it, making the cornering, especially under acceleration, more secure.
That same Driver’s Package that brought torque vectoring, also continuously controlled damping, the active suspension system that stabilizes the balance of ride and handling. It also has comfort, normal, and sport modes.
The 2.0-liter turbo four accelerates to 60 mph in a leisurely 7.5 seconds, dragging the MKZ’s weight of nearly two tons; its 270 pound-feet of torque and 6-speed automatic transmission are frequently challenged and fully used. During two-lane passing, throttle response is prompt, with nary a hint of turbo lag, so the acceleration is decent. However the engine can sound coarse at full throttle, overpowering the noise cancellation system that otherwise keeps noise down.
The paddle-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission is sharp, but in manual mode it’s necessary to stay in a gear that keeps the revs up, or else the engine lags and acceleration fades. Some cars in this class have 7- or 8-speed transmissions, which help keep the revs up because with tighter gear spacing there’s less of a drop between shifts.
The Hybrid mates its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to lithium-ion batteries and a continuously variable transmission to get its 40 miles per gallon. You can feel more differences, including lighter steering and slower response with the CVT than the automatic; but it’s smooth and quiet, and encourages satisfying efficient driving with smart and engaging displays. However the acceleration is tepid.
Thanks partly to a rigid chassis, the MKZ handles well, competent and sure-footed. It changes direction quickly, especially in Sport mode, with level cornering and good grip for a car this size with all-season tread on the tires. The electric power steering is nicely weighted but a little numb; it’s accurate and quick, from lock to lock just 2.7 turns.
The ride is taut, firm but not harsh in the Sport mode, where we kept it most of the time; we found the other modes too soft. In Sport mode you feel only the big bumps.
When you go to the showroom, take a careful look at the cabin to decide for yourself what Spartan does for you. In the other areas, it’s hard to find fault; the ride and handling are excellent, while the three powertrains are very different, but good in their own ways. The 400-horsepower all-wheel-drive V6 makes the MKZ a contender with the best sport sedans; the standard EcoBoost 2.0-liter is quick; and the Hybrid is slow but gets great fuel mileage for the same price.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.