James Riswick, New and Used Car Editor
"This MKZ is more fun than a Lincoln has any right to be."
This was a text message sent from one Edmunds.com editor to another as he marveled at the surprisingly nimble 2010 Lincoln MKZ sitting in his driveway after a drive on Mulholland Highway above the lights of Los Angeles. If he didn't loathe typing on a dinky Blackberry keyboard, he also would've added, "The driving position is spot-on, the seats have butt coolers and the infotainment features are some of the best out there."
With or without that addendum, the text response would've been the same: "It should be. It's based on a great car." In fact, "based" might be too soft a term. An Acura TL is based on a Honda Accord, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell by driving or looking at it. The same goes for other luxury vehicles like the Cadillac SRX and Lexus ES 350 that trace their roots to humbler origins.
The 2010 Lincoln MKZ, however, is a near mechanical clone and visually pretty darned similar to the Ford Fusion Sport that so impressed us in the Edmunds.com family sedan comparison test. Of course, the Lincoln version gets the requisite (though controversial) waterfall grille, LED taillights, a different cabin design, some nicer materials and a few extra features like cooled seats and xenon headlights, all of which certainly make the MKZ a more appealing car. But do they make it $7,700 more appealing than a loaded Fusion Sport?
A true luxury car needs to be so much more than just a regular old family car with a fancy name, some extra bells and whistles and a higher price tag. It needs a greater level of refinement, engineering excellence and attention to detail that cannot be quantified by mechanical specifications or a list of features.
A Mercedes-Benz C300 does this, as do the Audi A4, BMW 328i, Cadillac CTS, Hyundai Genesis and Infiniti G37. These all cost about the same as the Lincoln, yet they're also much more than just gussied-up family sedans. Even if it's indeed a great family sedan, the 2010 Lincoln MKZ needs to step up in multiple ways in order to warrant its significant price tag.
The Lincoln MKZ comes with a 263-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, and the six-speed automatic transmission with which it's matched features manual gear selection, something the Fusion and most other Fords do not. Front-wheel drive is standard, but our test car's smart all-wheel-drive system serves as much to negate torque steer and understeer as it assures wet-weather traction. We highly recommend it.
In our track testing, the 2010 Lincoln MKZ went from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, which is about as quick as an all-wheel-drive BMW 328i or Mercedes C300 (though the Audi A4 Quattro and Infiniti G37x are quicker than them all). The Lincoln V6 sounds a bit coarse and unrefined at higher rpm as it goes about the task, however.
Unrefined would be an improvement for the brakes, which proved woefully inadequate for a luxury sedan. The MKZ took 132 feet to stop from 60 mph on its first stop, suggesting that its tires are not particularly grippy, and then excessive brake fade set in and our third stop from 60 mph took 150 feet, a distance comparable to a pickup truck. By comparison, a C300 Sport stops in 114 feet and an Audi A4 in 123 feet. Surprisingly, the Ford Fusion Sport stopped in 123 feet with no discernible fade, despite having the same brakes and tires as the MKZ.
Handling results were also worse than its competition (and Ford sibling as well), with slower slalom times and significantly less grip around the skid pad despite being equipped with an enhanced sport suspension. Away from the track, the Lincoln MKZ boasts the same responsive and communicative steering we so enjoyed in the Fusion. Though prone to understeering through corners, the MKZ nevertheless has a lightweight, nimble feel that's reminiscent of previous-generation Acura sedans, even if that feel doesn't necessarily translate to stellar numbers. Indeed, the MKZ is more fun to drive than one would expect a Lincoln to be.
While the MKZ's handling defies expectations, so does its ride quality, only not in a good way. Once equipped with the sporting suspension setup that's a part of the Sport Appearance package, the car's ride quality suffers and it feels choppy and unpleasant over even the slightest road imperfections. Most of this car's competition also rides firmly, but they feel more compliant and even supple over the bumps. The MKZ also suffers from excessive road noise, something we didn't anticipate after the ultra-quiet Lincoln MKS and MKT.
The MKZ's seats, however, were universally praised for being both comfortable over long distances and supportive through corners. The fact that heating and cooling are standard is a welcome treat. The driving position also drew accolades thanks to an abundance of adjustability from the eight-way driver seat and tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. The one sore spot is that taller drivers or those with grand coiffures may find that their heads brush the ceiling, which is closer than you expect because of the sunroof that comes as standard equipment.
Backseat space is better than in similarly priced sedans like the C-Class and 3 Series, though headroom is only adequate. The rear seat is also missing rear vents for the air-conditioning.
Infotainment electronics is the one thing the 2010 Lincoln MKZ has going for it among comparable luxury sedans. The optional touchscreen navigation system includes a large touchscreen, real-time information (traffic, weather, gas prices, movie times and sports scores) and a variety of voice-activated controls through the Sync system. Not only are these features plentiful, but they are thoughtful, well-integrated and easy to use. For example, when the car's low fuel light comes on, the navigation map automatically displays the closest gas stations.
Not to rain on the MKZ's brief moment in the sun, but the Fusion Sport also has the same optional navigation system. It also has a similar control layout, with small buttons that are placed too close together and too low on the dash. It often takes too much effort to find the right one at a glance.
In our usability tests, a standard child seat fit well in its rear-facing position, allowing plenty of space for an adult to sit in the passenger seat. The lower LATCH points are easily accessed and the upper tether anchor can be reached by going over or beneath the flat headrest design. The trunk is spacious for this class, with a wide and deep opening that makes loading golf clubs easy. However, the trunk lid doesn't pop up far enough to achieve a proper grip and there is no handle to pull it back down. You're likely to end up with dirty hands and unsightly fingerprints on the trunk. It's details like these (or lack thereof) that contribute to the MKZ's non-luxury feel.
Design/Fit and Finish
Compared to your average family sedan, the 2010 Lincoln MKZ sets itself apart with class-leading interior materials and strong construction, but once anything from Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz is introduced into the mix, the MKZ just doesn't measure up.
The Lincoln's rather simple design theme has something to do with it, but the materials are just not rich enough in look or feel. Fit and finish is also not quite up to par, as the flimsy sunroof shade flapped around within its housing over significant bumps.
Who should consider this vehicle
It is hard to recommend the 2010 Lincoln MKZ given the minuscule advantages it presents over the much cheaper and, in many ways, better Ford Fusion Sport. Luxury shoppers capable of spending more than $40,000 would likely be happier with one of the many other competitive luxury or near-luxury vehicles.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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