There are four things on the 2013 Lincoln MKZ that are undeniably best in class — four things that will blindside Lincoln's rivals, and shock and awe its customers.
Those four things are its tires. The rest of the new MKZ is wanting, disappointing and generally undesirable.
Right Tires, Wrong Car
Our V6, all-wheel-drive 2013 Lincoln MKZ test car showed up wearing ultra-aggressive Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires (245/40ZR19). They're the kind of tires that come standard on cars like the $90K BMW M5 and the $410K Ferrari 599 GTO.
Red flag. We contacted Lincoln and the response smacked of desperation. Seems the Lincoln engineers insisted on mounting these tires on all of the MKZs earmarked for media testing on the West Coast. They know us car tester types like impressive track numbers to bloviate about, and being in California means cold weather isn't an issue.
Problem is, Lincoln admits that the tires are unicorns. All versions of the 2013 Lincoln MKZ (2.0 EcoBoost, V6, hybrid, everything) come standard with 245/45R18 Michelin Primacy MXM4 low-rolling-resistance all-season tires. If you want the summer tires, Lincoln says it will sell you option 102A, the 19-inch Summer Tire Handling package, which also includes sportier suspension tuning. However, the package is not yet available. We're told its availability is delayed until the end of January and then the $1,565 option will only be available with all-wheel drive. Although the package performs well, and is an attempt to change Lincoln's stodgy image, the automaker admits that a tiny fraction of MKZ buyers will equip their MKZ with the package.
In other words, the test results we got with our test car on the 19-inch summer tires are not really representative of an MKZ 99 percent of consumers will purchase. It's also completely counter to the needs and wants of 99.99999 percent of entry-level luxury sedan buyers.
Because of those tires, the 2013 Lincoln MKZ went through our slalom at 69.2 mph. That's just 1 mph slower than the last 911 we tested, and a couple tenths quicker than the BMW M5. We repeat, the Lincoln MKZ beat the M5.
And that's exactly the kind of data point Lincoln's engineers and public relations team were hoping for.
Foolish. Instead of trying to game the media, Lincoln should have designed and engineered a better car. To be successful in 2013, an entry-level luxury sedan needs a top-grade cabin with plenty of space and tidy integration of the latest technology. It should have a compliant ride quality and a smooth, refined drivetrain that pours on the power without going overboard on fuel consumption. And in all these critical areas, the redesigned 2013 Lincoln MKZ comes up short.
Where Did All the Space Go?
In case you haven't heard, the Lincoln brand is on life support. Sales have been sagging for years, and Ford's luxury division may not even move 80,000 units in 2012. The Mustang is on pace to outsell all of Lincoln.
The 2013 Lincoln MKZ accounts for a third of Lincoln's sales, so this new version, which has been hyped personally by Ford CEO Alan Mulally, Ford COO Mark Fields and Jim Farley, Ford's executive vice president of Global Marketing, Sales and Service and Lincoln, is a big deal. It's based on the revamped Ford Fusion, which ranks among our favorites in the family sedan class. They share a 112.2-inch wheelbase, but the Lincoln is a couple inches longer overall at 194.1 inches.
It's also far more radical-looking with its waterfall grille and full array of LED lighting. We're divided on whether it's actually attractive, but the MKZ has presence, something we can't say about any other current Lincoln.
The edgy design seeps into the MKZ's cabin, where the conventional shifter gives way to dash-mounted buttons that control the six-speed automatic transmission. It's an odd way of selecting D at first, but there are paddle shifters on the steering wheel if you want to shift manually.
What's really strange is that eliminating the shifter hasn't opened up any additional space in this cabin. A high center console provides some extra storage but makes the already narrow front seats feel that much more confining.
In back, there's just enough real-world legroom for a 6-footer, and headroom is tight even though our test car has the normal-size sunroof rather than the optional panoramic glass roof. A glance at the specs reveals that the 2013 Lincoln MKZ has less interior volume than the Fusion (111.9 cubic feet versus 118.8). Since trunk capacity is similar — 15.4 cubes for the MKZ vs. 16 for the Fusion — we're wondering where all the space went.
Don't Make Us Multitask
As you'd expect, MyLincoln Touch, a version of Ford's touch- and voice-based control interface, is standard. Our 2013 MKZ test car also has Equipment Group 103A ($5,330), which adds navigation, a back-up camera and THX audio, plus a raft of other amenities like a power trunk lid, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a steering wheel (yeah, it's heated, too), a blind spot system with rear cross-traffic alerts, and a very hip set of 19-inch wheels.
MyLincoln Touch works like MyFord Touch, but the volume knob — the last holdout to the old school in the Fusion — has disappeared from the center stack. All audio and climate adjustments now require you to tap or slide your fingers across specific locations, and we find this tough to do while distracted by the task of driving. We miss traffic reports when we accidentally shut off the radio instead of the A/C, and we're hopeless with the slide bars for volume and fan speed.
Of course you can talk your way out of these inconveniences with Sync, a less helpful, more matronly version of Halo's Cortana. If you just want to adjust the volume, there's a small toggle button buried in the large outpost of conventional buttons on the Lincoln's steering wheel. Neither of these workarounds should be necessary in a sedan with a sticker price of $49,585 like our tester.
In addition, our MKZ test car's 8-inch display is no larger than the one in a $36K Fusion, and it features the same undersize on-screen "buttons" and sluggish processing times. On the upside, the system reliably reconnects to our iPhone and, unlike recent MyFord-equipped cars, it didn't freeze up during two weeks of testing.
The materials surrounding the electronics are not up to snuff, though. The door panel trim isn't worthy of an entry-level luxury sedan, and the plastic control stalks are scratched up with only 2,000 miles on the odometer. Even the futuristic shifter buttons feel thin and hollow — selecting gears in the 2013 Lincoln MKZ has all the ceremony of popping the trunk.
As hard as the 2013 Lincoln MKZ tries to be cutting-edge, this Lincoln is remarkably ordinary to drive. A 240-horsepower version of Ford's now familiar turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder is standard on the MKZ, but if you want your Lincoln to be faster than a Fusion, the optional 3.7-liter V6 ($1,230) is a must.
Yet this is the least exciting 300-hp V6 in existence. There's no exhaust character of any kind, while the engine gathers power steadily with a corresponding increase in intake noise as you approach the 6,500-rpm redline. You'll never remember any of it tomorrow.
Even on this AWD car (subtract $1,890 for the front-drive version), the standard six-speed automatic transmission mainly drives the front wheels, as the clutch-type system is meant to help with snow, not your cornering line. The transmission is acceptably quick with downshifts in both its D and S modes, but sometimes S isn't that practical because it forgets to upshift when you slow down, which keeps the engine spinning for no good reason.
Acceleration feels brisk, but not overwhelmingly so, with 60 mph coming around in 6.7 seconds (6.5 seconds with a foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and the quarter-mile arriving in 14.8 seconds at 94.1 mph. That's slower than many front-drive V6 sedans including the 2013 Honda Accord, Lexus ES 350, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon.
Fuel economy is mediocre. Our best tank nets just 19 mpg against an EPA rating of 18 city/26 highway/21 combined. After a couple bad traffic days, we even see numbers in the mid-teens.
Not Luxurious Enough
Remember those Michelin Pilot Super Sports? Well, as we mentioned before, they do provide plenty of grip, but they come with severe sacrifices in comfort. This Lincoln MKZ delivers an overly firm ride and allowed too much tire noise to intrude into its cabin. Not exactly characteristics desired by most luxury car buyers.
The MKZ's suspension is adjustable, and switching to the MKZ's Comfort mode does soften the ride. But it's at the sacrifice of composure. Suddenly it feels floaty over large bumps, while those tires are still crashing over the small road imperfections. This is extremely disappointing in an entry-luxury sedan in this price range.
Whether these problems exist when the sedan is equipped with the smaller all-season tires is not something we know yet. But we do know it won't match this car's performance (stopping from 60 mph in just 108 feet or pulling off 0.90g on the skid pad) when it's riding on the less aggressive rubber.
One positive is the Lincoln's steering. We do like how the sedan's electric-assist power steering is tuned. It's as precise as a good hydraulic-assist system. Too bad a 1941 Continental has a tighter turning diameter. Tight parking confines are not the MKZ's friend.
Not the MKZ Lincoln Needed
Lincoln's future is on the line, and this redesigned 2013 Lincoln MKZ won't be enough to reverse its downward spiral.
The MKZ's cabin is a major disappointment in almost every way, and it needs a more powerful and refined engine to compete at this level. The four-cylinder turbo is adequate as a base offering, but Lincoln shouldn't bother with anything short of its twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 as the optional upgrade.
Basically, the MKZ just doesn't feel special. And that's the kiss of death in this hyper-competitive market, which is filled with sedans that do feel special. And make no mistake, every other manufacturer that makes an entry-luxury sedan — from Acura to Volvo — is selling a superior product.
Ford says this MKZ is the future of Lincoln. The car that will save it from suffering the same fate as Mercury, Plymouth, Oldsmobile and Pontiac. But if this is the best Ford can do, we say Mulally, Fields and Farley should just cut their losses and get the headstone ready.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.