2010 Lincoln MKZ AWD: Audio Review

2010 Lincoln MKZ AWD: Audio Review

Looking at the MKZ you can see a lot of what's gone wrong with Lincoln. This entry-level luxury sedan has similar (if underwhelming) performance compared to many competitors in the segment and the sort of (way) understated style that may appeal to, say, suburban junior accountants. So why wouldn't said bean counters just buy the stable mate Ford Fusion and save about 10 grand?

Sure, the MKZ offers some refinement inside (Bridge of Weir leather, anyone?) and out (that snazzy Flying V chrome snout) compared to its coarser cousin. But from a technology standpoint, the MKZ and Fusion are more alike than different, with each offering blind-spot detection, voice-activated nav and Ford's all-conquering Sync system.

One way that the MKZ is far different from the Fusion is that it's available with the THX II Certified 5.1 Surround Audio System, which I sound-checked in†a 2010 Lincoln MKZ AWD. And it's far superior to not only to the Fusion's Sony setup, but a lot of other premium audio offerings.

The Setup
The MKZ's THX II Certified 5.1 Surround Sound Audio System contains 14 speakers powered by 600 watts. The speakers include a 2.5-inch midrange and two √?¬ĺ-inch tweeters in the center of the dash (in what THX calls a Slot Speaker Array), a 5x7-inch mid-woofer in each front door, a 1-inch tweeter in each A pillar, a 5x7-inch two-way coaxial speaker in each rear door (with a √?¬ĺ-inch tweeter) and two 6x9-inch subwoofers in the rear deck flanking a 4-inch rear-surround speaker in the middle.

The Sound
Like every system I evaluate, I listened to the MKZ's system using music tracks I've heard in hundreds of vehicles to determine clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. I also used several non-musical test tracks to further judge soundstaging and imaging and also gauge linearity and absence of noise. For more info on the testing process and tracks used, check out the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.

I've always been impressed by THX's car audio systems, dating back to the first one I tested in the Lincoln Zephyr almost five years ago. And the ones I've heard since are all generally very good sounding, well-balanced and, most of all, musical. Whereas†the†majority of†OEM systems tend to bottom out in the low-bass department -- or premium offerings are often too bottom-heavy -- THX systems are typically solid on the low-end. The dual-6x9 subwoofer setup used in the MKX has served THX and Lincoln well over the years -- and could serve as an example for other OEM audio suppliers on how to do bass right without overdoing it. In fact, it's also worked†well in†several Volvo premium systems from Dynaudio.

But the bass was far from perfect in the MKZ (that's a rare occurrence anyway) and this was exhibited in a boominess on certain tracks in the low- and midbass frequency range. Nothing too excessive, but enough to mar tonal balance, timbre and tonal accuracy and introduce distortion at points in the test tracks. (To be fair, I use tracks designed to bring out such flaws.) Added to this was some annoying panel rattle on the lowest bass notes, which obviously has more to do with build quality of the car than the sound quality of the system.

Otherwise, the sound of the THX system was exceptional, with lively, accurate dynamics, an impressively expansive soundstage and detailed imaging.†The dash speaker array is largely responsible for the latter two attributes, which I've found has remained consistent in THX systems over the years.†One thing that THX fortunately has changed over the years is the ability to switch off the surround-sound processing. While the MKZ's†system's DTS Neural Surround is one of the most natural sounding matrix processing technologies used in OEM audio, it's defeatable so that listeners (like me) can switch to plain 'ol stereo if they choose.

For true discrete surround sound, the THX II Certified 5.1 system also plays DVD-Audio discs (as well as DVD-Videos for movies). While the music and audio industry has largely turned its back on this music-only surround format, fortunately for audiophiles it's still alive if not well in the car. With my DVD-Audio test discs, except for the over-emphasis of some low-end sounds, the MKZ's THX system created an immersive listening experience that's easily on par with Lexus's Mark Levinson and Acura's ELS surround systems.

Finally, the THX system easily passed the non-musical staging, imaging and absence of noise tests,†and scored a good and excellent rating for linearity, which measures how well the†quality of the†sound holds together at low and medium volume.†

The Sources
The MKZ I tested had a single-disc CD/DVD player with AM, FM, HD and Sirius radio. Since it also had the nav system option, a 10GB "music jukebox"†was available for downloading MP3 files from CDs -- though not†from USB drives, like the best car-based hard-disk music servers.†Since the MKZ sports Sync, the system also had all the non-disc based sources covered:† iPod/MP3 player, Bluetooth audio, and music on a USB thumbdrive, aux-in. And it's all at the tip of the driver's fingers and tongue with the combination of steering-wheel and voice controls that Sync provides†for calling up any music source or selection.

What We Say
THX may not have the cache of a Bang & Olufsen or Bowers & Wilkins, and maybe that's because you can't go into an "audio salon" and drop several thou on equipment from the company -- only THX Certified gear. But in premium OEM car audio, the brand that George Lucas built has offered quality sound at reasonable prices for years.

Unfortunately, that's not the case with the 2010 Lincoln MKZ AWD†I tested: The THX system is only available as part of the $5,595 Rapid Spec 103A option package, which also includes the nav system, rearview camera, adaptive headlights, power moon roof, 17-inch chrome wheels and rain-sensing wipers.

So while the THX system sets the MKZ apart from the Fusion, the money it takes to get it may make the car even less appealing than its Ford counterpart.

The Scores
Sound: A-
Source Selection: A
iPod Integration: A+
Cost: C-

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.

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