Associated more with cars driven by your grandmother or a New York chauffeur, Lincoln has struggled in recent years to earn a more prestigious image. One of the most important cars to establishing a new course is the Lincoln MKZ, the brand's representative in the ultra-competitive entry-level luxury sedan category.
The first-generation MKZ wasn't especially successful in its mission, as there was little differentiation between the MKZ and the Ford Fusion upon which it was based. However, the second-generation MKZ represents another chance. Though still mechanically based on the Fusion, there are substantially more visual and mechanical delineations between the two. Unlike before, you'd be hard-pressed to tell they're related. More importantly, though, the new Lincoln MKZ is a far more appealing luxury sedan that can legitimately be considered alongside established players.
Current Lincoln MKZ
The Lincoln MKZ is completely redesigned for 2013. It's a car that's going to be hard to miss on the road, as the exterior features a boldly styled rear end and a new look for the Lincoln corporate grille. The cabin is also now suitably upscale for this class of car and adapts Lincoln/Ford's latest electronics controls. Under the skin reside new engines and mechanical underpinnings similar to those in the equally new Ford Fusion.
As is the case with an increasing number of other vehicles in its class, the MKZ's standard engine is a turbocharged four-cylinder. It produces a very healthy 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Optional is a 3.7-liter V6 good for 300 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Both engines feature competitive power and fuel economy for the class. They also both come standard with a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive is optional. The MKZ Hybrid gets Ford's latest gasoline-electric powertrain with 188 combined hp and fuel economy in the mid-40 range.
There is no shortage of equipment, with items like adaptive suspension, keyless ignition/entry, leather upholstery, an 11-speaker sound system and the MyLincoln Touch suite of electronics interfaces gracing the standard features list. High-tech options include a lane-keeping system, a collision warning system, rear seatbelt airbags, adaptive cruise control, an automatic parallel parking system and an enormous panoramic roof that essentially retracts its glass panel atop the rear window.
There's no question that Lincoln has packed on a lot of kit for its newest MKZ. But the end result is a little disappointing. You can still get most of those high-end features on the Fusion, for instance, and for a price that's thousands of dollars cheaper. Placed in comparison with other entry-level luxury sedans, the MKZ also suffers from its finicky MyLincoln Touch electronics interface, underwhelming interior quality and more confining seating.
Overall, the MKZ has some nice qualities, and we like the effort put forth to make it more distinctive than in years past. But shoppers in search of a top entry-level luxury sedan should also take a look at other choices such as the Acura TL, Lexus ES 350 and Volvo S60 before going with this newest Lincoln.
Used Lincoln MKZ Models
The previous Lincoln MKZ was sold from 2007-'12. (Technically, the car debuted for 2006 but was called the Zephyr for that first year.) Like the current MKZ, the first-generation MKZ was mechanically similar to the Ford Fusion of its time period, but there was substantially less differentiation between the two cars. Although the Lincoln had unique front and rear ends, in profile they appeared to be carbon copies of each other. Passenger space was no different, and both felt very similar behind the wheel.
It's important to note that the MKZ received a significant refresh for 2010. Cars produced before then can be identified by their more restrained, squared-off grille. The cabin featured a retro-inspired design consisting of an upright dash, sharp angles and a large horizontal strip of wood. Unfortunately, the quality of materials was barely better than that of the Fusion, and the various buttons and knobs were no different from those found in a Ford.
Under the hood, these MKZ models came with the same 3.0-liter V6 found in the Fusion that produced 221 hp and 205 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission were standard, while all-wheel drive was an option for all but '07. That first-year MKZ was also not available with rear parking sensors or the Sync electronics interface. Stability control was also unavailable until '09, which was a glaring omission in the luxury segment.
In general we would not recommend the MKZ in these early years. We don't think the changes made for 2010 were enough to make it a compelling alternate to Audis or BMWs, even though the MKZ was indeed greatly improved.
For that 2010 update, Lincoln ditched the retro feel for a more contemporary approach. The materials were improved, the myriad buttons and knobs were now unique to Lincoln and the number of standard features increased. The exterior transformation was less significant, but it did adopt the more dramatic waterfall grille and bolder headlights inspired by other Lincoln models at the time.
Under the hood, the MKZ received a new 3.5-liter V6 that produced 263 hp and 249 lb-ft of torque. Once again, a six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive were standard, with all-wheel drive an option. This powertrain was shared with the special Fusion Sport model, but now it at least produced sufficient power for the class.
Also new was a Sport Appearance package, which despite the name actually provided a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels that made the MKZ surprisingly fun to drive. The ride was a bit firm, though, so most consumers will likely prefer the more comfortable standard setup that still provides fairly nimble handling.
For 2011, the MKZ Hybrid debuted. This, not surprisingly, applied the MKZ's styling and cabin to the Ford Fusion Hybrid powertrain. A combination of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, electric motor and battery pack produced a total of 191 hp and returned 39 mpg combined. That made it the most fuel-efficient luxury sedan of the time.
In total, a used Lincoln MKZ produced between 2010 and 2012 will get you a lot of equipment for the money and a car that's surprisingly fun to drive despite the reputation of its brand. However, most other luxury sedans are still more desirable overall, and a loaded Ford Fusion will bring with it much of the same attributes for even less money.