Dan Frio, Reviews Editor
Forget the V6. The 2013 Lincoln MKZ is a better car with the standard four-cylinder engine under its hood.
Last year we tested a V6-powered MKZ and walked away underwhelmed. The car's 3.7-liter V6 had plenty of power, but it just didn't feel or sound upscale. And its price tag was a mind blower at just shy of $50,000.
This is a better deal. This MKZ is powered by Ford's turbocharged 2.0-liter, and it's one of the best new boosted engines out there. In fact, it's the same EcoBoost engine we've praised in our long-term Ford Focus ST, as well as the Ford Escape and the MKZ's mechanical twin, the Ford Fusion.
With 240 horsepower, it doesn't have the power of the optional V6, and it cannot provide the same acceleration, but it's more than strong enough to keep the 2013 Lincoln MKZ entertaining and it comes with a laundry list of advantages including quicker throttle response, better mileage and less weight. Plus, it costs thousands of dollars less.
Smaller Displacement, Better Performance
Out in the push and pull of midday traffic, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder really shines. It's quick to respond and it gives the 2013 Lincoln MKZ what little personality it has. It's an engine that enjoys a good run through the gears and it delivers its power so smoothly and so instantly it's easy to forget it's only a four-cylinder. Or that it's turbocharged.
Still, this is an engine with working-class roots, which are revealed with a gritty rasp at high revs that even the Lincoln's generous sound-deadening material can't keep out of its cabin.
Acceleration is competitive for the class. This MKZ ran through our quarter-mile test in 15.4 seconds at 89.5 mph. The turbo-induced 270 pound-feet of torque really drives the lash here, generating impressive grunt from a standstill and slinging the MKZ from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds (6.9 seconds with a foot of rollout as on a drag strip), or about half a second slower than the V6.
The Lincoln's six-speed automatic transmission isn't exactly state of the art (its competition offers seven or even eight speeds), but this is a quick-thinking gearbox and it hangs on to revs long enough for the turbo to exhale before settling into the next gear.
Selecting the transmission's Sport mode only makes things better, as do the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.
We used them more than we should, and our fuel mileage suffered. Still, the four-cylinder delivered 22 mpg combined during our two weeks with the car. That's much better than the 17.5 mpg we saw with the V6.
Redemption Behind the Wheel
Head out onto a busy boulevard and the 2013 Lincoln MKZ wants to impress. The ride is buttoned-down and serious. And compared to the crash-and-hum of our previous test car with its overly aggressive tires, this MKZ and its 245/45R18 Michelin Primacy all-season tires nicely attenuate road and wind noise in a manner you expect from a car wearing a luxury brand.
Turn off onto a winding back road and the MKZ reveals its most redeeming quality: sharp handling. Most won't expect a Lincoln to remain so steady and composed when it throws its weight from side to side, but they better get used to it. This Lincoln navigated our slalom test at a very impressive 65.3 mph, and its 0.84g of grip on our skid pad is respectable.
Its brakes are average for the class. They require 121 feet to stop from 60 mph, and do so with an overly long pedal travel.
The standard adjustable suspension, with its front strut and rear multilink setup reinforced by active damping, deserves much of the credit. But the steering is the real surprise here. The electrically assisted rack offers a lively 14.8:1 ratio and feels intuitive and communicative, whether entering a corner fast and late or dodging an inattentive cell-phoner in the Target parking lot.
Selecting Sport mode best configures the suspension, steering and throttle for side-winding adventure, but comes with a sacrifice in ride quality. Although it's tempting to simply leave the MKZ in Sport mode all the time, it becomes a little less tolerable once you're back on the potholed avenue.
Although sporty, this is not a sport sedan. "I'm going to trade in my M3 for an MKZ," will never be said by anybody, ever. Its handling is alert and responsive, but the MKZ is lacking the performance and visceral driver engagement that would entice you into special early-morning trips to your favorite back roads.
Minding the Details
Nothing has changed since we last sat in the cabin. There's a very good seating position, comfortable chairs and a cool, modern ambience, with functional lines as classically restrained as Chicago architecture. But there's also bumpy, utility-feeling material covering the dash, door panels and center console, and the gear select buttons (no stalk shifter here) still feel flimsier than they should.
The brushed metal accents look decent from a distance, but a closer look and touch reveal garden-variety plastic. And the overall fit and finish is just disappointing. For instance, the way the MKZ's steering wheel panel doesn't sit flush with the wheel ring is a crime at this price point and will only drive more and more discerning buyers into Audis and Lexuses.
Then there's the My Lincoln Touch multimedia interface, which is as clumsy as ever. This botched touchscreen fantasy in Ford and Lincoln products has been a universal punching bag since its debut and we have no choice but to kick it while it's down.
Sadly, it hasn't improved in any meaningful way since the last time we knocked it around. Touch-sensitive audio and climate controls remain hard to use, as there's no discernible feedback (haptic or otherwise) to your inputs. Landing your finger a half-inch in either direction on the fan control bar means the difference between medium and take-off speed.
Basically, it's all just hard to use without diverting too much of your attention from your driving. And that's never good.
That said, once you study the manual and learn the system, particularly how to navigate the submenus via Sync voice command, My Lincoln Touch becomes mostly transparent.
Can't Shake Its Competition
A base price of around $39,000 puts the all-wheel-drive 2013 Lincoln MKZ firmly in the entry-level luxury leagues. But our test car came with $7,670 worth of options, including navigation, a sunroof, a premium THX audio system, adaptive cruise control, a rearview camera, reverse sensors, parking assist and safety features like blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert and lane keeping assist. The final tally: $46,380, including $895 for destination.
That money buys a similarly equipped 2013 Lexus ES 350. The Lexus lacks all-wheel drive, but far outpaces the MKZ in overall refinement and engine performance. The larger Hyundai Genesis or smaller BMW 3 Series are also alternatives at this level, and even base Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series models sit within striking distance of our test car's MSRP.
But the MKZ's most threatening rival comes from within. It's a Ford Fusion Titanium, which is not only a mechanical twin to the MKZ, but it offers most of the Lincoln's features, including all-wheel drive. And it costs $36,000 fully loaded. That's $3,000 less than this MKZ's base price and $10,000 less than its as-tested price.
Until Lincoln further differentiates the MKZ from the Fusion, it's going to have a hard time convincing many luxury car buyers that it's back in the game and ready to be taken seriously. Still, the 2013 Lincoln MKZ is definitely a step in the right direction for a once great American brand looking for a new identity. Just remember, don't pay for the optional V6.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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