HALIFAX, Nova Scotia—When Lincoln launched the second-generation MKZ sedan in 2013, it entered familiar luxury-sedan territory, but followed its own recipe to attract buyers. Instead of aiming to take on the Germans with sports-car handling and neck-straining engine performance, the American luxury car brand focused on key areas that it felt its core market would appreciate more than maximal apex speeds–style, comfort, and technology made the short list.
On mostly barren roads between Halifax and Fox Harbour, Nova Scotia, I had the opportunity to sample the latest iteration of the MKZ, fresh from a mid-life facelift. The twisty, often bumpy, and sometimes steeply inclined roads revealed much about this midsize Lincoln’s merits as a premium means of conveyance.
Whereas the 2013 MKZ was handsome in the hind-quarters but lacked visual impact at the nose, the new MKZ flaunts muscular, focused front-end styling that ties in nicely with the rear-end design.
Sharp creases in the skin follow a high beltline, flowing from headlights to taillights. Every inch of the MKZ’s body is sculpted with no pudgy surfaces leftover; its body appears purposeful and premium from every angle. Looks are subjective but I, for one, find the MKZ to be a very attractive vehicle with great visual appeal.
Tolerances are tight with very small panel gaps and good exterior fit-and-finish, adding to the exterior’s aura of luxury.
Lincoln has made several improvements to the interior of the MKZ in an effort to rid the cabin of low-rate materials and position the vehicle in more premium territory.
Notably absent from the doors are the plastic speaker covers it previously employed–new, beautifully cut stainless steel mesh grilles now surface the high-fidelity speakers (more on the sound system later).
Also absent are the annoying and finicky slide-touch environmental controls that long irked MKZ owners. No amount of practice could grant you the ability to accurately adjust the temperature or fan controls, but these fixtures of frustration have been left in the dustbins of Lincoln history–hopefully for good.
A new cup-holder cover-lid design has improved access to en-route beverages and the centre console is now covered in brushed aluminium instead of plastic.
The seats are electrically adjustable and proved quite comfortable over my lengthy maritime drive. Heated seats for all four passengers will make winter a little more tolerable and the driver is even treated to a
round-shaped hand warmer heated steering wheel.
Rear headroom is less than generous, but as long as your party is limited to only two vertically gifted persons, you should get by just fine; those over six feet could slouch for a few blocks in a pinch.
The overall interior design is fresh and premium in most respects; a low-point would be the vertically stacked drive-selector buttons which are made of cheap-feeling plastic and appear out of step with the rest of the cabin–they’re also a little awkward to get used to.
The MKZ is flush with the latest driving aids and connectivity technology, including lane-assist, active cruise control with stop-and-go function (it will hold a full-stop for up to three seconds before dumping the cruise), pedestrian detection with auto-brake (active above 8 km/h) and active park assist, which will now reverse your vehicle into and out of a parallel parking spot, as well as into a perpendicular parking spot.
Basically, the MKZ is wrought with tools and features for those who aren’t particularly good at driving–but these features are also touted as fail-safe electronic guardian angels for talented, disciplined drivers who are nonetheless human and may have a lapse in attention to the road.
If a safety feature saves your bacon, it’s difficult to argue its relevance. That said, it would comfort me more to know that the drivers surrounding me have these technologies than it would to know they’re at my own fingertips (I’m looking at you, lady applying lipstick in the middle lane).
The full gamut of connectivity features are available to you via Lincoln’s Sync 3 system which is both faster and more intuitive to use than the system it replaces.
Standard adaptive HID headlamps light the way, with LED headlamps an optional extra.
The 20-speaker Revel Altima audio system installed in the MKZ beautifully replicates music with crisp highs, a powerful mid-range and tight bass. The system was designed in partnership with Harman–a perennial favourite in automotive sound design.
Whereas some cars hide their athleticism like a ripped track-runner clad in sweat-pants and a hoodie, and appear laid back while being fully capable and blisteringly quick when called upon to perform – think BMW 5 GT or Lexus GS – the MKZ hints at athletic abilities but fails to perform as a proper sports sedan when pressing on.
That’s not to say that the 2.0-litre all-wheel drive version can’t tackle a curvy road with some measure of zest – my driving partner and I enjoyed clipping apexes while carving curvy roads selected for our two-day experience through the heart of Nova Scotia – but the MKZ in no way beckons you to light the wick, or seek out a winding road to conquer.
It prefers to carry you in comfort, sticking to a more relaxed pace. In fairness, sports car performance was never part of the MKZ’s mandate, and Lincoln have nonetheless rendered the 2.0 sedan a pleasant car to drive over most roads.
Unfortunately, I cannot mince words about the MKZ Hybrid. Having driven the 2.0-litre turbo model back-to-back with the Hybrid, the differences are stark.
For starters, the hybrid model felt very lethargic at full steam, unable to pass slower vehicles with gaps in traffic that would’ve allowed for an effortless, safe passing maneuver in the 2.0. Worse still, the internal combustion engine in the hybrid was coarse and unrefined when called upon for passing power, bleating out a laborious, monotone thrum held at a constant RPM thanks to the continuously variable transmission (CVT).
This unpleasant engine note was also audible while the vehicle was climbing inclines on the highway, feeding unwanted noise into the cabin. So coarse was the engine that vibrations could even be felt through the pedal at times. The 2.0, on the other hand, effortlessly powered up steep hills and passed slower traffic with authority, never breaking a sweat or feeling strained while channeling its power to the wheels through its 6-speed automatic transmission.
Finally, the chassis dynamics of the hybrid model are compromised, offering less composure through corners and less traction out of corners; the 2.0 is equipped with all-wheel drive, whereas the hybrid version is only available in front-wheel drive format.
An adjustable suspension system soaks up surface undulations with aplomb in comfort mode, and noticeably tightens up for better road-holding in sport mode as equipped in the 2.0 model.
Steering in both the 2.0 and hybrid model is lacking in feedback from the contact patches but is precise with minimal off-centre slack, making it easy to place the car.
A mighty 400-horsepower 3.0-litre engine is bound for the MKZ later this year; we’ve yet to drive it, but Lincoln promises it will add a layer of effortless performance that will further elevate the driving experience.
This engine is said to be unique to Lincoln and will not be shared with other Ford-family vehicles. Once available, a jump to this engine option will also upgrade the MKZ’s brakes, suspension and chassis stiffness to match the increased power.
With a base price of $42,000 for both the 2.0 and the hybrid, the MKZ is priced among tough competition in the mid-size premium sedan segment.
Given its equipment level, appealing design and comfort level, the MKZ appears to offer buyers decent value for their money–though buyers willing to look at aggressively priced competitors such as the Hyundai Genesis or Kia Cadenza may find even better value for their money elsewhere.
At the end of the day, buying a premium vehicle is partly a choice made by the heart, and those who are fond of the MKZ’s unique styling and curb appeal will be willing to sign on the dotted line.
It goes without saying that I highly recommend the 2.0 over the hybrid version of the car given the hybrid’s dynamic and NVH misgivings–for the same purchase money and likely better retained values, it’s a no-brainer.
Lincoln has retained the comfort of the previous MKZ while building on its amenities and technology in the newly refreshed 2017 model. Having infused the facelifted MKZ with more luxurious interior touches and a handsome exterior design, this American luxury sedan remains a viable option for buyers who value comfort over performance and are smitten by its styling.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.