2011 Lincoln MKZ

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First Drive Review: 2010 Lincoln MKZ

This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2012.
By Steve Siler of Car and Driver

Ford did a thorough job revamping its mid-size-sedan lineup for 2010 (Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan/Lincoln MKZ) without spending billions of dollars doing a ground-up redesign. Although a complete rethink would have been nice — as was bestowed on the 2009 Mazda 6, the last generation of which provides the underpinnings for the Ford four-doors — the money saved could be somewhat responsible for the blue oval's not needing government loans. Yet.

A Missed Opportunity? More Like a Shared Opportunity
The swankiest of the trio, the Lincoln MKZ, had the greatest opportunity for improvement. A sleepy but surprisingly strong-selling entry luxury sedan, the MKZ could have added exclusive new features in proportion to its higher cost, thus creating more distance between it and the others along the Ford food chain.

It didn't quite work out that way, though, as the Ford and Mercury versions added most of the new goodies, too, stuff like slick electroluminescent gauges, abundant soft-touch materials, the newest version of the Sync info-navi-tainment system, and more. Yet the Lincoln didn't get so much as a unique powertrain enhancement. Indeed, the Fusion Sport is now the MKZ's powertrain equal. Save the interior and exterior styling, there isn't much to set the 2010 MKZ apart from its siblings, let alone from the Cadillac CTS, Acura TL, and Lexus ES350 that represent Lincoln's self-identified competitive set for the MKZ.

Dressier Duds
In this class, exterior styling counts for a lot, and the 2010 MKZ looks quite good. Other than the roof and body-side stampings, almost every exterior bit is all-new, including the front fenders, the trunk, the hood, the lighting elements, and, of course, the bold new Lincoln twin-port grille. Lincoln even adopted a sleeker, painted "shark fin" antenna on the roof in place of last year's black blob.

The most significant aesthetic upgrade, however, involves the MKZ's interior. Although the four-spoke steering wheel remains largely the same, with wood handles at eight and four, everything around it is improved. The dash design, while rather cabinetlike, is far lovelier and is now rendered in authentic woods and metals, not facsimiles. The matte silver center-stack trim has been banished in favor of darker, more-durable-looking material. The new, tunneled electroluminescent gauge cluster, a bit similar to that of top-shelf Fusions, looks terrific. Just as important, the top of the dash and almost everything one can caress is rendered in soft-touch materials.

Particularly nice are the seats, with their cloudlike cushioning, creamy Bridge of Weir leather surfaces, and optional ventilation. We wish, however, there was less of a difference between the leather and the highly grained vinyl on the armrests and seatbacks. And although they could have more lateral support, the seats proved plenty comfy throughout our long day of driving in the mountains between Los Angeles and San Diego. Indeed, we could have continued all the way to Phoenix without complaint from our backsides, especially considering the sonorous nine-speaker, THX-certified sound system, which comes standard in all MKZs.

Brazen Claim for Milquetoast Performance
Lincoln's fitment of a six-speed automatic with manual shift control (actuated via the lever itself) to the carry-over 263-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 contributes to a half-second drop in its 0-to-60 time, which is now a claimed 7.1 seconds. This acceleration boost also compelled Lincoln to make an absurd "best-in-class performance" boast, at least insofar as the TL, ES350, and CTS are concerned. Insert eyeball roll here, since we've hit 60 mph as quickly as 5.8 seconds in the CTS fitted with the 304-hp V-6 and 6.4 seconds in the base 263-hp version. Besides, performance includes more than just acceleration, and after hustling the MKZ up and down SoCal's curly "Ortega" Highway 74, we doubt the Lincoln would be able to keep up with the CTS or TL on the same road. After all, the Caddy was virtually born and bred on the Nürburgring, and it shows.

To Lincoln's credit, however, a lot has been done to control the MKZ's body motions in the twisties. The rear suspension has been revised, and the Sport model in which we spent most of our time wore 10-spoke, 18-inch wheels and 225/45 V-rated tires — a first for the MKZ — which helped it track true. Damping is crisp, not gooey, and the brakes tug hard and tell the driver exactly what they're doing. And then there's the agonizingly limp steering, which pretty much ruins the party. Not only is the steering extraordinarily boosted, but it's also plagued by a dead spot from center that allows between 30 degrees and 45 degrees of play before any significant directional change occurs. It should make for comfy cruising but adds nothing to cornering confidence. At least the MKZ is whisper quiet at speed, and the engine note, although still far from as symphonic as that of, say, a BMW inline-six or Infiniti's VQ V-6, is more pleasant than before, thanks to specific efforts to dial some machismo into its full-throttle sound.

Although there are plenty of improvements to note with the 2010 Lincoln MKZ, which goes on sale shortly at a starting price of $34,965, the changes hardly elevate it into a new competitive sphere. Even with its markedly better styling and interior, as well as a 27-mpg highway fuel-economy rating for the front-wheel-drive model, the MKZ is little changed in terms of where it fits within the entry luxury market. Suffice to say that it just fits a little better. If Ford could have coughed up a billion or two in extra development money, perhaps it would have yielded a true best-in-class contender.

PERFORMANCE (MFR'S EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 7.1 sec

FUEL ECONOMY (MFR'S EST):
EPA city/highway driving: 17-18/24-27 mpg

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BB02 - 9/20/2014 7:42:00 AM