2013 MKZ sets the tone for future Lincolns
DETROIT -- To describe the 2013 Lincoln MKZ, start by saying what it is not.
It is not a high-line version of the Ford Fusion, even though the cars share a platform. And it's definitely not a BMW or a Cadillac. Those brands are too muscular, too performance-oriented for Lincoln's new target customers, whom Lincoln execs call "cultural progressives."
Here's what the new mid-sized MKZ is: a sleek, technology-rich sedan with a fresh appearance inside and out. It is aimed at the kind of young luxury-car buyers who have ignored Lincoln for decades.
Its assignment is huge: Help rescue a once glorious brand from many years of corporate neglect.
"Lincoln has become irrelevant and is no longer in the consideration list of most luxury car buyers," the company admitted in an internal document sent to marketing partners in August.
The basics: Most noticeable are the split-wing grille -- the new face of Lincoln -- and the fender-to-fender taillights across the rear. Though the MKZ is built on the same platform as the Fusion, most of the MKZ's sheet metal is unique to the Lincoln, unlike the previous generation Fusion/MKZ.
Three powertrains are offered: the base 2.0-liter, 240-hp EcoBoost inline-four; a 3.7-liter, 300-hp V-6; and a hybrid that Lincoln says will get 45 mpg city, highway and combined. That compares with a combined 47 mpg for the Fusion Hybrid, which shares the same powertrain. Rich Kreder, Lincoln vehicle integration manager, says the difference is largely because Lincoln does not come with low-rolling-resistance tires.
The wheelbase is 4.8 inches longer and the overall length is 4.3 inches longer than those of the 2012 MKZ.
Lincoln engineers also set the MKZ apart from the Fusion with a suite of technologies called Lincoln Drive Control that give the car its driving character. They include electronic power-assisted steering, continuously controlled damping and active noise control, which filters out unpleasant engine noises, synthesizes the more pleasing ones and pipes the sound into the cabin via the sound system. Drivers can adjust the suspension to sport, normal and comfort settings.
The MKZ will have 17-inch brakes, compared with the Fusion's 16-inch brakes.
Prices start at $36,800 for the 2.0-liter EcoBoost-powered, front-wheel-drive version. A fully loaded, all-wheel-drive MKZ powered by the 3.7-liter V-6 tops out at $49,310, including the optional panoramic sunroof. The MKZ Hybrid starts at $36,800. Prices include shipping.
Notable features: Lincoln designers and engineers took an unconventional approach to the automatic transmission shifter, replacing the lever on the console with an electronic push-button to the right of the instrument cluster.
The conventional shifter took up space equivalent to a half gallon of milk, said Soo Kang, chief Lincoln interior designer. Getting rid of it freed Kang's team to give the MKZ's center console a spacious feel and more room for cubbyholes.
Lincoln also designed a 15.2-square-foot retractable panoramic sunroof, which will be offered as a $2,995 option. The roof retracts dramatically over the rear window.
What Lincoln says: "Our vision with the new MKZ was to be charismatic, stunning, imaginative and yet warm," said Max Wolff, chief Lincoln designer. "We also want the car to be a very modern take on a luxury automobile. We wanted it to be very transformational for Lincoln. The car looks like no other car on the road and certainly like no other Lincoln."
Shortcomings and compromises: The MKZ features the MyLincoln Touch infotainment system, which has hurt Lincoln's ratings in consumer surveys. Even if Lincoln woos younger customers, they'll still be older than Ford's. Some may find all the electronics daunting.
The market: Matt VanDyke, Lincoln's global head of marketing, sales and service, says internal research shows that big flagship sedans and exotic sports cars no longer are essential for luxury brands. Key entries today are medium and smaller premium cars and crossovers, he said.
Lincoln is aiming the MKZ at vehicles such as the Lexus ES 350, Cadillac CTS, BMW 535i and Audi A6. Lincoln sees Cadillac as the luxury brand that appeals most to customers who want aggressive performance, VanDyke said.
Lincoln is taking a different approach.
"We'll be the two farthest ends of the spectrum in terms of how we present ourselves to customers," he said of Lincoln and Cadillac.
Lincoln is building the MKZ in Hermosillo, Mexico, also the lead plant for the Fusion. Lincoln hasn't disclosed its sales targets, but the plant is flexible to respond to demand.
The skinny: The MKZ is a handsome car that stands out from its luxury competitors and should draw attention to Lincoln showrooms. And for Ford's moribund luxury brand, it is arriving not a moment too soon.
Said VanDyke: "Twenty years ago, Lincoln accounted for 8 percent of Ford sales. Today, it's less than half of that. We can once again become a greater contribution to the business overall."
You can reach Bradford Wernle at firstname.lastname@example.org.