2008 Lincoln MKZ
2008 Lincoln MKZ Expert Review:Autoblog
click above image to view high-res pics of the 2007 Lincoln MKZ AWD
This review won't be as long as most since we had the opportunity to test the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr just last year. For 2007, the Zephyr becomes the MKZ (pronounced Em Kay Zee) and gains improvements that should have been present last year when the car debuted. Items like a more powerful 3.5L V6 and all-wheel drive have been added, along with the most mild of tweaks to the front end. So the question that arrived along with our Lincoln MKZ AWD tester is whether or not what's been added for 2007 has improved the car's appeal.
We concluded last year that the Zephyr relied on style to set it apart from its platform mates, the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan. Where those two less expensive cars are about as different as the old Taurus and Sable were, the Lincoln brand got a car with divergent styling that on the outside is unremarkable and on the inside striking.
We favored the Zephyr's unique interior that used symmetry of lines and deep depressions to good effect. Though some find it garish, we found it interesting and a welcome relief to the flush waterfall designs of so many modern day dashes. Thus, we're pleased that virtually nothing was changed inside the car during its transition from Zephyr to MKZ. The comfy and supportive seats, top-notch nav system (love those digital breadcrumbs!) and excellent sound system return to make the new MKZ an excellent decompression chamber during the commute home.
Likewise, the MKZ's exterior design hasn't changed much at all from the Zephyr's. When the MKZ first debuted, Lincoln did boast about the car's revised front end, but we hardly consider tweaking the lower air intake and adding chrome surrounds to the driving lights a proper revision. The only real change to this car's exterior is the addition of MKZ badging, so if you loved it or loathed it last year, you'll likely feel the same way about it now. We were fond of the Amethyst Clearcoat Metallic paint that coated our tester this time around, though was disturbed to learn while refueling that the gas cap had no where to hang except against the purple paint job.
The main reason we were eager to get this Lincoln back in the Autoblog Garage is the new 3.5L V6 that lies underhood. Replacing the Zephyr's underpowered 3.0L V6 that produced 221 horsepower and 204 ft-lbs. of torque, the new powerplant offers a substantial increase in power -- up to 263 horsepower and 249 ft-lbs. of torque. What's more, the new 3.5L is destined to play a large part in Ford's future powertrain plan, ending up in 20% of Blue Oval-badged vehicles by 2010.
For 2007, however, the new 3.5L V6 engine stands as the primary distinguishing feature between the MKZ and less expensive Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, which are still only available with the 3.0L V6. Whereas it was difficult to argue the Zephyr was nothing more than a pricier Fusion, the MKZ finally offers an exclusive feature.
Unfortunately, we were less impressed with the 3.5L V6 than we expected to be, especially considering that Ward's placed the brand-new mill on its 2007 Top Ten Engines list. Perhaps high expectations skewed our judgment, but the new 3.5L V6 is not a game-changing engine among high-volume V6s. It's powerful, reasonably refined and as efficient as its competition, but doesn't lead the segment in any one area.
The availability of all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic are the other new items available for 2007, though they're also available on the Fusion and Milan. We suspect that the six-speed automatic had something to do with our lackluster reaction to the new engine. While a smooth shifter, the new six-speed lacks any type of manual control. Even though we hate manumatics, it would have been nice to choose and hold our own gears since we often disagreed with the new automatic's gear selection. Often while cruising, a decent jab of the throttle would drop the transmission down only one gear when we were expecting two.
While it's tough to judge the efficacy of the new all-wheel drive system, at least not without a layer of fresh powder, we do note its availability as addressing what's becoming a necessity in this entry-level luxury class. While the additional security of AWD is welcome, the added weight and parasitic loss of power through the extra drivetrain components wasn't. It's true that either AWD or rear-wheel drive are the most popular arrangements in this class, but Ford's CD3 chassis has established itself as one of the better handling front-wheel drive platforms on the market. In fact, the most fun we've had in one of these cars came during our time behind the wheel of the I4 Ford Fusion with a manual transmission. It's nimble handling made up for a lack of grunt, and perhaps that's why the heavier MKZ felt less fun to drive despite its horsepower advantage.
Despite our criticisms, the MKZ is a better car than the Zephyr was with its bigger V6 that clearly casts it as the premium selection in Ford's triumvirate of midsize family sedans. Lincoln's larger concern, however, should be how the MKZ compares to its similarly priced competition in the $30k to $35k range. Dave Thomas at KickingTires.net compiled a list of entry-level luxury sedans that can be had for $35,000 or less, which include an Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Chrysler, Subaru, Volvo and a pair of Lexuses. While each offers varying levels of content, luxury and power compared to the MKZ, all are compelling. For that matter, as Thomas points, so is a loaded Ford Fusion V6 AWD at $28,265.
To answer the question we posed at the beginning of this review, yes, the MKZ is a more appealing car then the Zephyr. The problem facing Lincoln is that the standard for this segment keeps rising and its siblings from Ford and Mercury represent a better value. In the end, the MKZ relies on what style it has to charm potential buyers, just like the Zephyr before it. Since style is subjective, it won't be at the top of everyone's list, but those who do choose the Lincoln MKZ will have enough here to hang their head high.
New Car Test Drive
Near-luxury sedan offers good value.
The Lincoln MKZ is a near-luxury car, a luxurious, midsize sedan that competes with the Cadillac CTS and Acura TL, as well as the Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima. In style and engineering, it's an upscale sibling to the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan.
The MKZ began a new direction for Lincoln: luxury vehicles designed to engage the driver. The MKZ succeeds, managing the difficult trick of delivering a ride that is generally comfortable with handling that makes it interesting and gratifying to drive quickly on a challenging country road.
The MKZ is powered by a strong, 263-hp V6 driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available. And MKZ's major standard equipment compares favorably with the best cars in this class.
For 2008, Lincoln has made several popular options standard, including heated and cooled leather seats, and Sirius Satellite Radio. New standard features include a reverse sensing system and a hands-free, voice-activated communications and entertainment system that Ford calls Sync.
Overall, the MKZ is well rounded. It's suitable for day-to-day commuting even on the Midwest's broken streets, comfy for long-distance cruising on an interstate, and playful during a quick trip along a two-lane road through the mountains. It has plenty of power, but it uses regular fuel and delivers decent gas mileage. Surprisingly, however, the MKZ does not offer electronic stability control.
The MKZ has collected some impressive accolades. Among them: When it was introduced as a 2007 model, it ranked highest in the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study for Premium Cars. For two years in a row, industry voters have honored the MKZ with Ward's Premium-Priced Car Interior of the Year award. Its 3.5-liter V6 has been named one of Ward's 10 Best Engines. Its THX II-certified stereo was voted Best Audio by PC Magazine. And its navigation system was ranked No. 1 in J.D. Power's 2007 Navigation Usage and Satisfaction Study.
The 2008 Lincoln MKZ comes in one trim level, with either front-wheel drive ($30,790) or all-wheel drive ($32,660).
Standard equipment includes premium leather heated and cooled front seats, dual-zone temperature control, power adjustable front seats, a six-speaker AM/FM stereo with six-CD changer and redundant controls on the steering wheel, Sirius Satellite Radio, a reverse sensing system, cruise control, power windows and door locks with remote entry and a number pad on the door, 17-inch wheels, and a 60/40 split and fold-down rear seat.
New for 2008 is Sync, an industry-exclusive, voice-activated hands-free system that fully integrates mobile phones and media players into the vehicle's audio system, using Bluetooth technology and USB connectivity.
Options include a voice-activated DVD-based navigation system ($1,895), Lincoln's high-power THX II audio system ($995), a power moonroof ($1,200), high-intensity discharge headlights ($495), aluminum interior trim ($195), chrome wheels ($895), an engine-block heater ($35), and daytime running lights ($45).
Safety features that come standard include frontal airbags; side-impact air bags for torso protection; curtain-style head protection airbags for all outboard positions; traction control; and antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), which distributes braking force to the tires with the most grip. A tire pressure monitor has also been added for 2008.
The MKZ achieves Acceptable ratings in heavy frontal and side-impact crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, on a scale of Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor. Some of the MKZ's major competitors have Good ratings in these tests. The MKZ lacks electronic stability control.
The Lincoln MKZ is styled in a conservative fashion, creating a prim, proper effect. The one exception is its wide chrome grille, which Lincoln is using across its line to instill brand identity. Lincoln's wide, split-waterfall motif first appeared on the 1938 Zephyr, so it's certainly appropriate for the MKZ, originally launched as the Lincoln Zephyr, to wear it.
The Lincoln is brightened by its jewelry: quad-beam halogen headlights (with HID units optional), bright-metal accents at the beltline and on the mirror caps, and chromed exhaust tips. Handsome 17-inch wheels contribute to MKZ's purposeful stance.
The Lincoln MKZ cabin is comfortable and luxurious. We found the driver's seat comfortable for two or three hours at a time. The interior is pleasant, convenient and reasonably quiet.
The cabin looks more upscale than that in the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, which share the MKZ's underpinnings and some major mechanical components. The trim plastics look best in lighter colors. All in all, the MKZ interior doesn't come across as shameless luxury as much as comfortably well-to-do, which is pretty much the standard for this class.
The controls for heating, cooling and the stereo are all easy to find and use. Storage is adequate.
The navigation system works well. The video screen is smaller than many, but it's easy to figure out without excessive reliance on the owner's manual. And unlike some nav systems, it provided information about some obscure dirt roads in Michigan, where much of our driving took place. All automakers make choices about where to spend and where to save, and many choose not include such detail in the navigation software.
The MKZ will accommodate four six-footers in reasonable comfort. Five is a crowd unless you are toting small children. In short, it's comparable to other cars in its class.
Trunk capacity is rated at 15.8 cubic feet, which is more than many cars in this class. The trunk lid swings high for easy access, and the fold-down rear seat allows some flexibility for hauling more.
Forward and over-the-shoulder visibility is acceptable. The high rear deck limits visibility immediately behind the MKZ when backing up. The reverse-sensing system helps with this, providing an audible gauge of the distance between the MKZ and whatever is behind it.
The Lincoln MKZ comes from a 3.5-liter V6, introduced for 2007, that delivers 263 horsepower, on par with the Nissan Maxima and Infiniti G35. Moreover, the Lincoln engine delivers full power on regular 87-octane gas, and was EPA-rated at 18/28 mpg City/Highway. This new engine benefits from the efficiency of a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Lincoln's 3.5-liter engine delivers great acceleration in the instances most drivers need it. It doesn't turn the MKZ into a rocket, but acceleration is more than acceptable for any reasonable task, including a quick merge onto a busy Interstate. And it's satisfying just to feel the rush of power. The Duratec 3.5-liter is smooth and fairly quiet.
The six-speed automatic cannot be shifted manually, feature some drivers like. Moreover, Lincoln could improve the control program for a quicker response at low speeds. From a dead stop, or when traveling at 50 mph, the transmission works great. Slam the accelerator as you pull out to pass and it kicks down nicely, one or two gears, to put the engine in the high-torque part of its power band. But at 10 mph, it's a different story. Creeping out of a parking lot, for example, the transmission will shift up a gear or two, apparently to save fuel. But when the driver approaches the street and hits the gas for a hole in traffic, the transmission doesn't want to kick back down to first gear. The MKZ bogs a bit, and the anticipated acceleration isn't there.
We like the handling of this car. On a rough surface the MKZ does a reasonably good job of shielding its occupants from broken pavement and poorly repaired potholes. But the engineers were clever enough to combine that ride with handling that is reassuring and satisfying. Despite having much of its weight up front, the all-wheel-drive model we tested was reasonably quick to change direction and head into a turn, lacking the stubborn, nose-heavy feeling of some all-wheel-drive cars.
The steering has a of weight to it for positive, satisfying response. Yet it doesn't feel heavy when pulling into a parking spot. And there's no loose, sloppy feeling when the MKZ is pointed straight ahead. Turn the wheel just a little bit and the chassis begins to respond immediately, with no dead spot.
The brake pedal has a nice, progressive feel, and the brakes deliver more stopping power than the typical driver will ever use short of an emergency situation.
All-wheel drive is a great benefit when driving in snow or hard rain. We consider all-wheel drive a safety feature because it improves handling stability in foul weather. It can also be a huge help in getting up a slick hill. The system normally operates as front-wheel drive, but sends power to the rear wheels if the front tires begin to lose grip. On loose gravel, we found it worked as advertised when accelerating hard from a stop.
The 2008 Lincoln MKZ is a likeable midsize sedan. It offers the comfort and features of a near-luxury sedan. All-wheel drive is available for drivers who need foul weather capability.
Chris Jensen reported to NewCarTestDrive.com from New Hampshire.
Lincoln MKZ ($30,790); MKZ AWD ($32,660).
Options As Tested
high-intensity discharge headlights ($495); navigation system ($1,895), THX II premium stereo ($995).
Lincoln MKZ all-wheel drive ($32,660).
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