Try as I might, I'm unable to find any area in which the 2013 Lincoln MKZ luxury sedan is clearly superior to its competition. Worse, there's very little the MKZ offers that can't be had for a lower price in a Ford Fusion.
It's an inauspicious start for the car that's supposed to signal a return to relevance by the once-proud brand.
The MKZ's distinctive design sets the tone for upcoming Lincolns. The front is defined by a sweeping wing-like grille. An equally distinctive rear features glowing full-width LED taillights.
Prices for the MKZ start at $35,925 for a front-wheel drive model with a 240-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. All MKZs except the hybrid have a six-speed automatic transmission. Adding all-wheel drive raises the price to $37,815. An optional 300-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 raises the price to $37,155 for FWD and $39,045 for AWD.
A 188-horsepower front-drive hybrid with a continuously variable transmission starts at $35,925.
I tested a well-equipped MKZ 2.0-liter AWD that stickered at $49,080. All prices exclude destination charges.
The MKZ's price is in the same range as its likely competitors, the Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 328i, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G37, Lexus IS 250 and Mercedes C-class. Lacking clear leadership in value, performance, technology, luxury or prestige, the MKZ faces an uphill climb.
The Lincoln's performance and handling are solid, but no match for the other automakers' purpose-built luxury cars. Most automakers use different platforms, or architectures, for their luxury and mass-market brands, but the MKZ shares its platform and most systems with the Fusion.
The 2.0-liter turbo delivers good throttle response for jaunts around town, and the sport setting adjusts the transmission for satisfying highway passing.
The MKZ's EPA fuel economy rating is at the high end of its class. The AWD model I tested rated 22 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway and 25 combined. Among the comparable AWD sedans, only the BMW 328i xDrive beats that, and it requires premium fuel while the MKZ uses less-expensive regular. All the other competitors except the A4 and IS 250 compensate for their lower fuel economy by offering more power than the 2.0-liter MKZ.
The Lincoln's suspension absorbs bumps well and keeps the car stable in quick maneuvers. The car corners well and holds the road on fast curves. The steering is quick and direct.
The attractive interior features soft materials and sweeping surfaces. Ambient lighting can be adjusted for several colors and levels of brightness. The transmission's push-button gear selector is intuitive and easy to use.
The passenger compartment is smaller than that of most competitors, however. I found it a bit claustrophobic because of the MKZ's steeply sloped windshield. Luggage room is good, but the trunk opening is a bit small.
That center console boasts a unique but not particularly useful feature.
An open tray under the cup holders was designed to provide a second, lower storage area.
I found it hard to reach the tray and hard to see its contents. It was also shallow enough that items seemed likely to slide off and into the foot wells.
The MKZ features Sync voice recognition and MyLincoln Touch, a touch screen and a dashboard devoid of the traditional buttons and dials.
It doesn't work as well as it should, or as well as the best competitors do.
For example, the navigation system asked whether I wanted to search for points of interest by category or name. "Name," I replied as I set out for the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago.
"Main menu," the system replied, with the good cheer of a video game that just dropped you through a trap door back to the first level. The troll sent me back to Square 1 three times.
Luxury brands flourish on the strength of their style, technology, comfort and prestige. The 2013 MKZ has the style, but not much else.
2013 LINCOLN MKZ AWD:
--Type of vehicle: All-wheel drive five-passenger midsize luxury sedan
--Rating: Two out of four stars
--Reasons to buy: Styling, features, luggage room, fuel economy
--Shortcomings: Price, balky voice recognition and other controls, passenger space
--Price range: $35,925-$39,045 (excluding options and destination charges)
--Base price: $37,815
--Price as tested: $49,080 (excluding destination charge)
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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