The same sort of modern stateliness we saw on thelast year finds its way into the 2010 MKZ, along with an impressive technology array. Lincoln's new winged-grille design covers the front of this smallest Lincoln, giving it stronger presence than its platform mates, the and . And while the rear of the car includes the big Lincoln badge and wraparound taillights that comprise the new Lincoln design language, the side profile is as bland as any modern midsize sedan.
Living up to a luxury brand image seems like an impossible task for an American car company these days, but the MKZ takes a step in the right direction. When we got into our test car, we were immediately impressed with the nicely trimmed leather seats. Soft materials along the dashboard also worked toward the luxury theme. The cabin tech controls, a set of plastic buttons running up the center stack, are the major letdown when it comes to quality. These look like they come from the same parts bin that supplies Ford and Mercury vehicles. Lincoln should distinguish itself more, although to be fair, Audis use pretty ugly plastic switchgear, as well.
Tops in cabin tech
Still going strong for Lincoln is its cabin tech, of which the MKZ takes full advantage. Ours came equipped with the hard-drive-based navigation system, which includes Sirius TravelLink. This system shows traffic data overlaid on the map, and offers the option to avoid bad congestion on a programmed route. During our testing, the system occasionally couldn't find a detour around a traffic jam, as its routing algorithm won't let it go too far off course.
Beyond traffic, Sirius TravelLink also provides weather, gas prices, movie schedules, and sports scores, the first two of those being the most useful. The gas price feature is particularly good, as just a touch on any station in the listing can set it as a destination in the navigation system.
Where this system falls behind is the look of the maps. It does offer three map views, including perspective, but the map graphics are very simple, and don't offer the visual beauty of new offerings from BMW and Audi. But they are functional, and route guidance is good. The system includes text-to-speech, so it will read out street names.
Sync, standard in the MKZ, is another cabin tech cornerstone for Ford company vehicles. It provides connectivity and voice command for Bluetooth cell phones and MP3 players, with a level of integration not currently matched by any other car maker. We test many cars throughout the year here at Car Tech, but are always pleased to get into one with Sync, as we can plug in an iPod, Zune, or other MP3 player and ask it to play music by naming the genre, artist, or album. And it never ceases to amaze us how well the system recognizes even the most obscure and complex artist names. When plugging in a new MP3 player, the system does take a little while to index the music, but that should only be a one-time issue.
Other than MP3 player support, the system's audio sources include the onboard hard drive, satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, and a USB port for flash drives. Impressively, the interface for the hard drive and flash drives mimics that for MP3 players, allowing browsing by artist, album, and genre. Bluetooth streaming audio merely allows play-and-pause control, but that's due to the limited nature of the Bluetooth streaming stereo specification.
During a road trip of about 1,000 miles, we became intimately acquainted with the MKZ's optional THX audio system. With 14 speakers and a 600-watt amp, it should be phenomenal, but it doesn't quite live up to the experience we had last year with the system in the Lincoln MKS, which gets a couple of extra speakers. The audio system in the MKZ is certainly top-notch, rivaling anything from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, or Lexus. But this implementation of the THX system seemed just a little muddy in the middle frequencies. Where we heard angels singing in the MKS, we merely heard a choir in the MKZ.