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The same sort of modern stateliness we saw on the Lincoln MKS last 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 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan. 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.
The MKZ tries to separate itself from its platform-mates through nice seat covers.
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.
Live traffic is just one of the data streams offered by Sirius TravelLink.
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.
The THX audio system in the MKZ didn't have the same rich quality as we've heard in the MKS.
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.
Sync offers everything we could ask for in a Bluetooth phone system. It pairs effortlessly with phones, uses unique pairing keys so no one can easily hijack the system, and downloads phone contact lists, making it easy to dial people by name with the LCD or using voice command. With this last feature, Sync is just starting to get competition, as we've seen in the Kia Soul and the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. The Sync system in the MKZ also supports texting, but on only a limited number of phones. This system reads incoming texts out loud, and offers a number of preset replies.
Last year's power train
On the road, the Lincoln MKZ is a capable, if relatively boring, car. Think midlevel managers going out for a working lunch. We had the all-wheel-drive version of the car. As the platform is designed for front-wheel drive, torque is generally biased toward the front wheels, but will throw to the rear when required. As the MKZ isn't a sports car, we didn't spend a lot of time throwing it madly into corners. When we did, we felt understeer and body roll--all expected--but also got a sense of the rear wheels contributing to keep the car following the turn.
The six-speed automatic's manual mode is mostly useful for engine braking.
The power train isn't the most current from Lincoln--the MKZ uses a Duratec 3.5-liter V-6, producing only 263 horsepower at 6,250rpm and 249 pound-feet of torque at 4,500rpm. Ford has been working on a new line of engines, called Ecotec, that use direct injection for better efficiency. Given the size of the MKZ, it could probably be propelled quite well by a turbo-charged direct-injection four-cylinder engine. Ford has one in the works, so hopefully we will see that in the next generation MKZ.
The Duratec under the MKZ's hood does give the car reasonable acceleration, helped along by a well-programmed six-speed automatic transmission. That transmission even includes a manual gear selection mode, but as we've said, the MKZ is no sports car. Manual mode is really designed for engine braking in this car, as evidenced by the way it immediately shifts down to third, displaying a graphic in the instrument cluster of a foot on a brake, when the mode is engaged. The little time we spent using the manual mode showed typical automatic transmission sluggishness between changes. The car was ready to jump into passing gear easily enough, taking advantage of what power the engine has to give.
Six gears help out the MKZ's fuel economy somewhat. In all-wheel-drive trim, the car's EPA rating is 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. Our road trip in the MKZ biased our driving heavily toward the freeway, with average speeds around 75 mph, but we still pulled 23 mpg, approaching the EPA highway number. Expect it to average about 20 or 21 mpg in normal use.
The blind-spot-warning system lights up when it's not safe to change lanes.
While Lincolns have recently shown impressive cabin tech, other driving tech was often lacking. Recent model updates are correcting that by including such features as a blind-spot-warning system, adaptive cruise control, and a self-parking system. The MKZ doesn't get the most advanced systems yet, but it does have the blind-spot-warning system, adaptive headlights, and rain-sensing windshield wipers as options.
At more than 40 grand optioned up as our review car was, the 2010 Lincoln MKZ is pricier than it should be, with stiff competition from the Infiniti G35 and the Mercedes-Benz C300. However, the cabin tech in the Lincoln still remains superior to those other cars, even if its driving dynamics do not. It's that cabin tech that lifts up the Lincoln MKZ in our ratings, with an extra boost for the blind-spot-warning system. But on both the performance and design fronts, the MKZ only ranks as average. Although the six-speed automatic is an advanced transmission, the Duratec V-6 doesn't push any boundaries, which shows in its horsepower and fuel economy numbers. We do like the Lincoln design language up front, but that styling doesn't find its way around the car.
|Model||2010 Lincoln MKZ|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/24 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||23 mpg (freeway biased)|
|Navigation||Optional hard drive-based with traffic, weather, and other data; standard through Sync Traffic, Directions, and Information|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Single CD/DVD, MP3 compatible|
|MP3 player support||iPod, Zune, many others|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, internal hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||THX II 14 speaker 600 watt stereo surround sound|
|Driver aids||Rear view camera, blind spot warning|
|Price as tested||$43,245|