The MKZ's styling is starting to grow on me. The front end is distinctive. It gets a new tooth-like grille for 2010, which bears a closer resemblance to models like Lincoln's MKS full-size sedan and MKT full-size crossover. (See a side-by-side comparison of the 2009 and 2010 MKZ.)
After you get beyond the grille — which I didn't really care for when I first saw the car at an auto show — the rest of the sedan is rather ordinary and looks a lot like its siblings, the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan. Sure, it has different taillights that sweep across the trunklid, but otherwise it's similar.
Ride & Handling
The optional Sport Appearance Package includes 18-inch aluminum wheels and a sport suspension, and the result is a notably firm ride — think all-wheel-drive Acura TL suspension tuning, not Lexus ES. Equipped this way, the MKZ faithfully tells you about all the rough patches in the road, whether you want to know about them or not. I suspect many buyers considering a Lincoln would prefer not to know about them — especially because there isn't sports-car-like handling to go along with the taut ride quality. I haven't driven an MKZ with the regular suspension and standard 17-inch wheels, but I suspect it offers better ride comfort.
Despite the sportier setup, the MKZ cruises smoothly on the highway when the pavement is good. The interior is quiet, though you start to hear a little wind noise when approaching 80 mph.
It doesn't take a lot of extra care to steer the MKZ — whether you're traveling country roads or the highway. The main reason is that the steering has a solid, weighty feel when traveling in a straight path that makes it easy to keep the car between the lines. This heft also prevents you from inadvertently jostling the wheel.
The MKZ's steering feel is different from what you'll find in a Lexus ES, which has well-greased, light-effort steering that's become synonymous with Toyota's luxury brand. The MKZ doesn't go that route, and I like it for that. Its steering is by no means too heavy, but the extra effort needed to turn the wheel makes you feel connected to the car in a way the Lexus can't match. Overall, the MKZ's steering feel and response are among its better characteristics.
The MKZ's powertrain is another highlight. The 3.5-liter V-6 delivers strong acceleration; there's plenty of power to get you up to speed quickly and effortlessly. The large-displacement V-6 also offers plenty of torque at low speeds. Acceleration is accompanied by a satisfying growl, but you can't hear the engine at all when cruising on the highway.
The sedan's six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, and kickdowns are easy to initiate by simply pressing harder on the gas pedal. The transmission now includes a clutchless-manual mode, which lets you control gear changes by nudging the console gear selector up and down. However, because the MKZ's automatic is good at what it does, you probably won't feel the need to override it.
The MKZ comes standard with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available for an extra $1,890. It'll also cost you more at the pump, as the all-wheel-drive model gets an EPA-estimated 17/24 mpg city/highway, versus 18/27 mpg for the front-wheel-drive sedan.
I'm not a fan of all-gray interiors, which seem drab to me — even more so than all-black designs — but that's what our MKZ had. Getting past my own preferences, however, let me appreciate a cabin with mostly good-quality materials and easy-to-use controls. However, low-grade plastic for the parking-brake handle, a roughly finished sunglasses holder and a sizable gap along the side of a storage-cubby door near the base of the center control panel stood out in the otherwise upscale cabin.
MKZs come standard with leather-upholstered, heated-and-cooled front seats. The seats are supportive and offer a good driving position, but my own seat started to get a little sore when the drive stretched to a few hours. My back didn't have any complaints, though.
The front of the cabin isn't the most spacious, and this is mainly because of the MKZ's low roofline, which limits headroom for taller occupants — especially with our test car's optional moonroof, which characteristically steals a little more space. At 6-foot-1, I didn't have much headroom to spare. Over-shoulder visibility when checking blind spots is good.
The rear bench seat is also finished in leather. It offers passable room for adults, but there's not much extra space. Taller passengers sit with their knees elevated, so there's not much thigh support.
A 60/40-split folding backseat is standard, with releases in the trunk to fold the backrests. Unlike many sedans that offer folding backrests, the ones in the MKZ are spring-loaded, so when you pull the release handle they're intended to automatically flop forward. That's what happens with the smaller backrest section, but not the larger one — maybe it's too heavy.
The downside is that it takes more effort to put the spring-loaded cushions back in place, as you have to fight that spring a little. In the end, you probably don't need a spring at all.
MKZ in the Market
Despite the MKZ's positive attributes, it's going to have a tough go of it in the market. The competition is strong and getting stronger; besides the aforementioned TL and ES, the MKZ is up against a redesigned Buick LaCrosse and the impressive Infiniti G sedan. Also, luxury cars are statement cars. Lexus stands for refinement, and Acura for the latest technology. I'm not sure what statement the MKZ makes, and I question whether it can cut through the noise and connect with consumers. It will be unfortunate if it can't, though; luxury-car shoppers will find a lot to like in the new MKZ if they take the time to give it a look.
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