If you're looking for reasons to buy the Lincoln MKZ, you could start with the THX II, a 14-speaker, 600-watt cinematic quality system that will blow any audiophile away.
Rarely do stereos make such a difference in a vehicle. For me, they are simply a tool to listen to talk radio while commuting to and from work or while test-driving a vehicle around Metro Detroit. But with the THX-certified stereo, you'll embrace more than white noise.
For sure, the MKZ is a good car without the $995 THX. But with it, the MKZ becomes the fastest personal stereo system on the road. The THX is a reminder that life comes in surround sound.
Too often we forget the music. We grow up and realize that work, responsibilities and those "important" things take priority. We reprogram our internal bandwidths to AM, trading Iggy Pop and AC/DC for Sean Hannity and Barry Manilow.
The THX brings the music back. My conversion began when I accidentally switched to FM; before I knew it, my finger was tapping the beat on the steering wheel. By week's end, I became the guy who causes you to roll your eyes at traffic lights: The world should know I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers -- it's OK, join in, "Hey oh. Listen what I say oh."
With the right soundtrack cranked up in life-affirming orotund tones, my life in the MKZ becomes my own personal music video.
Former Zephyr moves up
Like today's pop music, the MKZ has lived a fast-paced life. It started out as Ford Motor Co.'s most luxurious triplet, the Lincoln Zephyr, built with the same underpinnings as the hot-selling Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan.
But the Zephyr's short, happy life ended only after one model year as Ford orchestrated significant changes to the premier sedan. The MKZ became the privileged sibling we all despise. It has more a powerful engine than the others. It has a special stereo. It gets to stay out later than anyone else.
While the Zephyr tried too hard to be taken seriously as an entry-level luxury vehicle without the necessary powertrain or luxury standings, the loaded up, all-wheel drive MKZ I tested knew it belonged there.
The MKZ's styling, amenities and performance suggest Lincoln skewed this car more toward luxury than sporty performance. Many entry-luxury vehicles, such as the Acura TL and Lexus IS 350, shy toward sporty luxury; however, both vehicles have starting prices thousands of dollars higher than the MKZ.
With a 3.5-liter V-6, the MKZ moved confidently, especially on the highway, where acceleration was quick and handling was good. The 263-horsepower engine, mated to a six-speed transmission, seemed less peppy on city streets.
The reason: The MKZ can produce 249-pound-feet of torque -- the key to acceleration -- at 4,500 rpms. Typically, the transmission will shift gears before the MKZ reaches that point, denying the car the engine's peak power. If I floored the gas pedal and forced the engine past 4,500 rpms, I could feel the big boost.
When a vehicle has a high rpm torque, it should include a clutch-less shifter to let the driver maximize the engine's potential. The MKZ does not offer that feature, something common to many entry-level luxury cars.
But blasting the stereo quickly made me forget about trying to turn Woodward Avenue into a slalom.
Even cruising around Corktown, as Justin Timberlake and I tried to bring SexyBack to Michigan Avenue, the MKZ handled itself with aplomb. Body roll was minimal through quick turns, and the suspension handled the brick, asphalt, concrete road transitions near Tiger Stadium smoothly, without feeling too soft. The car's independent front suspension and multi-link rear suspension feels firm but not sporty stiff -- which makes driving in Detroit much nicer.
If you prefer a sport-tuned engine and suspension, the MKZ may not be for you. But if you want to cruise in luxury bathed in silky sounds, the MKZ fits the bill.
A serious but stylish look
Lincoln has done a nice job of differentiating the MKZ from its siblings. My test vehicle, in a metallic dark purple, was stylish and a little wild; it's an interesting combination when you consider the conservative exterior styling. With long rectangular headlights and a large waterfall grill, the MKZ's face is a straight-laced line, serious in tone.
The optional high-intensity discharge headlights, which use less energy and provide more light, cut around the corner of the car, softening its edge. The MKZ looks best when you see its side and front at once..
The elongated horizontal LED tail lamps make the MKZ easily recognizable. While every car has a little "look at me" in it, the MKZ never shouts for attention -- a welcome quality.
It's the difference between spiking the ball in the end zone or handing it to the ref.
Soft touches inside
The MKZ's interior meshes well with the subdued exterior. It's relaxing and comfortable. It's loaded with standard features: Dual climate controls, heated front seats, driver memory seats -- so more than one person can set the 10-way adjustable seat to a comfortable position and not worry about someone else screwing up the settings.
My test vehicle included a variety of options as well, including dark charcoal perforated leather seats and a very tastefully done wood trim. Other options include a seat cooler, which I have tested before and enjoy, despite the "I just wet my pants" feeling that comes the first few times you use it.
The dash is made from a special foam and feels extremely soft. Known as Soft Touch, it conveys luxury in a hushed manner, the same way small chrome and nickel accents indicate class without being brash.
The only thing that seems out of place is the four round vents along the dash. The two center vents detract from the elegant look of the nickel-trimmed 6.5-inch touch screen. The entire center -- its tall and wide dimensions exaggerated even more by the dash-mounted speaker at the top -- looks like the chest plate to a robot instead of the housing of that incredible stereo.
But it's a minor quibble, quickly washed away by Ol' Blue Eyes making it his way. Listening to the soundtrack of your life loaded onto an iPod and played through the stereo's auxiliary jack makes most worries quietly evaporate -- if only for that moment. The second 12-volt power spot on the center console also eliminates the worry of charging a phone and a music player.
The MKZ can help you get your groove back, even if it's just on your commute to work. You'll be amazed at how invigorating a great stereo can become. Whether you take the MKZ down memory lane or Lake Shore Drive, you'll feel a twinge of regret when you finally arrive, as the journey is often more fun than the destination.