It is difficult to eulogize a friend who never pleased nor offended anyone, who journeyed through life absent failure or triumph, who said little and meant less.
He was a nice guy. But where should I go from there?
I am similarly stymied in commenting on the 2008 Lincoln MKZ all-wheel-drive sedan. It is a nice car. There is nothing obviously wrong with it. Key the ignition and it starts every time. Tap the brake pedal. It stops. Its 3.5-liter, 263-horsepower V-6 engine is capable, decent. Its leather-covered seats are reasonably comfortable. But what else is there?
I sought answers from Ria Manglapus, my associate in vehicle evaluations, and from my wife, Mary Anne. But they were baffled too.
"It's a car, you know," said Ria, who seldom uses verbal fillers such as "you know." She shrugged. "It's a car. It's okay."
"What is this, the Mercury something?" Mary Anne asked.
"The Lincoln MKZ," I said.
"MKZ?" Mary Anne asked. "But didn't you drive this one before?"
"Not exactly," I said. "I drove it in 2005 when it was called the Lincoln Zephyr."
"So, that's it?" Mary Anne asked. "They changed the name? That makes it new?"
"They also increased the horsepower. This one has 42 more horsepower," I said.
"Oh," said Mary Anne. "Too bad they didn't do something about the interior. It looks dated, like something for little old people."
I reminded her that we both were short people and were substantially north of our 30th birthdays. Dumb.
"Are you saying that I should be happy with this interior?" she asked. "Are you saying that I look this old?"
I retreated -- quickly.
"No," I said. "I'm just saying that we're no longer 20 or 30."
What can I say? I'm good at using my mouth to dig humbling holes. I crawled into this one and shut up . . . and thought about what Ria and Mary Anne said and didn't say about the Lincoln MKZ.
Ria said: "It's a car." Compare that with her comments on the rival Cadillac CTS: "Wow! It's great. I love driving it." Compare it with her comments on the rival Mercedes-Benz C-Class: "Really, really nice. Lots of fun . . ."
Mary Anne called the Cadillac CTS "my kind of car." She took it to her elementary school in Northern Virginia where the administration and staff are dominated by women, several of whom also raved about the CTS. Note: Mary Anne also drove the Lincoln MKZ to her school. "No one noticed," she said.
That was an epiphany. In a world where most of Lincoln's major rivals have moved beyond "good" and "safe" to "exciting," Lincoln, at least in its current presentation of the MKZ, remains stuck on "good" and "safe."
The car's interior is a work of squares and circles reminiscent of wooden geometric forms used to teach shapes to kindergartners. The onboard navigation screen in that milieu looks like a first-generation Apple computer, now unused, stuck in the dusty corner of a classroom. Interior materials, with the notable exception of the perforated leather-covered seats, are oppressively utilitarian, discernibly inferior to materials used in the Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G35 sedan, Lexus ES 350 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
So, yeah, that's it. Lincoln kept its head and hands down on this one. It risked neither opprobrium nor praise. It did not push for success. It simply tried not to fail. It chose not to stand for anything. It dared not ask: "What if?" And that's too bad.
Lincoln is Ford's luxury vehicle division. Luxury is supposed to make a statement. If it fails to do that, it has no reason to exist.
Put another way: Being good in a marketplace where your competitors are striving for greatness is simply not good enough. Lincoln has to try harder, or motor into oblivion.