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2014 Lincoln MKZ Review by Steve Purdy +VIDEO

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A Modern Zephyr?
By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

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The original Lincoln Zephyr of 1936 broke new ground for the Lincoln branch of the Ford Motor Company tree. Introduced as a lower priced, but still special, companion to the big Lincoln luxury cars of the era, it featured innovative aerodynamic styling and design features that allowed it to compete will with Cadillac’s LaSalle among others. The Zephyr could even be had with a V-12 engine.

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Auto critics and reviewers have long contended that the modern Lincoln brand needs some panache, some distinguished designs, to convince buyers it is more than just a rebadged Ford. Think of the 1930s Zephyrs referenced above or the out-there designs of the 1950s Lincolns. One that comes immediately to mind is the big 4-door convertible with suicide rear doors from the early 1960s. Those were distinctive designs, to be sure.

This one is a good step in the right direction. The current front-wheel drive, mid-size luxury MKZ is in its second year and is significantly improved over the last generation car. Today’s Lincoln MKZ is solidly in the mid-size class and a step below the full-size MKS. The Lincoln designers and engineers put a much higher level of aesthetic quality into this car and added significant technology and other content.

First the aesthetics: To their credit, Lincoln exhibits a higher sense of artful design than most rivals. Witness the brand’s consistent emphasis on a variety of internationally known artists working in a variety of mediums featured in their auto show displays. This appreciation, I’ll argue, finds its way into the car and we see just one example of that in the way the wood and metal trim element flows from the door panel onto the dash terminating before it meets another panel, providing sort of a floating element.

Both interior and exterior design make promising statements about where the brand is going. While MKZ still shares much architecture with Ford’s Fusion it’s hard to see any similarity in the two cars. Lincoln’s new styling language is bold enough, with the dramatic split-wing grille and distinctive, full-width LED taillight array, differentiating it from other brands, particularly parent Ford. Though no bigger than Fusion the designers have made it look and feel bigger with a variety of design tricks.

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Inside, we find a unique dash and cabin design. While the materials don’t measure up with the German and Asian competitors they are close. The first thing I noticed is the lack of any knobs or other protrusions from the dash, center stack and console. That’s not necessarily a good thing functionally but is certainly an attractive design element. Without a shifter it took me a minute or two to realize we have an electric shifting system with flat buttons to control it all. Horizontal bars control audio volume and fan speed. These respond more consistently and positively than similar controls in the Cadillac for example. I’m still not fond of the touch screen that controls just about every other function but I expect after living with it for more than my allotted week it would become more pleasing and easily managed. There remains a big learning curve for many of us who seldom use the myriad functions available.

Watch "New Lincoln MKZ Recapturing The Old Glory"

Until recently we would have been surprised, if not distressed, that a mid-size luxury car would be powered by a diminutive 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine. I would challenge any but the most astute enthusiast to tell during an initial drive. This base engine in our test car makes 240 horsepower and a substantial 270 pound-feet of torque aided by direct injection and a turbocharger. Acceleration is strong without any buzziness, excessive noise or other unpleasantness associated with 4-bangers of the past. With the undistinguished, but competent, six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive it is rated by the EPA at 31 mpg on the highway, 22 in the city and 25 mph combined. Our week with the car involved predominately highway driving providing evidence that these numbers are reasonably accurate.

Two other powertrains can be had in the MKZ, a 3.7-liter V6 making 300 horsepower and a super-efficient hybrid rated at 45 mpg on the highway. The hybrid powertrain is shared with Fusion.

Our test car is the all-wheel drive version of this front-wheel drive car and the base price is listed at $38,080. That base-price car is reasonably well equipped with most of the expected content of this level of car. We have a plethora of options on this one including navigation, sunroof, premium audio, an optional paint (Ruby Red), Technology Package (park assist, adaptive cruise, lane keeping system) and a bunch of other stuff, bringing the price up to $48,490 on the sticker.

The Mexico-built, MKZ comes standard with adjustable suspension and adaptive, electric steering both of which adjust to speed and other variables. The driving dynamics are surprisingly good. Responsiveness in spirited driving situations will satisfy all but the most demanding enthusiast. You wouldn’t want to compete on a road-race course with a BMW 5-Series, but . . . how many Lincoln drivers would want to? Ride, handling and quietness inside are all first-rate.

If you’re prepared to spend 50 grand on a mid-size luxury sedan you have plenty of choices from Asia, Germany, Sweden and from the U.S. The newest generation of the Lansing-built Cadillac CTS, for example, gained some size and would be comparable to the MKZ, including the base 2.0-liter engine. These cars are very different is style, though.

That confirms that Lincoln is going in its own design direction.

And, that’s good for all, particularly the consumer.

Watch the original introduction of the MKZ concept at the Detroit Auto Show

ęSteve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved