November 21, 2006
Somewhere in Tennessee – It wasn’t that long ago that the definition of a luxury vehicle was simple and straightforward: leather guts, power doo-hickeys, and swoopy dashboard script were all that was required to eclipse the Joneses in middle-suburbia. Throw in whitewalls, wire wheel covers, and a Landau roof, and some neighbours may have thought you were hobnobbing with heads of state. For vehicles of North American origin, that meant Cadillacs, high-end Chryslers, and Lincolns. And it usually meant Grampa was visiting.
These days, those former features of traditional luxury are available on Honda’s and Hyundai’s. Heated seats, silky sound systems, and navigation systems are no longer upper echelon; the masses are demanding them. Entry-luxury is a bit of a misnomer; to be cool, hip, and 45-ish in age and price, you’re expected to be in a sport sedan that you would drive like a maniac (if you were a professional driver on a closed course, of course).
There has to be a happy medium between these two camps. Who would have thought that the solution might come from Lincoln. With the possible exception of the Navigator, the experience for most bystanders in Ford’s luxury marque was in the backseat of a Town Car airport shuttle. The Explorer-based Aviator quickly tanked, the Mark Series has gone from coupe to four-door pick-up, and the LS is the definition of drab slab. One has to wonder if an itchy Ã¢â‚¬ËœWay ForwardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ trigger finger was being pointed at the nameplate.
One of the reprieves is courtesy of the MKZ sedan (pronounced MKZed in Canada and MKZee in America). MKZ is the new tag for the outgoing Zephyr badge, keeping in line with the brand’s new anti-naming policy. It’s a Ford Fusion that’s gone to finishing school. The End. Now I can do some laundry and, um, wait a minute…(SFX: sound of press kit rustling..) it appears I might have been a little hasty. Let’s meet the new MKZ, and let’s hope that I still have some emergency BVDs in the bureau.
The outgoing Zephyr already has the nod for the best Premium Car interior from the 2006 Auto Interiors Show, so there’s no need to mess with a good thing. Fit, finish, and tactile feel is spot-on, or what used to be called ‘Japanese’. The corporate Ford switches have received a satin finish, and the real wood trim rivals that of the new Jaguar XK. This means either Lincoln is getting really good at this, or the Coventry cat plant has Glenmorangie running through the water fountains. Front seats are heated and cooled, with three-step comfort. Audiophiles will appreciate the optional THX II-Certified Audio System, and the map-impaired will applaud the available DVD-based savvy navi screen. A teaser MKZ concept was in attendance, with dual rear seat headrest screens that have separate media feeds and wireless headphones. You’d have to pull over every couple of hours to make sure the kids are still there.
The MKZ is the new Hot Rod Lincoln, thanks to the arrival of the 3.5-litre V6. Fresh on the heels of its launch in the Ford Edge, this mill is tuned to 263 horsepower and 249 foot-pounds of torque. Also borrowed is the new six-speed automatic, and available all-wheel-drive system. Lincoln has tweaked the suspension, with thicker anti-roll bars, spring rates, increased damping, and revised power steering boost. Wheels are 17-inchers, with the same size available in optional chromed aluminum. The rest of the options sheet is understandably short, with a power moonroof and HID headlamps rounding out the list. Exterior trim receives minimal updates, such as grille revision and the new nomenclature.
I had the opportunity to fling the MKZ around the track at this year’s AJAC TestFest, however I had just exited a BMW M Coupe before I did. This would have put my adrenalin somewhere North of crystal-meth, so I was looking forward to a scenic country drive for some real-world evaluation. Something like the Tail of the Dragon, a stretch of US 129 that straddles Tennessee and North Carolina. 318 perfectly sculpted curves in a mere 11 miles of flawless blacktop. It’s a favourite with sports car nuts and motorcyclists alike; you should go. The MKZ never felt out of place as it churned up the crispy fall leaves. The 3.5 is exactly what the MKZ needed to distinguish itself from the so-so 3.0 in the old Zephyr. The six-speed auto is one smart arrangement of gears and clutches; you won’t miss the manu-shift gate, because you just plain don’t need it. Throw some snow skins on with the AWD version, and you’ll never be late this winter to your upscale cubicle.
Fusion DNA aside, the MKZ is worthy of your 40-something thousand budget. It’s got the power, the handling, and something few cars in this class seem to understand or appreciate: it’s comfortable. Smart move. Maybe even a Bold Move.
ManufacturerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s web site