August 13, 2007

Photo Gallery: 2007 Lincoln MKZ

Specifications: 2007 Lincoln MKZ

The Guide: 2007 Lincoln MKZ

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What a difference six months makes.

When I first hopped behind the leather and wood-trimmed wheel of this new Lincoln entry-level sedan back in January, parent company Ford was, if the automotive business press was to be believed, on the verge of collapse.

With 2006 loses pegged at US$12.7 billion, the words ‘Ford’ and ‘bankruptcy’ were being written in the same sentence with alarming frequency. The once unthinkable — the financial ruin of a Big Three auto giant — seemed all too real.

“When Chrysler was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy back in the late-1970s, imports from Japan and Europe were a barely negligible blip on Detroit’s domestic market radar,” I noted in my MKZ first drive review in February. “A U.S. government-backed loan program, a willing and concession-granting union membership, and a couple of European-designed economy cars called the Omni and the Horizon helped put Chrysler back on track, and the company enjoyed a profitable decade-and-a-half run before being scooped under the wing of Germany’s Daimler.”

I opined: “Ford should only be so lucky as to turn the ship around with a bank loan and a couple of fuel efficient cars.” And I concluded, “The 2007 Lincoln MKZ will not be the vehicle that Ford’s fortunes turn on. Likewise, though, the entry-level luxury sedan won’t bust the bank.”

Ford’s fortunes — thanks to the sale of boutique builder Aston Martin and extremely strong crossover vehicle sales so far this summer — have changed remarkably in the past six months.

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My opinion of the MKZ has not. After a week of summer driving a modestly equipped all-wheel drive model, the same strengths and weaknesses revealed themselves, most notably a strong and responsive 3.5-litre V6 engine mated to a six-speed transmission that seems ill-equipped to handle the job.

With 263 ponies and 249 lbs.ft. of torque under its hood and meaty 17-inch tires on the ground, the MKZ, on paper, has the markings of a true sport luxury sedan. But with a gearbox that is far from silky smooth, this replacement for the Zephyr could itself be a mere footnote in Ford’s recovery plan.

Actually, calling the MKZ a “replacement” for the Zephyr isn’t quite right. Fact is the MKZ is really a 2007 Zephyr. Confused?

Here’s the story: Lincoln executives have decided to instigate a new name convention using alphanumeric abbreviates beginning with ‘MK’ instead of traditional names. Thus, the Zephyr sedan becomes the MKZ, and the Aviator crossover vehicle becomes the MKX. And if you aren’t already confused enough, the 2006 Zephyr replaced the V6 version of the Lincoln LS, the LS6.

Moving on…

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The name isn’t the only thing new about the 2007 entry-level luxury sedan formerly known as Zephyr. The more powerful engine and a redesigned front end give the MKZ a look and feel Lincoln hopes will attract a younger demographic than their typical customer. With a base price of $39,899, available all-wheel drive and an optional sound system better than most high-end home theatres, the MKZ is a decent entry-level package.

The strong V6 gets the sedan moving in a hurry, and a stiffer structure and a handful of little tweaks and pulls to the suspension have given the MKZ a more performance-like ride. This is definitely not one of those washy Lincolns. Standard ABS brakes are nice too, particularly when attached to the all-wheel drive system. But the very pedestrian six-speed transmission never lets you fully see how good the MKZ could be. And that’s too bad.

Fuel economy as stated in press notes (12.6 L/100km in the city and 8.0 on the highway) seems good, but real life driving had me consuming fuel at a rate about 10 per cent off that mark. Then again, the air conditioning did get a good workout, always putting a dint on purported fuel consumption figures.

On the luxury end, though, the MKZ is in the fast lane. A very spacious cabin is trimmed with all kinds of genuine materials, from wood to metal to leather. The seats, front and back, are big and comfortable, and legroom is excellent for all passengers. And the class-leading trunk is simply mammoth. Four sets of golf clubs are easily swallowed up by the easy to access and large trunk opening.

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I never had an opportunity to fully appreciate the cooled seats during my initial MKZ drive in January, but in the heat of summer traffic I actually kind of got used to the feeling of having a wet and cold seat.

Lincoln has always prided itself in creating a ‘travelling living room’ atmosphere in its spacious cabins, and to that end Lincoln offers a first in an automobile: a THX II audio system. The optional system, at just $995 and including a SIRIUS satellite network, features 14 speakers and two subwoofers pushing 600 watts of sound. That’s one way to blow away the competition, I guess. There’s also an all-new DVD-based navigation system available as a $3195 option.

Loaded up the MKZ gets very close to $50,000, and with that comes some pretty tough competition in the luxury sedan market, particularly from German and Japanese automakers. Even Lincoln’s compatriot, Cadillac, is building some very solid and sophisticated sedans these days.

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As mentioned earlier, Ford Canada sales this summer have been surprisingly robust. June figures released by the company report the Lincoln crossover MKX had its best month since its launch, Lincoln Navigator sales were up 57 per cent, and the Ford Edge and Escape each set new sales records. How about the Lincoln MKZ? Sales were up six per cent for June, which I suppose will and can be seen as a positive by Ford executives and stockholders. But in light of its stablemates’ successes, and the fact that the competition never sits still in the luxury sport sedan category, the MKZ could go the way of the Zephyr sooner rather than later.

Then again, a lot can change in six months.

Pricing: 2007 Lincoln MKZ

Base price: $39,899

Options: $ 3,290

(Power moonroof: $1595; Heated/cooled front seats: $595; 17-inch chrome wheels: $1100)

Freight: $ 1,250

A/C tax $ 100

As tested: $44,539


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