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Can the MKZ save the Lincoln brand? We're about to find out

Consumer Reports News: March 18, 2013 04:08 PM

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We've just taken delivery of two 2013 Lincoln MKZs for our test program. Why two? We bought one of the standard, 231-hp EcoBoost four-cylinder models, as well as the 188-hp hybrid version. We're curious to see how Ford's upscale Lincoln brand is approaching luxury with a green twist.

The MKZ is a significant model, representing a potential turning point for the brand. Underscoring the importance of the MKZ: The last 20 years or so haven't been kind to Ford's top brand. Our previous blogs have documented Lincoln's travails: "Lincoln's lineup and how they got there" and "Will a new MKZ be enough to revive Lincoln?" Clearly, Ford knows that Lincoln is in trouble and are currently pumping money and resources into the brand to breathe life back into it.

The MKZ is certainly going to give it the old college try; we're mildly optimistic since it's based on the dynamically impressive Ford Fusion. In fact, our First Drive video showed that the car delivers a sophisticated, upscale driving experience with agile handling, comfortable ride, and a quiet cabin.

Driving the MKZ brings back memories of the wonderful-to-drive Lincoln LS, perhaps the last Lincoln that strongly appealed to driving enthusiasts. We're also eager to give the MyLincoln Touch infotainment system another go-around. We'll let you know if this system has gotten any better or easier to use.

Perhaps a bigger question is how many people will opt for a four-cylinder $40,000 luxury car. (The MKZ's base price is $35,925, but typical options push it to $40K.) We know that many car companies are bracing for higher fuel-economy standards and are increasing their four-cylinder offerings.

Indeed, many smaller upscale sports sedan buyers are getting used to having only four-cylinders for this price. The Audi A4, BMW 328i, Cadillac ATS, or Mercedes-Benz C250 are all very nice cars that have done well in our tests, and they cost about the same as the Lincoln.

But the MKZ's direct competitors are larger upscale sedans with larger and more-family-friendly rear seats than those examples. Many of the MKZ competitors, including the Acura TL, Cadillac CTS, Hyundai Genesis, and Lexus ES, come with a standard V6 for about the same money as the entry-level MKZ. We'll find out how the four-cylinder MKZ compares in acceleration and fuel economy. If you feel there's no replacement for displacement, the MKZ offers a 300-hp V6 as an extra-cost option - but Lincoln expects most buyers will stick with the turbo four cylinder.

What doesn't cost more in the MKZ is the hybrid; it has exactly the same starting sticker price as the EcoBoost 2.0-liter four-cylinder. So it's no surprise that the bottom line for both of our Lincolns is nearly identical. Our base MKZ, with a few options such as a rearview camera, reverse sensing system, and blind-spot monitor (with cross-traffic alert) stickered at $41,365. The hybrid version, with the same options, was $550 more...mostly due to an up-charge for its "Smoke Quartz Tricoat" paint.

Check back to see how the MKZ fared and whether the MKZ serves as an invitation to a Lincoln a celebration or retirement party.

Mike Quincy

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