1. May 2013
So you get a bunch of folks together who spend a lot of time talking about the auto industry, and before too very long, the subject of Lincoln comes up. The subject of whether Lincoln will survive. While the Ford Motor Company is doing exceedingly well in the U.S. market, there is that issue of “One Ford,” which could give those who were partisans of Mercury pause. And there is also the understanding that while Cadillac was able to rise from irrelevance, it is a journey that has taken that brand more than a decade, and in the world of instant everything, the idea that anyone would give any brand a decade to make it is almost inconceivable. Then there is the additional challenge that nowadays, there are more players in the near- and full-blown luxury category, players that may not have even been considered relevant in that space not all that long ago (e.g., Hyundai).
So there is Lincoln.
While I don’t pretend to know what is going to become of it, I do know this: If it puts out more cars as good as the 2013 MKZ—forget about those lightly lipsticked MKZs that preceded it—then it should do very well moving ahead.
The 2013 MKZ is an incredible first effort in the redefinition of what they’re now calling “The Lincoln Motor Company” (which is a somewhat bizarre moniker, hearkening back to the early 20th century, especially given that the Lincoln folks are trying to position the brand as tech- and fashion-forward. Heck: Even Mad Men seems to be from a time long, long ago, and it is set only half a century back).
The MKZ is a solid midsize sedan that has a visual look of sophistication both inside and out, and it had all of the technical amenities that one would want, from the SYNC-based infotainment system to nice leather, from adaptive suspension to an electronic parking brake, and that’s before kicking in the options, including active park assist and 19-in. alloy wheels.
All in, the car was stickered at $45,550, which is certainly not entry-level, but arguably value for the money.
No, Not Audi
One of the things that some Lincoln people have told me is that when they look at their competition, the closest they perceive for what they are trying to do in reestablishing the brand is Audi, which is a company that is rightfully hailed (note that I am saying this, not them) for its design and technology. Then, the Lincoln people say, there are the other German companies, BMW and Mercedes, which are within their Venn diagram, but not so close. Of course. *
But I’d submit that there is another brand that they’re actually emulating, both in their approach to service and, yes, in the MKZ.
Note that when Alan Mulally came to Ford from Boeing, he was a driver of the Lexus LS430, and he was effusive in praising that car. Note also that Jim Farley, Ford executive vice president of Global Marketing, Sales and Service and Lincoln (that “and Lincoln” is sort of a bizarre touch), once ran Lexus.
The MKZ is not like an Audi. Not a BMW. Not a Mercedes. No, not even a Cadillac. It is like a Lexus.
At this point, there is a certain apoplexy breaking out among some people at Lincoln HQ, as they sputter things like, “The Lexus is a soulless appliance. We have hawks and dead presidents and things like that in our TV ads!”
Let’s just put something in context: in 2012, Lincoln sold 41,578 cars; Lexus sold 56,158 ES models, according to Autodata.
Until Lincoln sells 56,158 of any model it ought to be happy with that characterization.
*If you go across town, to that brand that isn’t named by the folks in Dearborn, and say to someone there, “So, what about Lincoln?” you’re likely to get a response along the lines of “Absolutely incredible.” And then they’ll go on to praise Daniel Day-Lewis.
One of the concerns that some people (especially dealers, as this impacts them right in the purse and pocketbook) have had regarding the MKZ is that the cars haven’t been as readily available as they’d hoped, especially right after the Super Bowl, when the aforementioned ads were run. It seems that there was some concern with the quality of build in the plant in Hermosillo, Mexico. So rather than making any missteps by putting out something they weren’t confident in, numerous MKZs were held in quarantine so that they could be checked for quality.
Again, that seems very Lexus-like, more so than other luxury marques. And to put a metric to that, consider that in the 2012 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS), Lexus was ranked #1, with 73 reported problems per 100 (PP100) vehicles. The industry average was 102 PP100.
Lincoln was at 107 PP100.
Suddenly, a comparison with Lexus begins to look a whole lot better, doesn’t it?
(And in case you’re wondering, Mercedes was 96, BMW 97, and Audi 105. Cadillac? 80 PP100. Lincoln should perhaps work to emulate that brand, too.)
The Ford Fusion is an impressively attractive vehicle. The MKZ is based on the same platform. Some people have said that the Fusion is so good that there is really no need to buy an MKZ. Then there are the Lincoln folks who counter that there is so much more that the MKZ brings that the comparison isn’t at all germane.
There is something much simpler about this. The Fusion looks great. The MKZ looks sensational. It is fresh, contemporary, seductive, appealing, and add your own superlative adjectives to the lists. Inside it is comfortable, and while the pushbutton transmission selector might seem a little gimmicky (it’s almost as though when looking for some differentiation between Lincoln and the Aforementioned, someone thought that the plastic pushbutton Chiclets would do it, and while it is true that’s different, it doesn’t mean better) and while I am not entirely taken with the touch controls for the HVAC and audio systems (NHTSA recently came out with its voluntary distraction guidelines that focus on communications, entertainment and navigation—they ought to spend a little time looking at this touch interfaces, too), the fit, finish, materials, and overall execution is better than well done. It doesn’t have the gravitas of, say, an Audi. But it surely reminds me of a Lexus.
Although there is one thing that I do quibble about. The stalks for the turn signals, light selector, and wiper controls. They are straight out of the Ford parts bin. Yes, parts sharing is common and not necessarily a bad thing. But when you have a car that carries the importance of the MKZ, spending a little extra to have a differentiator that the driver not only sees but touches every time she drives the vehicle is essential.
Engine: 2.0-liter, EcoBoost I4
Material: Aluminum block and head
Horsepower: 240 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 270 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed electronic with paddle shift
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 194.1 in.
Width (w/o mirrors): 73.4 in.
Height: 58.2 in.
Curb weight: 3,874 lb.
Total EPA volume: 111.9 cubic feet
EPA: 22/31/25 city/highway/combined mpg