The MKZ reveals some hard truths about the brand and its cars today, but gives some encouragement about the cars to come. Cadillac radically reshaped its brand image over the past decade, but Lincoln's progress has been more halting. The mid-size MKZ has been one of the bright spots--it's brought in younger owners who want vehicles with better fuel economy and connectivity--but the fact is, it's done so mostly by completely dodging Lincoln's own past, save for a bauble and a badge or two.
And it's even more distant from the past, and from the rest of the lineup, in 2013 trim. The massive wings and Weber-grade grilles of the recent past have been put out for tag sale. This MKZ has a subtler take on luxury, more along the lines of Lexus and Volvo. Those Volvo influences are especially noticeable at the rear, and inside, with the floating effect penned into the center console. The bits of Lincoln heritage? They're reduced to the handsomely scaled-down grille and to the badgework. It's as globally clean and subdued as mid-size luxury sedans come. To its credit, the MKZ has substantial visual heft, and some pretty, elegantly spare angles without fender-vent nonsense or other gimmicky cues.
The barest amount of excess is left for the inside, where the lack of a shift lever is the eye-popping detail. It dukes it out with the dominant LCD touchscreen, both playing the modern card for maximum impact. We're not sure there's a single identifiably "Lincoln" element in either of them, or for that matter, anywhere to be found.
For those who want a sporty, enthusiastic performer, there's never been a better Lincoln than this MKZ. It carves out better performance and gas mileage from a new trio of powertrains. The base 2.0-liter turbo four is rated at up to 33 mpg highway; it's a strong straight-line performer, with or without all-wheel drive, but it can seem a little coarse for this luxury application. An uprated, 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 returns, and it may be worth the cost of the upgrade for smoother performance alone. With either, the MKZ is truly quick, and the paddle-shifted automatic--actuated by pushbuttons on the dash--snaps off gearchanges well enough, though the Fusion's manual transmission would be a fun option, in another world, one with a console made for shift levers.
The MKZ Hybrid returns as the luxury vehicle with the best gas mileage, Lincoln says. We've spent thousands of miles in the similar Ford Fusion Hybrid, and couldn't replicate the EPA numbers over long distances--but had no issue besting 41 mpg.