Test Drive: 2010 Lincoln MKZ

Lincoln's near-luxury sedan claims quicker acceleration, quieter operation, plus a new sport version

by James M. Flammang

2010 Lincoln MKZ

Lincoln launched its "near-luxury" sedan for the 2006 model year, calling it the Zephyr - a designation that dates back to Lincoln models of the 1930s, A year later, the Zephyr was gone, replaced by the MKZ. Essentially the same car, the MKZ took on Lincoln's new method of naming vehicles.

Exterior and interior refinements for 2010 include available Bridge of Weir leather-appointed seats, and a new sport version. Lincoln's new "signature" look includes a split-wing grille and thinner wraparound headlamps. A sculpted hood contains ridges that flow into A-pillars. The new trunk lid features wider LED taillamps.

Lincoln's 3.5-liter Duratec V-6 engine produces 263 horsepower at 6250 rpm, and 249 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm, running on regular-grade gasoline. Estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway, for the front-drive model. All-wheel drive is available.

Acceleration, according to Lincoln, has speeded up by 0.6 second: now 7.1 seconds, to 60 mph. The sole transmission is a six-speed SelectShift unit. The transmission contains "lower" early gears to achieve swifter acceleration, along with "taller" high gears for better highway gas mileage. Manual gear selection is available. Downshifts are "locked out" to keep the engine from over-revving. An "enhanced overdrive cancel" mode locks out fifth and sixth gears, allowing shifts at higher speeds to produce more engine braking, as well as downshifts that provide "grade assist."

In the rear suspension, Lincoln engineers have moved the roll center closer to the car's center of gravity. The turning circle has been reduced. A new hydraulic variable-flow steering pump changes the flow rate at lower speeds, to ease parking.

AdvanceTrac with electronic stability control is standard. Available all-wheel drive has been retuned to improve traction and reduce noisse. Two torque-transfer modes are used: preemptive torque (before wheel slippage) and slip-control torque (after wheels are slipping). When the MKZ accelerates even mildly from a stop, preemptive torque is transferred to the rear wheels. On slippery surfaces, slip-control torque helps equalize the speeds of front and rear wheels.

The new sport-option sedan features special suspension tuning, including stiffer springs andlarger stabilizer bars, as well as 18-inch Euroflange polished wheels. Also included are a darkened grille and headlamps.

"Segment-exclusive" features available on the MKZ include a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross Traffic Alert (CTA). BLIS tracks any vehicles in the blind-spot zones on either side of the MKZ, using two multi-beam radar modules behind the rear fenders. Indicators in the outside mirrors warn when a vehicle enters the zone, which extends from the mirror to 10 feet behind the car and 10 feet away. CTA alerts the driver of approaching traffic while the car is in Reverse, backing out of a parking spot.

Standard 17-inch tires ride on aluminum wheel. Chrome wheels and 18-inch polished aluminum wheels are available (included in the Sport Appearance Package).

Depending on the trim package, an MKZ may have genuine aluminum and wood interior trim. New welcome lighting is installed, and the instrument panel is new.

Ford's Sync hands-free, in-car communications/entertainment system is standard. Voice-activated navigation is available. So is Sirius Travel Link, for real-time traffic data. A reverse camera system also may be installed.

Like the revived Zephyr of 2006, th latest MKZ is an excellent, unpretentious near-luxury sedan, With a rather firm suspension for a luxury car, Roughness is noticeable when hitting harsher terrain, but not much on smoother pavement. An MKZ maneuvers redily for its size: not exactly like a compact, but not so far off.

Ample energy and passing response aremarred only slightly by sometimes-uncertain transmission operation, especially when startinf off. Occupants get plenty of room inside. Seat upholstery may look a bit strange, but it's not uncomfortable at all and rather softly cushioned. Gauges are easy to read, and no visibility concerns are evident. This Lincoln is indeed quiet-running, too, with no significant road noise, but it's not truly silent.

MKZ prices start at $34,965 (including destination/delivery charge).

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Text and photos by James M. Flammang