Like a proud Shakespearian actor down on his luck, Lincoln has managed to project an aura of class.
But that was dangerously dissipating in 2012 when, at the Los Angeles International Auto Show, Lincoln skipped a show of new models to display a clutch of classics.
There were seven in all -- a 1961 Continental sedan, a 1929 convertible coupe, 1932 convertible roadster, 1937 Derham sport sedan, 1937 Lincoln-Zephyr coupe-sedan, 1940 Continental Cabriolet and 1956 Continental Mark I.
All of them reflect glory days at Lincoln, the luxury division of the Ford Motor Co. But the stockpile of respect fell into the ditch in recent years as Ford neglected Lincoln, and the now-defunct Mercury, in favor of high-profit Ford models, especially pickup trucks.
As the industry recovers in the wake of the great recession, Ford seeks to recapture the classic aura of Lincoln, which has retreated to a bit player role on the luxury car stage. In 2012, its U.S. sales were lowest in a group of luxury and near-luxury vehicles behind Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Lexus, Acura and Infiniti.
Ford started the campaign by re-naming the Lincoln division as the Lincoln Motor Co. It certainly sounds elegant and sophisticated, but in the car biz it's all about products, which brings us to the subject here: the 2013 Lincoln MKZ.
It is the newest offering from Lincoln, though its introduction was delayed because the company wanted to make certain that any bugs were exterminated before the cars went on sale.
A near-luxury sedan, the MKZ (it once carried the stylish Zephyr name) joins a small group of garage mates, all morphed from Ford models. They include the hulking Navigator, a luxury SUV based on the Ford Expedition, the MKX midsize crossover (Ford Edge), three-row MKT (Ford Flex) and the MKS large sedan (Ford Taurus).
For its part, the MKZ is a lavish version of the Ford Fusion midsize sedan. It is a couple of inches longer, with slightly smaller inside space because of extra padding and sound deadening material. The base price is $38,710 and, with options, the tested MKZ had a sticker price of $45,550, right in the heart of the entry-level luxury category.
With new styling, including a grille that resembles a soaring bird's wings, the MKZ evokes class acts of the past like the Lincoln Zephyrs of the late 1930s.
Inside, there's comfort for four in comfortably padded but supportive seats. As usual in most cars nowadays, the cramped center-rear seat should be reserved for children or teeny adults. Head room in the outboard seats is adequate for passengers up to six feet tall; beyond that it's a scrunch.
The interior has a designer look, highlighted by genuine wood trim. In a throwback to the mid-20th century, the six-speed automatic transmission is controlled by a line of pushbuttons on the dash, reminiscent of controls in 1950s-era Chrysler vehicles. But those were mechanical; the MKZ's are electronic.
A bit of attention is required because there's no way to shift simply by feel; you have to look at the pushbuttons to select different modes. Still, it's easy enough once you get used to it.
Like its Ford cousins, the MKZ uses the company's high-tech Sync and MyTouch systems, with voice activation, to operate various entertainment, navigation and other functions. Though improved over earlier versions, the touch controls are highly sensitive, to the point where a swipe of the hand can change a setting. The good news is that newer versions will incorporate functional knobs.
The tested MKZ, with full time all-wheel drive, was powered by Ford's 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which delivers 22/31/25 mpg in city/highway/combined driving. On the Ford Fusion, it is the top-of-the-line power plant; on the MKZ, it is the base motor. A 300-horsepower V6 and a 45 mpg hybrid model also are available.
The tested turbo four delivers plenty of power to all four wheels through the slick shifting six-speed automatic transmission. It can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel, which helps if you want to hold a gear in hilly terrain.
Though not intended as a sport sedan, the MKZ displayed excellent road manners, with tight handling around curves and solid straight-line tracking. With a continuously adjustable suspension system, it easily absorbed irregular surfaces, though the ride deteriorated on rough roads.
Model: 2013 Lincoln MKZ AWD four-door sedan.
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 240 horsepower.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
Overall length: 16 feet 2 inches.
EPA passenger/trunk volume: 97/15 cubic feet.
Weight: 3,874 pounds.
EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/31/25 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $38,710.
Price as tested: $45,550.