It takes more than good genes to survive almost 100 years in the U.S. auto business. It requires grit, stamina, courage and, in the case of Lincoln, a tremendous amount of chutzpah to "introduce" a company that's been around longer than the toggle light switch.
With its 2013 MKZ, Ford's luxury division kicks off a four-model reinvention strategy designed to appeal to buyers who are younger than the brand's 65-year-old median age but still AARP-eligible. Unusual as it seems to reboot a legacy brand with a redo instead of an entirely new model, the MKZ makes a certain amount of sense. In the seven years it's been on the market, the midsize sedan has become Lincoln's bestseller. It is also part of the fast-growing, entry-level luxury segment.
What luxury means, of course, is relative. In the case of the MKZ, it means a car that forgoes dramatic exterior design for creature comforts and safety features in a vehicle priced ever-so-slightly out of reach of mere plebes. The version I tested was listed at $49,585.
The first vehicle to emerge from Lincoln's dedicated design studio in Detroit, the 2013 MKZ sports a slightly more aerodynamic and edgy style than the outgoing model with a large panoramic roof, LED brake lights that extend across the entire rear end and a split-wing grille vaguely reminiscent of a Beemer.
The base model MKZ is powered with a 2.0-liter inline-four cylinder engine. I was driving the 3.7-liter V-6, which was responsive off the line and felt completely comfortable cruising the carpool lane at speed.
In an effort to streamline its controls and simplify its interior, Lincoln has moved the MKZ's gear selector next to the eight-inch touch screen that accesses the car's three drive modes, as well as the entertainment, navigation, climate and phone systems.
A standard feature on all three trims of the MKZ is Lincoln Drive Control, which automatically adjusts the suspension, steering, engine, transmission, traction and stability control settings based on driver inputs.
The MKZ is so safety-conscious it's a borderline hypochondriac. In addition to a lane-departure warning system integrated into the side mirrors, there's long-range radar that senses what's in front of the car and auto-adjusts the speed to avoid a fender bender, as well as a camera integrated into the rearview mirror that reads the road's lane markers and alerts drivers to hazards with bright lights and dramatic beeps.
The car is spacious and nicely finished. It's also easy to drive. But ultimately the MKZ lacks distinction other than the fact that Lincoln, 96 years into its existence, has become something of a novelty.
2013 LINCOLN MKZ
POWERTRAIN: Sequential multiport electronic fuel injection, 3.7-liter, V-6, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, intake variable camshaft timing, 6-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
EPA FUEL ECONOMY ESTIMATE: 18 city, 26 highway
ROAD TEST FUEL ECONOMY: 21.7 mpg combined
BASE PRICE: $35,925
PRICE AS TESTED, INCLUDING DESTINATION CHARGE: $49,585
BOTTOM LINE: A time-honored introduction to luxury