Using the base mechanicals from the Ford Fusion, the 2013...

Using the base mechanicals from the Ford Fusion, the 2013 Lincoln MKZ is literally a completely different vehicle. Credit: © Ford Motor Company

Lincoln has its work cut out for it, but if any car can turn buyers on to Ford's premium division, it's the new 2013 MKZ.

The MKZ (previously the Zephyr) has received its first total overhaul since the 2006-model-year debut. Everything about the sedan's powertrains, suspension, interior and bodywork has been turned upside down. And that's not counting the impressive new systems and technology that have, or can be, been installed.

Based on the new Ford Fusion platform, the MKZ exhibits a nothing-quite-like-it appearance. The signature "waterfall" grille has been replaced by a series of horizontal bars in a shape reminiscent of the early 1940s Lincoln Continental. But for real design drama you can't beat the sweep of the roofline that flows well past the rear-most roof pillar almost to the trailing edge of the body. It makes you wonder if Lincoln forgot about the trunk, but no, there's actually one there and a generously sized one at that.

The rest of the MKZ exhibits a high-waist look, but with the car's massive windshield and rear window glass, including the optional retractable panoramic sunroof, it's doubtful passenger claustrophobia will pose a problem.

What passengers will appreciate is the ultra-sophisticated leather- covered and wood-trimmed interior with a floor console that extends almost the full length of the cabin. The rear-bench design might suggest three-abreast seating, but anyone forced to sit there likely won't be too comfortable. Meanwhile, outboard rear-seat passengers can be secured with optional inflatable seatbelts that provide improved crash protection than regular belts.

The MKZ's quiet cabin can be partially attributable to Active Noise Control. This system uses hidden microphones and a special control module to create opposing sound waves sent through the car's speakers that cancel unwanted engine noises.

Lincoln Drive Control, which is standard, tailors the attributes of the electronic shock absorbers, transmission shifting and electric steering and presents them in three driver-selectable modes: Normal; Sport; and Comfort.

A push-button gear selector next to the gauges replaces the traditional floor shifter. Very cool.

Lincoln offers three different powerplant choices for MKZ. Standard is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder "EcoBoost" (turbocharged) four-cylinder generating 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Optional is a 3.7-liter V6 that Ford installs in vehicles as diverse as the Mustang and F-150 pickup. In the MKZ it's rated at 300 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque. As a point of differentiation the V6 is not found in the Fusion.

For maximum fuel savings, the MKZ returns with its gasoline-electric Hybrid fitted with a 141-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder combined with an electric motor worth a combined 188 horsepower.

The turbo and V6 come with six-speed automatic transmission and front or optional all-wheel-drive. The Hybrid uses a continuously variable transmission and is available only in front-wheel-drive.

Hybrid fuel-consumption numbers haven't been released, but should be similar to the Ford Fusion Hybrid's class-leading 47 mpg city and highway rating (the Fusion uses the identical hybrid drivetrain), compared to 22 city/33 highway posted by the MKZ's turbo four-cylinder EcoBoost engine.

As with most near-luxury sedans, the MKZ can be had with numerous crash-mitigating safety systems that help prevent rear-end mishaps, keep you in your intended lane and alert you to others in your blind spot.

Pricing starts at $36,900 for both the base and Hybrid MKZ (including destination charges) That's comparable to the competition's prices and represents a great deal for Hybrid shoppers. Still the primary challenge is to entice buyers of European and Asian luxury cars to shop the Lincoln brand. The MKZ could be just the right bait to reel them in.

What you should know: 2013 Lincoln MKZ
Type: Four-door, front- all-wheel-drive mid-size sedan
Engines (hp): 2.0-liter DOHC I4, turbocharged (240); 3.7-liter DOHC V6 (300); 2.0-liter DOHC I4 and electric motor (188 net, hybrid)
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic; continuously variable (Hybrid)
Market position: Many leading contenders in the luxury class are following the Lincoln MKZ's lead in offering a variety of powertrains, including gasoline-electric versions that, for a price, deliver impressive fuel economy.
Points: Arresting design no longer looks like warmed-over Ford Fusion; Base turbocharged four-cylinder engine posts impressive mpg numbers but pales against the Hybrid; Retractable panoramic roof makes MKZ's top appear all glass; Shifter is conspicuously absent.
Safety: Front airbags; front-/rear side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 22/33 (2.0); Base price (incl. destination) $36,900

By comparison

Lexus ES 350
Base price: $37,000
Well-appointed luxury car with more powerful Hybrid model for 2013.

Cadillac CTS
Base price: $40,000
FWD/AWD sedan delivers sharp looks and up to 556 hp in CTS-V livery.

Audi A6
Base price: $42,700
Spacious, well-equipped luxury car offered in front- and all-wheel-drive. 

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