COAL: 2014 Lincoln MKZ – Redemption

As my COAL series heads towards is inexorable conclusion, second story arc begins to emerge. In the first half of this series, I focused on my quixotic search for automotive perfection, only to find out (somewhat sheepishly) that it was available all along at any Honda dealership. The thread that begins to emerge in the second half is that of automotive regret and redemption. Getting a compromise car, being miserable for a few years before getting what I really should have gotten in the first place.

As you recall from my last COAL on my 2011 Buick LaCrosse, one of the cars I cross-shopped was the Lincoln MKZ. (That COAL, by the way, was the least popular entry to date in my series, based on the number of comments. Certainly not a good sign for Buick). Indeed, the MKZ would seem to be a better fit for my needs than the LaCrosse, sporting such niceties as all wheel drive and those magical air-conditioned seats I first experienced almost a decade earlier.

So why didn’t I get the Z? One word: Walrus. I’ve previously touched on my dislike for the 2010-2011 MKZ front end, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that stylistically, the first generation MKZ was a dud, looking too boxy and altogether too much like a Ford Fusion. The LaCrosse, by way of contrast, had much more interesting styling, and that is what I ended up getting.

The lesson here is that bad styling can ruin an otherwise good car, which the first-gen MKZ surely was. Lincoln must have agreed, and the second generation MKZ, released in 2013, sported much more slippery styling, and shared nary a body panel with the Fusion.


If you’ve followed my career at all, by now you know that I’ve been bought and sold more than a minor league ball player.
About a year after starting at Edgepark Medical Supplies (which had just been acquired by a private equity firm), the company was flipped to Dublin, Ohio based medical behemoth Cardinal Health for around 2 billion dollars.

One of the perks of working for a large corporation is the discounts that are available from suppliers and customers of the company. In the case of Cardinal Health, this meant X-Plan pricing from Ford, Friends and Family pricing from GM, and supplier pricing at Chrysler. While there isn’t anything particularly special about X-Plan pricing (you could probably negotiate a similar deal on your own with sufficient arm twisting), the nice thing is I no longer have to go through all the haggling and posturing to get that best possible deal. Even better, I get this prenegotiated deal on special order cars, which is virtually impossible to do otherwise, as dealers would much rather sell you a car off the lot and seldom negotiate on special orders.

So armed with my choice of pretty much any domestic branded car at near cost, I immediately honed in on the MKZ that I almost got last time, never seriously considering anything else. Well, I did consider the Fusion Titanium, but a the time goodies like LED headlights and front parking assist were unavailable on the Fusion (although they are now).

Really, the only decision I had to make was four cylinders or six. The MKZ was (and still is) one of those rare vehicles where every trim level was available with every powertrain (4 cylinder, V6, and hybrid). So there is no penalty in terms of equipment for choosing a “lesser” powertrain.

After decades of driving sixes, I felt certain that I would get another one. The last great four-cylinder engine I owned was my 1994 Acura Integra GS-R, almost half a lifetime ago (and retrospect, it wasn’t really all that great). One has to go back even farther for the last time I had experienced a turbocharged four: All the way to my 1985 Chrysler LeBaron GTS. In short, my four-cylinder experience was a little out of date.

 

So in the interests of fairness, I decided to test drive both engines, back to back, both with all wheel drive (I didn’t consider the hybrid, although I might have if it were available with AWD). I must give Ganley Lincoln, the local dealership, credit for indulging me in my experiment. First I drove the V6. I knew that the 3.7L Duratec V6 was an aging design, without modern niceties like direct injection or variable valve timing. Still with 300 hp and 270 ft-lb. of torque, it moved the car with authority, and without the agricultural sounds that I’ve heard others complain about coming from this engine. Not bad.

Next up was the 2.0L Ecoboost four.  With 270 hp and 240 ft-lb. of torque, both numbers trailed the V6 by exactly 30. As soon as I pressed the start button, I knew that this was not my father’s four-banger. None of the steering wheel shaking or engine hoarseness that I recall from the old Chrysler 2.2L were present. Indeed, from inside the passenger compartment at idle, it was difficult to tell what was humming under the hood. Pulling away, there was only the slightest hint of turbo lag. Certainly nothing like the second or more that I experienced with the LeBaron. There was also none of the peakiness that I recall from my Acuras: The torque curve was a flat as day old Coke. Under power, it had that cammy four-cylinder sound I recall from my Acuras (albeit far more muted).

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I have no need for tire scorching performance. My needs are limited to the car getting out of its way, and the Ecoboost seemed to do just fine in that regard, so I ended up getting it. If all other things were equal, would I have preferred the six? Of course. But all things are seldom equal, and I found it hard to justify the several thousand dollars for a far less sophisticated engine.

The MKZ largely lived up to my expectations. The air-conditioned seats were pure joy, while the heated seats (which reversed the coolers to blow hot air) and heated steering wheel made winter tolerable. The push button transmission, far from being a gimmick, was actually quite useful. Not having a shifter lever freed up a great deal of storage space in the center console, and allowed for the now fashionable “flying buttress” style center console. While Lincoln was one of the first to ditch the shift lever (and caught a lot of grief for it), most manufacturers have since followed suit with a variety of push button, knob, or column-based electronic shifter controls.

The LED headlights were exceptionally bright, to the point that oncoming cars would sometimes flash their brights at me (presumably to congratulate me for driving such a fine car).

About those bulbs – take a look at this section I’ve excerpted from the owner’s manual above. While every car I’ve owned since the LED CHMSL on my 1994 Acura have at least some LED lighting, this was the first car I’ve owned illuminated entirely with solid state lighting. The interior ambient lighting in seven different colors livened things up as well.

 

SYNC 2. Yes, the outside temp was really -20 degrees.

Even the much maligned SYNC 2 didn’t bother me too much. Other than being a bit sluggish to response, I found it to be highly capable, functional, and intuitive to use. I loved the fact that I could change the background wallpaper image on the screen.

Really, I only had one major complaint, and that was with the THX sound system. Almost all the cars I have owned have had some variety of premium sound (Bose, Harmon Kardon, Acura ELS, Chrysler Infinity), and the Lincoln THX was easily the worst of the bunch. While the simulated surround sound had good presence, the bass was exceptionally flat. Lincoln must have realized this, having since switched to Revel for their premium sound systems.

But really, I would have to count the Z as being among the finest cars I’ve owned. Truly a Car of a Lifetime.