Classy cousin

by Kelly Taylor  . Jun 24 2016

PICTOU, N.S. — Economy of scale can be a double-edged sword: if you’re McDonalds, ordering a million pounds of ground beef gives you some clout. If you’re a carmaker, trying to get a noticeable bump in profit margin from basically the same model can be tricky.

In the case of Lincoln, that’s been made somewhat easier by Ford’s selling of Volvo, Land Rover, Jaguar and Aston Martin. Without the lower ends of those brands bumping into the high end of Lincoln, Ford has a bit more freedom to move Lincolns, which are all rebranded variants of Ford products, upscale, a thought confirmed by Carol Wilson, product manager for the Lincoln MKZ in Canada.

The MKC is a pricier Escape, the MKX a pricier Edge and the MKZ a pricier Fusion. So providing a compelling reason to cross over from the Ford store to the Lincoln showroom has become a priority for Lincoln. The MKC, for instance, has an engine you can’t get in an Escape. You get a more personalized experience shopping Lincoln than Fords. There are concierges to help you, the showroom is upscale and the loaner policy is simple: if you bring in a Lincoln for service, you drive away in a Lincoln as a loaner.

With the MKZ, some of that distinction has been less clear. And Wilson pretty much admitted such. Customers complained about the cheapish plastic on the centre console, the downmarket trim on doors and speaker grilles and, like most Ford products till recently, the ergonomics of the various controls, which had been either touch-slide style controls, touch controls or behind menus in the information display.

Each of those has been addressed: there’s now brushed aluminum for the centre console, stainless-steel trim now covers speakers in the door, door materials have been upgraded and the most used controls are now either buttons, knobs, levers or switches. (In Ford products, controls have been similarly improved.)

There’s a higher level of standard equipment — even between the base model MKZ and the topline Fusion, which is slightly more expensive. Adaptive high-intensity discharge headlights are standard on the MKZ. On the Titanium Fusion, LED headlights are standard, but they don’t steer into turns. LED headlights are an option on the MKZ.

All-wheel drive is standard on all MKZ models except the hybrid. And, in what’s a change for hybrid models, there’s no upcharge for a hybrid. An MKZ Select with a gas engine is $42,000, and an MKZ Hybrid Select is $42,000. The MKZ Reserve is $46,000 and the MKZ Hybrid Reserve is $46,000.

Is there a compelling reason to jump from a $23,000 base Fusion to a $42,000 MKZ? No. Is there a compelling reason to jump from the middle or top of the Fusion lineup to an MKZ? Absolutely.

If you like the Fusion — and that’s the operative question — you’ll like the MKZ even more. The engine is tuned for a bit more power and a bit more torque. The levels of standard equipment are a bit higher — all-wheel drive is standard on the MKZ, optional on Fusion.

The sound system in MKZ is by Revel Audio, and while we weren’t initially overly impressed, when we adjusted the fader forward, the soundstage seemed to expand and created an overall better experience. Not convinced it’s better than the Sony system in the Platinum Explorer, however. The Revel Audio Ultima, an option, ups the speaker count from 13 to 20.

If you aren’t a fan of Fusion, the MKZ might be a difficult sell owing to the similarities in the driving experience.

The 2.0-litre engine, rated for 245 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, is very willing and easy to like. It scoots to speed quickly and remains relatively economical, about 9.5 litres per 100 km on average for our largely highway drive.

Roadholding ability is quite good, to the point my driving companion had to be quite careful: 130 km/h certainly didn’t seem that fast, even on the tight, twisty roads of northern Nova Scotia. The handling setting can be switched from normal to comfort to sport. Normal is adequate for most driving, comfort is like driving across a memory-foam mattress and sport tightens the suspension nicely without becoming harsh.

On the non-hybrid model, the suspension settings can be set to track the transmission selection: in Drive, for instance, you might want it to default to normal and to the sport setting when setting the transmission to Sport. Speaking of which, the transmission in Sport is transformed. Upshifts are blocked out for a delightful amount of engine speed, while downshifts are much more readily invoked with the throttle. There is, of course, a fuel-economy penalty for doing so. Steering-wheel paddles will invoke manual shifting if you wish.

Room inside the cabin is spacious, with plenty of rear-seat legroom even with the front seats all the way back. Taller journalists riding in the rear seat found headroom an issue with the sunroof, and the amount of front-seat travel backward seemed a touch on the small side. Taller folk in either front seat might find it a bit cramped. The trunk is also relatively small. Oddly, it loses almost 20 litres to the Fusion. The trunk in the hybrid is even smaller, at 314 litres. That, too, is smaller than the Fusion Hybrid trunk. The hybrid did take both our rollaboards and both of our computer cases, so for the right driver, the trunk might be more than adequate.

The hybrid is a thrilling ride, said nobody, ever. The focus is clearly on fuel economy, with only adequate passing power and acceleration. That said, the typical hybrid driver may well relish the experience, knowing every uninspired start is saving fuel and emissions. These drivers may also see passing as a crime against humanity, so that may be a non-issue, too. It just might be the price they’re willing to pay to get to our 6.1 l/100 km average.

The 2017 MKZ is a worthwhile consideration as an upgrade to mid and higher grades of Fusion, particularly at its base price of $42,000, or even the $46,000 Reserve model. At higher prices, however, it enters the stratospheres of even more luxurious brands, such as Mercedes and BMW. Our tester, a Reserve model with luxury and technology packages, for instance, tipped the scale at $60,900.

The hot-rod Lincoln isn’t here yet, but will be an MKZ with a 400-horsepower 3.0-litre V-6.