The luxury revival

BY Andrew McCredie. Dec 02 04:00 am

Where Cadillac went Nürburgring, Lincoln has chosen diamond ring. From the end of the Second World War through to the mid-1970s, the two U.S. luxury brands were the darlings of the country club set: rolling, blinged-out symbols of success that epitomized the realization of the American dream.

Then German luxury cars invaded North American shores, followed shortly thereafter by the Japanese, and Cadillac and Lincoln folded like two cheap linen suits. Instead of rising to meet the competition, complacency borne of misguided arrogance saw the two U.S. brands teeter to the point of extinction.

A little over a decade ago, General Motors took one final roll of the dice with its luxury brand, investing hundreds of millions to build a sport sedan squarely aimed at the BMW 3 Series, complete with performance attributes honed on the fabled Nürburgring.

A high-powered marketing campaign positioned Cadillacs as they had never been positioned before. And, from most accounts, it’s worked. The brand is no longer on life support and it continues to bring exciting vehicles to market that really do belong in the conversation with the Euros, particularly in the all-important value-for-money metric.

As for Lincoln, well, it’s sort of where Cadillac was a decade ago, struggling to redefine itself to put its vehicles in the conversation. And so, it too has rolled the dice, but in a different way. True, Lincoln is paying lip service to performance in its new products, but it’s clear that luxury refinement, with a healthy dose of leading-edge technology, is where its masters see salvation. The return of the iconic Continental model to the Lincoln stable for 2017 signals this new direction. As does the 2017 Lincoln MKZ.

The MKZ debuted in 2006, was reworked for a second generation in 2012, and for 2017 has undergone a facelift that includes it being the first Lincoln to adopt the brand’s new design language, previewed on the Continental Concept car. In addition, the 3.7-litre engine has been replaced with an all-new, 350/400-horsepower, 3.0-L twin turbo V-6 unique to Lincoln. So there can be a case made for performance in the MKZ.

For our purposes, however, we’re looking at the 2017 Hybrid, the seventh model year an MKZ has been outfitted with a hybrid system. Like the 2016 Hybrid, the new model is priced the same as the non-hybrid model. And no, not the 400-hp version, but rather the base MKZ equipped with a 2.0-L EcoBoost, albeit turbocharged.

The MKZ Hybrid is available in front-wheel drive only, while the two gas-engine options come in front- or all-wheel drive. Respective horsepower for the three powertrain options are: 350/400 for the new 3.0-L (FWD/AWD); 245 for the 2.0-L turbo (FWD/AWD); and 188 for the hybrid (FWD). Clearly, the hybrid is not for those wanting a liberal dose of performance with their luxury, but if it’s economy mated with luxury you crave, the MKZ Hybrid fits the bill — and then some. Its combined fuel economy number of 5.9 L/100 km puts to shame the comparably gluttonous 11.2 of the FWD 3.0-L and 9.8 of the FWD 2.0-L.

Yet for all intents and purposes, the hybrid version, apart from its powertrain, is nearly identical to its gas-powered stablemates when it comes to design, style and interior. And it is in these three categories where the 2017 MKZ, hybrid or otherwise, really shines — four, if you’re partial to the understated yet elegant exterior body lines. There is no disputing the new grille is a marked improvement over the outgoing Lincoln “waterfall” grille.

There are design improvements inside too, particularly to the centre control panel with much better placement of mechanical knobs and buttons. Best of all, there are fewer of them. The cabin is airy and bright, and offers excellent ergonomics for front- and back-seat passengers. Seats are very comfortable and well bolstered, and the fit-and-finish throughout the interior is first-rate.

What is also top drawer is the quiet ride, and not just because this is a hybrid. There’s active noise control — part of a suite of features under the Lincoln Drive Control banner — a system that uses noise-cancelling technology to quiet unwanted noise. The cabin is whisper quiet at highway speeds.

Aiding the driving experience, and also part of the Lincoln Drive Control system, is electric power-assisted steering that provides light yet crisp steering feel. In terms of performance, the hybrid powertrain might seem a little down on horsepower, but the CVT transmission works well to keep the power coming on through the powerband.

One of the more interesting features, though a small detail in the bigger scheme of things, is the new ambient lighting system that offers seven colours, from a chill blue to a vibrant amber, to set the mood in the cabin. Who needs Matthew McConaughey when you have this feature?

On the subject of neat lighting features, the new MKZ takes a cue from the Ford Mustang, though instead of a Mustang “welcome map” illuminating on the ground outside the driver and front passenger doors, it’s the Lincoln logo. This comes on when you approach the car with the key fob, as does lighting on the door handles and inside the vehicle.

Little touches like those are what have been missing in Lincolns for decades now, and these additions indicate the brand is back on the right path.

Our tester pushed the $46,000 base price to just under the $60K mark, but for that you get the kind of features that really put the luxury, and technology, into this sedan. These options include the huge panoramic roof ($3,450), the Technology Package ($2,450), the Luxury Package ($5,500), 19-inch polished aluminum wheels ($750), multi-contour seats ($750) and an aluminum trim package ($225). That Luxury Package includes an incredible 20-speaker Revel Ultima sound system, along with LED adaptive headlights that turn with the steering wheel when going around a corner.

If the 2017 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is any indication, the brand is on the verge of elbowing its way back into the luxury sedan conversation. Particularly when it comes to combining luxury with economy.

— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016