2007 Lincoln MKZ: Almost Perfect…

For some of us here at Roadfly, the 2007 Lincoln MKZ was one of the most anticipated vehicles of the year. We’ve reviewed a good number of Fords lately, and have raved especially loudly about the new corporate 3.5-liter V6 found in the Blue Oval’s crossover utility vehicles. We’ve sampled it in the Ford Edge and its twin, the Lincoln MKX, as well as Mazda’s CX-9 – now it was time to experience it in a true sports sedan.

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This stellar motor has already gotten attention, winning a spot on Ward’s AutoWorld’s list of the automotive world’s 10 Best Engines. It makes 263 horsepower at 6250rpm, and 249 lb.-ft. at 4500 rpm. What’s significant about this 2007 MKZ has everything to do with this excellent powerplant, and not much to do with its new name.

In 2006, the MKZ was called the Zephyr, Lincoln’s version of the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, an excellent front-wheel-drive sedan based on the Mazda 6. It was a handsome car to be sure, but was powered by Ford’s venerable Duratec V6. At 3.0 liters and 221 horsepower, it’s a fine motor, for a Focus perhaps. But today’s buyer demands more. So for 2007, the Zephyr became the MKZ, and got the 3.5.

The only way to get this rip-snorting engine teamed with this wonderful chassis is to buy an MKZ – the Fusion and Milan soldier on with the Duratec. We think this discrepancy should be addressed, and hope Ford will see the light sooner or later. This is a world-class motor and should be offered in every car the company makes (can you imagine a 263-hp Focus?).

For now, we’ll take what we can get. Our tester MKZ arrived in a color called alloy, which is basically a very dark charcoal grey. The interior was decked out in ebony leather and dark wood, all making for a very handsome combination. The mirrors are chrome, adding a very American touch to a car that would not look out of place on the German autobahn. Standard 17-inch chrome wheels, chrome exhaust tips, and dazzling halogen headlamps complete the package. This is the best-looking sedan to come out of Detroit since the original Taurus in 1986. The front fascia has been updated slightly to coincide with the new name, and the MKZ looks much more aggressive than the pretty Zephyr.

Like all Lincolns, the cabin of the MKZ is upscale, and features the now-characteristic double-hooded dashboard found in the MKX and Navigators we’ve tested this year. Between the hoods is a simple yet elegant dashboard finished in satin nickel, which tapers down gradually and surrounds the shift lever. The navigation system, climate controls, and general functions are well laid out and intuitive, in contrast to the confusing consoles of many German cars that come through our offices. Every button on the MKZ’s console and steering wheel is back-lit with purplish-white LEDs, so even at night, you can clearly see every single one. In addition to being practical, it just looks damn good.

The MKZ features the same square chrome door handles found in other Lincolns, a nice touch with a ton of tactile heritage. Door-mounted controls (windows, mirrors, locks) are done in the same satin finish as the center console. We’ve used “consistent” to describe Lincoln interiors before, and that’s what they are. You can tell you’re in a Lincoln, and a strong brand identity is what separates the best from the rest.

The strong lines and sharp edges continue out back, where the Zephyr’s rear-end treatment carries on largely unchanged (thankfully). Here, too, a strong brand identity had been developed, and the LED tail lamps are unmistakable Lincoln – stretching from the corners of the car inward, with a white lens for the turn signals surrounded by traditional red. However, one of the MKZ’s major flaws is located on this end. It’s nearly impossible to open the trunk without dirtying your hands. Unless, of course, your car is spotlessly clean. The lid is flush with the bumper, and only moves a tiny bit when opened remotely, so your hands will touch the bumper as you grab at it.

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Once underway, the MKZ lived up entirely to our expectations. Our tester, weighed in at just 3762 lbs. despite being equipped with AWD – a good 700 lb. lighter than the MKX. Estimates for the MKZ’s 0-60mph acceleration are in the mid-six-second range, and we think that’s about right. This is a fine motor, and past 4000rpm it revs with the best of them.

The MKZ isn’t as nimble as, let’s say, a BMW 3-series, but it absolutely blows away anything Detroit has put out in recent years that isn’t a compact or . We can’t think of anything that holds a candle to it that doesn’t have a V8, two doors, and a much bigger pricetag. “Sports sedan” isn’t exactly the right phrase to describe this MKZ, since it has a luxurious image to uphold, but it’s more than halfway there.

What could complete the transformation from nimble luxury sedan to a full-on sporting sled? For starters, the MKZ is crying out for a bit of variety in the transmission department. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the current six-speed automatic, which shifts smoothly and allows the MKZ to rev hard and fast. But there’s no manual shift option, and this is the only available transmission.

Lincoln’s now-dead LS sedan had a manual transmission, and we don’t see any reason why this car shouldn’t. It would allow Lincoln to further lower the starting price by a grand or so, and an all-wheel-drive MKZ with a six-speed manual would attract a kind of buyer that Lincoln probably hasn’t even thought about – younger guys, looking for something along the lines of a 3-series, who are wary of German reliability questions, are cost-averse, or want to buy American for patriotic reasons. Sporting buyers want to shift for themselves, and Lincoln might be pleasantly surprised at what kind of crowd it would bring in if that were an option.

That’s really the only other flaw in what is otherwise a fantastic machine. We certainly can’t complain about price – the front-wheel-drive Z starts at just $29,235, and our AWD tester’s MSRP was $31,105. A heating and cooling function for the front seats (incredibly handy for March weather in the DC metro area) added $495, as did HID headlamps. Six months of Sirius satellite radio rang in at $195, also the exact price of the satin/aluminum interior package that accounted for our car’s refined cabin. The navigation system, which at $2,500 buys you an automatic no-charge bump to the THX sound system, brought the grand total to $34,925. The Zephyr sold well at this price point, and we see no reason why the MKZ will do anything differently.

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