I have a framed print of Clark Gable in the driver’s seat of a Lincoln Zephyr, probably a 1939 or 1940. It’s classic Gable — stoic, looking forward, not giving a damn, in what was likely a paparazzi shot.
I bought the black-and-white image not for Gable but for the interior glimpse of the car — and that name, Lincoln Zephyr. It is not possible to say those words together and not conjure a forceful image.
It was a grand name and a grand actor, both now collectibles. But I cheered in 2006 when Lincoln revived the name for its new-generation midsize sedan.
And then I tsk-tsked when Lincoln dumped the name a couple years later in favor of the once-chic, alpha-numeric designators. The Zephyr became the MKZ, with some nod to Lincoln history, from the MK or Mark series of cars. But now the MKZ name floats in the same alphabet-soup bowl as TL, A4, 328i, CTS, C350, G37, ES 350 — all competing in this price and size segment.
To me, MKZ will always be Zephyr and for 2010 this business-class family sedan has gone through a serious early redesign to freshen just about all aspects of the car, from performance to more assertive styling to interior refinement.
Base pricing is up by $1,400 over the 2008 models, but the improvements are convincing value points. The base, front-wheel-drive MKZ starts at $34,965 and the all-wheel-drive model at $36,855.
The Tuxedo Black test car was $42,450 with one mega option pack for $5,595, which added such features as adaptive headlights, a dynamic surround-sound audio system, a voice-activated navigation system and 17-inch chrome wheels.
Based on the Ford Fusion, the 2010 MKZ is quieter and smoother riding with an edge toward sport-sedan fitness. The ride quality is compliant but firm enough to respond when the driver cracks the throttle and dives into a corner.
And to raise the level, a new sport-appearance package adds stiffer springs and larger stabilizer bars, 18-inch polished wheels, unique grille and darkened headlight covers and contrasting piping on the leather. Pricing ranges from $795 to $1,295, depending on the content level of the car.
In my first outing with the non-sport, all-wheel-drive test car, I merged onto the interstate and was soon muttering that traffic was surely moving slowly — until I glanced at the speedometer. Oops, it was me who was moving fast. The quietness of the cabin made nearly 80 mph seem like 65.
The 263-horsepower V-6 propels the car smartly with a refined touch between accelerator, braking response and steering. The electronic driver aids of stability and traction controls with AWD do not stutter and blink hesitant delays when the driver demands an evasive maneuver, which is a common compromise on European sedans attempting to second-guess the American driver.
Fuel economy is 17/24 mpg for AWD and 18/27 for front drive, with 87 octane recommended. There is solid simplicity in the cabin layout. All controls are where they should be and are easily accessed, with redundant steering controls for many functions. Sightlines are uncompromised and the turning circle is tight for AWD, at 38.3 feet.
Standard Bridge of Weir leather has a rich texture, with perforated centers that are heated and cooled. The chrome appears to have heft — and chrome is a defining factor of a Lincoln, as is the genuine wood trim, which is used tastefully if not sparsely.
Sharing a foundation with the mainstream Ford Fusion doesn’t mean MKZ is a car for everybody — particularly if the driver or passenger is 6-foot-4 and taller. There’s little headroom for big-and-tall occupants without leaning the seat waaay back. Technically, there are 38.7 inches of headroom, but the combination of moonroof (optional) and the height-adjustable Lincoln front seats must favor shorter occupants.
There is decent back-seat legroom, but footroom behind the driver is cluttered by seat-adjust hardware and wiring. Shoulder space is generous and the ride quality, as in the Fusion, is benevolent to those subject to motion sickness.
The trunk is huge, wide and accessible with a low lift-over. Lincoln spent too many years trying not to be Lincoln but something more Euro-import hip. It is reassuring to see the brand return to embrace what made it an enduring American brand: styling, chrome, wood, leather and comfort, all in the correct proportions.
This stage in Ford’s re-generation of the Lincoln brand — now free of interference from Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin — puts more money — more support — behind the iconic American nameplate. There is room to push the Lincoln image in this car, but for consumers who want to buy American, the 2010 MKZ is a step up without it being a step too far.
2010 Lincoln MKZ AWD
Body style: midsize, five-passenger sedan in front-or all-wheel drive
Engine: 263-horsepower, DOHC, 24-valve, 3.5-liter V-6
Transmission: six-speed SelectShift automatic
Acceleration, 0-60 mph: 7.1 seconds
EPA fuel economy estimates: 17 mpg city, 24 highway (18/27 FWD); 87 octane recommended
Trunk space: 16.5 cubic feet
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 38.7/42.3/57.2 inches
Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 37.8/36.7/55.8 inches
Length/wheelbase: 189.8/107.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,796 pounds (3,598 front drive)
Standard equipment includes: remote locking with driver-door key pad, perforated Bridge of Weir leather-trimmed (heated and cooled) front seats, 60/40 folding back seat, 11-speaker six-disc CD-MP3-Sirius audio system, 17-inch aluminum wheels, heated outside mirrors with puddle lights, 10-way power adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control
Safety features include: six air bags, AdvanceTrac stability and traction controls, ABS with electronic brake-force distribution
Base: $36,855, including $850 freight charge; price as tested, $42,450
Options on test car: Ultimate package, $5,595, includes THX II 5.1 surround sound audio system, moonroof, 17-inch chromed wheels and the Technology package, which adds adaptive HID headlights, rain-sensing wipers, ambient lighting and the Navigation Package of voice-activated navigation with 10 gigabyte Music Jukebox and Sirius Travel Link
Where assembled: Hermosillo, Mexico
Competition: Acura TL, Audi A4, BMW 3-series, Cadillac CTS, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti G37, Lexus ES 350, Mercedes-Benz C-class
(set image) May063009-visual.jpg (end image) (set caption) Lincoln returns to its American car roots with the right mix of luxury, power and style with the 2009 Lincoln MKZ. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Co. (end caption)
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at mark.Maynard@uniontrib.com.
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