The Lincoln MKX Late to its Own Party

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

2013 Lincoln MKZ.

At last November’s L.A. Auto Show, Lincoln had its stand filled with new MKZ sedans, set up after the first press day when the newly-renamed Lincoln Motor Company showed off a bunch of classic Lincolns to the media. The message was that Lincoln had been a great American luxury brand in the past, and would be again soon.

At the time, the MKZ was due in dealerships in a few weeks, after a delay from its initially promised on-sale time of October. Lincoln’s pr folks even assured me a drive in an MKZ in early December. Well, December came and went and I hadn’t gotten a car for that promised drive. But there was a bigger problem. Dealers and customers hadn’t gotten MKZs either.

Lincoln was a bit tight-lipped about where all the cars where, but word started leaking out about assembly problems at the factory in Hermosillo, Mexico. The new MKZ was not of a quality standard expected by luxury buyers, and the last thing the new Lincoln Motor Company wanted to do was sell a bunch of cars with defects. Something that the old Lincoln might have done in previous times.

January came and went, and still no MKZs. I was at Galpin’s huge Premiere Colleciton showroom on February 1st to shoot a story at their swanky Aston Martin boutique, and while there I noticed that there was not one MKZ on the floor. Galpin is the largest Lincoln dealer around, and they should have had tons of them.

As the story evolved, it came to light that engineers had been assigned to inspect every MZK coming off the line. Normal industry practice is to inspect random cars (usually one in ten), but this was a serious situation. That shouldn’t seem to take too long, so why the lengthy hold-up? As it turned out, the inspections (and repairs) were being done in Michigan. So cars had to be shipped there from Mexico, where they collected dust in a huge parking lot as a team of engineers and other workers saw to the cars one by one.

Finally, everything was sorted out, and Lincoln says that MKZs are fully stocked at dealerships and that sales are way ahead of last year. (That shouldn’t be too difficult, as one year ago they had a lame duck outgoing car that was neither in production nor particularly desired with a new one on the way.)

And finally, I got behind the wheel of a 2013 MKZ in mid-May, five months behind schedule. A model with all wheel drive, the 2.0 liter EcoBoost four cylinder engine, and the usual array of luxury features. The car looked particularly stunning in a dark shade of grey with polished wheels and a black interior.

Styling is first-rate, particularly when viewed from the rear offset view. A full-width LED taillight is accompanied by the letters L I N C O L N spelled out proudly in chrome. The roofline is dramatic, sloping rearward for a bit of stylish flair. The front shows Lincoln’s latest grill theme, which is designed to evoke the grand Lincolns of the 1930s and ‘40s.

Inside, more style, especially the view from the driver’s seat. Surfaces and textures are luxurious enough, and the gears for the automatic transmission are selected via a vertical row of pushbuttons. Very modern, indeed.

But the car also feels very Ford. That’s not a huge surprise, as the MKZ is built on the same chassis as the Ford Fusion. I felt like I was driving a very nice Fusion at times, but it had been a good 10 months since I’d driven the Ford. Perhaps I was mistaken in that this car felt too much like its less expensive sibling.

So I asked a co-worker who is the owner of a 2013 Fusion to give me his thoughts. He really likes his Fusion, which has the Premium trim level interior and the 1.6 liter EcoBoost engine. His impression was that the MKZ, while more powerful, essentially felt like a next-trim-level-up variation on his car. He even made note that the inner door panels are exactly the same on both cars. The base price for an MKZ is around $35,000, or about the same as a fairly well-optioned Fusion.

Lincoln calls this car a “game changer” and the beginning of a reinvigorated brand. The car is well built and quite stylish, and the example I drove was free of any squeaks, rattles or other defects.

The car was late to its own performance, and now that it’s here, it just has to prove itself in the ultimate challenge of sales numbers.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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