With Lincoln MKZ, luxury is relative

| Saturday, March 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

It takes more than good genes to survive almost 100 years in the auto business. It requires grit, stamina, courage and, in the case of Lincoln, a tremendous amount of chutzpah to “introduce” a company that's been around longer than the light switch. Like 111-year-old geriatric Cadillac and the even more elderly 114-year-old Buick, Lincoln is part of an automotive old folks club that refuses to go gently into the night.

With its 2013 MKZ, Ford's luxury division kicks off a four-model reinvention strategy designed to appeal to buyers who are younger than the brand's 65-year-old median age but still AARP-eligible. Unusual as it seems to reboot a legacy brand with a redo instead of an entirely new model, the MKZ makes a certain amount of sense. In the seven years it's been on the market, the midsize sedan has become Lincoln's best-seller, part of the fast-growing, entry-level luxury segment.

What luxury means, of course, is relative. In the case of the MKZ, it forgoes dramatic exterior design for creature comforts and safety features in a vehicle priced ever-so-slightly out of reach of mere plebes. The version I tested cost $49,585.

The first vehicle to emerge from Lincoln's dedicated design studio in Detroit, the 2013 MKZ sports a slightly more aerodynamic and edgy style than the outgoing model with a large panoramic roof, LED brake lights that extend across the entire rear end and a split-wing grille vaguely reminiscent of a Beemer. Still, its most significant innovations are technological.

The base model MKZ is powered with a 2.0-liter inline-four cylinder engine. I was driving the 3.7-liter V-6, which was responsive off the line and felt completely comfortable cruising the carpool lane at speed. It did, however, yield an abysmal 21.7 mpg. A hybrid model more than doubles fuel economy to an EPA-estimated 45 mpg and is priced the same as the gas model, which starts at $36,800.

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