HOUSTON, Tex. -- Alphabetical nameplates spell the future for cars by Lincoln out of the Lincoln-Mercury Division of Ford Motor Company.
First one emerging from the Class of 2007 is the MKZ. We're pointing a front-wheel-drive (FWD) version of the MKZ through a curvy section of Memorial Drive as it meanders through Buffalo Bayou Park, a brief greenbelt interruption to the concrete sprawl in urban confines of Houston, Tex.
The MKZ looks classy and sleek, and it makes a dramatic statement of style as we roll along the parkway. Bold designs for the body use signature styling cues lifted from Lincoln's contemporary line, such as a chrome-encrusted grille decorating the prow with a row of vertically slotted fins. Overall package shape features a windshield with steep rake and the rear window also with an aggressive slope plus side windows tipping inward to the roof.
Flanks show slight bulges for fenders around large wheels with a chiseled character line etched into the leading edge of each front fender and drawn rearward in a gradual rise to the tail deck. And a high beltline pitched parallel to the character line gains a satin aluminum trim strip along the bottom edge of cabin windows.
On the tail, there are large red light-emitting diode (LED) lamps streaked by clear-lens crossbars mounted on the top edges of the trunk deck. This is a tall structure too. Doors run deep to make cabin entry easy and seats are elevated so passengers sit in a higher position than in other sedans of comparable size.
If the package design of MKZ seems vaguely familiar, it's because this same vehicle popped up only a year ago in the Lincoln line under the badge of Zephyr. For 2007, however, Lincoln drops the Zephyr nameplate in favor of the alphabetical designation of MKZ.
With rechristening, MKZ scores new chrome-plated front styling and an upgrade in the power department with a new twin-cam 3.5-liter V6 engine connecting to a six-speed automatic transaxle. Further, MKZ is available with FWD or optional on-demand all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.
MKZ measures up for the mid-size class as a four-door sedan with the passenger compartment large enough to carry five riders in comfort. It's built on Ford's CD3 architecture which also underpins Ford's Fusion sedan and the Mercury Milan. The FWD platform traces to a smaller chassis designed by Mazda of Japan for the mid-size Mazda6 sedan.
For MKZ, the CD3 architecture forges a stiff foundation for constructing a sedan of reasonable scale with responsive driving traits customized for Lincoln-branded comfortable ride quality and driving dynamics.
Components consist of a short and long arm (SLA) arrangement up front with lower control arms and a 24-mm stabilizer bar, while in the rear there's a multi-link design with coil-over-shock and lower control arms plus a 17-mm stabilizer bar.
MKZ rolls on 17-inch alloy wheels with machined-aluminum or chromed-aluminum finish. This is a tall structure too. The doors stretch deep to make cabin entry easy and seats are elevated so passengers sit in a higher position than in other sedans of comparable size. Within the cabin, MKZ seems generous in scale with reasonable room for passengers.
A traditional layout shows a pair of bucket seats in front flanking a multi-level console and a sculptured bench in back with slots for two but room for three. Seatbacks on the bench divide by 60/40 percent and each side folds down flat to expand stow space of the big trunk. Decor for the cabin is understated in retro-Lincoln styling theme with luxurious materials in satin aluminum, soft leathers and real wood plus occasional bright glints of chrome.
The optional AWD traction device for MKZ is a sophisticated electronically-controlled system that's always engaged and automatically splits the engine's torque between front and rear wheels to keep tires sticking securely to pavement, wet or dry. The point of the AWD hardware is to maintain forward momentum and keep the MKZ operating in a safe mode.
Other hardware promoting active safety on MKZ includes a precise rack and pinion steering mechanism and standard four-wheel disc brakes, with anti-lock brake system (ABS), electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and a traction control system (TCS). For passive safety MKZ contains dual-stage frontal air bags for front riders with smart sensors in place to track the severity of a frontal crash along with the driver's seat position in proximity to the steering wheel and whether seat belts are being used.
Side-impact air bags for front seats and curtain-style air bags for front and back rows are also aboard. All versions of MKZ draw power from the new 3.5-liter aluminum V6 engine tied to the six-speed auto shifter. The plant produces 250 hp at 6250 rpm plus torque of 240 lb-ft at 4500 rpm - power numbers at the top of the class.
Standard equipment on MKZ ranges from power controls for windows and door locks plus a remote keyless entry device to dual-zone climate system, power adjustable heated exterior mirrors with puddle lamps, a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes with redundant audio and climate controls, power controls on the driver's seat and the front passenger's seat, the rear bench with 60/40 split back and a trunk with best-in-class 15.8 cubic feet of storage space.
And there are fancy options -- front seats outfitted with internal heating and cooling elements, plus a DVD-based GPS navigation system with 6.5-inch video monitor mounted in the dashboard, and Sirius satellite radio service. MKZ also offers a blow-the-doors-off THX II deluxe audio kit. The surround-sound system adds 14 audio speakers, including two subwoofers with 600 watts of power. Expect the MSRP for MKZ to begin at $29,175 for a FWD version and $31,050 with AWD.