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Lincoln goes in new direction with MKZ

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2013 Lincoln MKZ

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The luxury division of parent motor company Ford, Lincoln has been undergoing sort of a brand re-imaging in recent years.

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Nothing radical, not like Lincoln all of a sudden is going to, say, put out a gussied-up subcompact as a richer cousin to Ford’s Fiesta.

More like an updating to fit in with today’s tastes.

The company may have built is reputation on big, full-size sedans like the Lincoln Continental and Lincoln Town Car, neither of which are in production today, but its future apparently lies with models like the midsize sedan MKZ.

Originally badged the Zephyr when Lincoln revived the nameplate for the 2006 model year, the MKZ has become Lincoln’s sales leader with figures for November 2013 more than doubling those for the previous year.

Not that the total of 2,854 vehicles sold is a huge number, but it represents an increase of 114 percent over 2012.

Apparently, buyers liked the makeover the Lincoln Design Studio gave the MKZ for 2013.

Certainly its looks, with its overall smooth, sleek exterior profile with rounded edges and featuring the trademark split-wing grille and the futuristic styling on the inside, are the MKZ’s strongest assets. Yes, there is no doubt this is what has been expected of the Lincoln line.

It’s when you get behind the wheel, however, that you feel the differences in this and older Lincolns.

The MKZ shares its platform with Ford’s popular Fusion sedan and, as a result, is a sprightly performer delivering a nimble driving experience. With the optional 3.7-liter V6 engine (300 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, it’s not the quickest in its class, but it’s no slacker either. (A 2.0-liter turbo engine is standard, and a hybrid drivetrain also is available.)

But there is a bit of a downside to that as well. The best way to explain is that you simply don’t get the feel you are driving a luxury car like when you are behind the wheel of competing vehicles from both domestic and European manufacturers.

The MKZ behaves more like a Fusion than others in its class. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it could be a turnoff for those accustomed to driving in the luxury lane.

Inside, the MKZ doesn’t offer quite as much room as some of its competitors, but there’s not a cramped feeling about it by any means. And it is packed with all sorts of technological features, many of which are operated by voice command.

That’s good, because in an attempt to give the MKZ a 21st Century ambiance, designers just may have gone a bit too far when it comes to operation of such features for audio, climate, and navigation systems.

First, there is the shifter for the six-speed automatic transmission. Well, that’s not quite right. There isn’t one. You select Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive or Sport by pushing buttons that run down the left side of the center stack next to the navigation screen. You may then select specific gears by using the steering wheel-mounted paddles.

The configuration of buttons does make for more room on the console itself for storage and cupholders, but it takes some getting used to.

A bigger issue is the MyLincolnTouch system used for many basic controls such as radio volume, station selection, and manual operation for the A/C blower.

Instead of buttons, slim bars run cross the center stack, and you touch them to make the desired adjustments. Though it makes for a clean look that is eye-pleasing, at least to some, they are somewhat lacking when it comes to functionality. You have to touch them just right or you won’t get the desired result.

Of course, you can use voice commands for many functions, and, unlike some earlier systems, the Sync system behaves rather well -- no ordering up a change of radio station and instead getting directions to a Chinese restaurant here.

But why have to talk to your car when a quick flip of a knob will accomplish the desired change in even less the time?

Unless you’re lonely, of course, and want somebody to talk to.

The MKZ starts $36,820 for the base with the 2.0 turbo engine and $38,710, for the V6. A well-equipped MKZ with the V6 can top $50,000. The 2014 model, essentially unchanged from 2013, is a few hundred dollars more.

For a quick look and some more details on the MKZ, check out the accompanying slide show.

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