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New Cars Review: 2017 Lincoln MKZ is quietly causing a stir

If a pretty new face won't get the 2017 Lincoln MKZ noticed by more luxury shoppers, perhaps this will get your attention: 400 horsepower. That's serious thrust, and it will be coming to the MKZ later this summer courtesy of a new 3.0-litre twin-turbo V-6 that will be unique to Lincoln.

Still, company insiders aren't promoting the new engine option as any kind of hot-rod Lincoln. High performance in Lincoln culture is more about "getting up to speed effortlessly," says Carole Wilson, Lincoln Canada's national product manager, not about blowing off BMW M cars in green-light drag races. For the luxury customer, Wilson says, the definition of fun-to-drive is "effortless."

It's all in service of the new "space" that Lincoln has staked out in the ever-evolving luxury market: Quiet Luxury. The inside of your Lincoln should be a sanctuary, Wilson says; the way the car interacts with you should be more human. You're not at the helm of a driving machine so much as enjoying your own personal space.

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We'd like to say more about the 400-horsepower option, but Lincoln isn't ready yet to share that. That leaves the existing carryover powertrains – 2.0 turbo four-cylinder and gas-electric Hybrid – to power our first meet-and-greet with the 2017 revisions (the previous 3.7 V-6 is discontinued pending the arrival of the 3.0T).

Most obvious among the 2017 novelties is the new (and distinctly Jaguar-esque) grille. The new design also adorns the upcoming Continental, and will no doubt migrate to other Lincolns over time.

Inside, the MKZ still has its unusual push-button gear selectors on the centre stack, but conventional knobs and buttons have replaced the previous unloved touch-sensitive switches for HVAC. The eight-inch touch-screen interfaces with the latest SYNC3 infotainment system, and trim materials have been upgraded, particularly on the door panels.

MKZ is offered in Select or Reserve trim levels at $42,000 or $46,000 respectively. AWD is now standard with the 2.0T, while the Hybrid remains FWD and wears the same MSRP as the 2.0T. The 2.0T is rated at 245 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft. of torque – gains of five apiece – while the combined system horsepower of the hybrid remains at 188.

That same-price policy has given the Hybrid a high 25 to 30-per-cent share of MKZ sales in the past, Wilson says. While fuel economy is the obvious and worthy attraction, there are downsides: no AWD, smaller trunk (due to space occupied by the batteries) and significantly diminished acceleration. Having driven both, we can also add that when the Hybrid's gas engine is working hard (and it does have to work hard at highway speed), it's tediously intrusive; all the more so in contrast to the impressive refinement of the 2.0T. Of course, the Hybrid's another story when it's running on battery power at urban speeds.

Lincoln describes its market "space" as quiet luxury, but "stealth luxury" might also be a good fit. The only obvious visual cue to the 400-horsepower option when it arrives will be a 3.0 instead of 2.0 badge on its tail. Meanwhile, the 2.0 and the Hybrid had already quietly slipped into Lincoln showrooms. We should have paid more attention.

You'll like this car if ... The way your car makes you feel is more important than how other people feel about your car.

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TECH SPECS

  • Base price: $42,000
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder/electric motor, 3.0-litre twin-turbo V-6
  • Transmission/drive: 2.0/3.0: Six-speed automatic/AWD; HEV: CVT/FWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 2.0: 11.8 city,8.4 highway; HEV: 5.7 city, 6.2 highway; 3.0: NA
  • Alternatives: Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Chrysler 300, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti Q50, Jaguar XE, Lexus ES, Mercedes C-Class, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon, Volvo S60

RATINGS

  • Looks: It’s a handsome car, though we’re not convinced the front’s softer forms blend well with the sharp creases of the hind end.
  • Interior: The MKZ shares its mid-size architecture and wheelbase with the Ford Fusion, but its cabin is significantly and mysteriously cozier. Still, it’s in the ballpark with competitors of comparable exterior size, and roomier than most comparably priced (mostly compact) alternatives.
  • Performance: We’ll give it the thumbs-up mainly in anticipation of the upcoming 400-horse V-6. With the 2.0T, acceleration is merely adequate; the engine is impressively refined for a “four,” albeit rather wheezy at high rpm. Performance of the Hybrid is tepid, and its gas engine sometimes intrusive.
  • Technology: SYNC3 is standard, as is an 11-speaker audio, with 14- or 20-speaker Revel systems available. Reserve trim adds heated/cooled front seats, rear-seat and steering-wheel heaters, navigation, remote start and blind-spot/rear cross-traffic monitoring.
  • Cargo: A standard power trunk lid with soft-close accesses one of the segment’s larger trunks.

THE VERDICT

8

The MKZ offers a lot of luxurious car for the $42,000 starting price. Still, we can't wait to try the 3.0T: Packing 400 horsepower for just $50,500, it promises to be a game-changer.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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