With your left hand’s thumb, scroll through the steering wheel-mounted controls and select Settings. Move up to Driver Assist. Proceed to Drive Control. Then select Comfort.
Now your 2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve Hybrid is a good ol’ fashioned barge of an American car, with enough rear end float to make pregnant women seasick. Firm? Far from it. That dip in the pavement half a mile ago is still causing the rear occupants’ bellies to teeter-totter as the MKZ attempts to locate its equilibrium.
Pair this menu selection with a prod of the Eco button to the right of the central touchscreen and you now have a modern Lincoln that mostly ignores throttle input, steers with remarkable lightness, and turns potholes into pillows. That sounds like the perfect Lincoln for a customer base that has all but gone extinct.
Fortunately, the refreshed MKZ Hybrid does not need to be driven in Comfort/Eco mode. In fact, the 2017 MKZ is at its best when, as is often the case, Lincoln allows the MKZ to manifest its deep-seated Ford Fusion roots.
So why not buy a Ford Fusion instead?
There are a few good reasons. Pre-refresh, the second-generation MKZ (initially known as the Zephyr in first-gen form) was easily criticized for an interior that bore few signs of upmarket intention aside from unnecessarily complicated controls. In terms of the latter, Lincoln has remedied that problem with an array of straightforward buttons for climate controls and Ford’s sensible, if not awe-inspiring, SYNC3. (You’ll still need to delve into deep menus with steering wheel controls for Drive Control and advanced safety system settings, however.)
As for the former complaint, material quality, particularly across the centre console, is much improved. Gone is the previous car’s matte grey, scratch-fantastic plastic. There are soft bits and metal pieces in all the right places. (Just don’t expect Lexus-levels of build quality: in hard right turns, the centre console’s cupholder cover in our MKZ Hybrid tester would flip open.)
For those willing to pay far more than they would or could on a Fusion, the MKZ can also be optioned up as a genuinely sumptuous car.
On top of the 2017 MKZ Hybrid’s U.S. market $35,935 base price, spend another $4,500 for Reserve trim, $4,400 for a luxury package featuring a 20-speaker Revel audio system, $2,395 on a technology package filled with active safety kit, $2,995 for a vast panoramic glass roof, $595 for special 19-inch wheels, and $595 on hugely adjustable multi-contour massaging seats.
In this case, the $50,820 2017 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is by no means merely a Ford Fusion by any other name.
Yet in an age of spectacularly equipped Kia Sportages, high-tech features and abundant levels of active safety technology are no longer enough to provide convincing arguments for luxury status.
Even under part throttle, the 2017 MKZ Hybrid’s 2.0-liter is often a raucous partner. Lincoln says the brand now majors on Quiet Luxury, and that may be true in other MKZs or in the new Continental, but quiet this hybrid is not.
Accelerating uphill on a highway on-ramp, the MKZ Hybrid doesn’t have to feel underpowered, but your right foot instinctively holds back to avoid drumming up intrusive droning. If carpool duty means there are Lexus ES300h owners in the back seat of your MKZ, you’ll be embarrassed.
There are hybrid dividends, of course. Our first week with a Lincoln MKZ Hybrid in March 2014resulted in fuel economy readings 45 miles per gallon. With air conditioning cranked this week, the 2017 MKZ achieved an impressive 39 mpg. Remember, Lincoln doesn’t ask hybrid buyers to pay more. The 2.0-liter gas-only turbo is marketed with the same $35,935 base price.
Aside from the sometimes noisy powertrain, there are other niggling issues that cause the MKZ to feel insufficiently Lincoln-ized. The rear seat is by no means expansive, rear ingress is awkward, and the central hump is intrusive. All of that extra hybrid gear restricts trunk volume by 28 percent compared with the regular MKZ. The cooled seats positively roar when in use. Lincoln’s robotic massage therapist isn’t nearly as good at his job as the active bolster designer. Ford’s version of lane keeping assist lacks intelligence but is full of enthusiasm, regardless of its strength setting. Lincoln’s center-stack-mounted “shifter” tries hard to be different but manages to annoy and stand out because of cheap texture and operation. The Revel audio system sounds decidedly upmarket but doesn’t produce a great deal of volume.
And why is that grille so sad?
But there are strong Fusion undertones, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. Outside of Comfort and Eco modes and away from the Sport mode’s periodic harsh impacts, the 2017 Lincoln MKZ reminds me just how full of Euro Ford flair the Fusion truly is. Lively, nicely weighted steering mixes with a chassis that never tries hard to be sporty: it’s just balanced and communicative and capable of more than you’re likely to ever ask.
It would be easy for an auto writer, one who wouldn’t dream of spending $50,820 on a midsize sedan that makes me look older than my father, to draw attention to the inherent value of the MKZ’s Ford Fusion foundation. But that is not what’s going on here. I have no problem appreciating the merits of sedans priced far higher than this MKZ, whether they’re based on mainstream transportation or share nothing but windshield wipers with proletarian automobiles.
The 2017 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid just doesn’t make a great $50,820 car — equipment upgrades and copious chrome don’t hide the fact that further fine-tuning is required to make the MKZ a viable high-dollar car.
Many, perhaps all, of the MKZ’s faults would nevertheless be easily overlooked at $37,895, the price at which a 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid Platinum is equipped, in large part, like this very MKZ Hybrid.
[Images: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]