Sleek Lincoln MKZ seeks slice of luxury market

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Sleek Lincoln MKZ seeks slice of luxury market

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When I told colleagues and friends I was going to test drive a Lincoln, there were generally two responses.

First were the people who asked, “Abraham Lincoln?” For them, I had to explain that in addition to the being the surname of the 16th president of the United States, Lincoln is a venerable luxury car from Ford.

Then there were those who responded, “Yeah, I saw that car at a funeral,” a reference to the well-known behemoth Lincoln Town Car typically driven by people dressed in black suits. For them, I had to explain that the new model selling in Korea is anything but somber.

Unlike other luxury brands, recognition of Lincoln is weak here. Some car fans argue Lincoln represents a “classic” image, but for many, it’s either unknown or a car old people drive.

Ford admits it. After selling off premium brands like Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo, the American automaker has given the funeral-procession Lincoln a makeover with a fresh, modern flair.

For Korea in particular, it is also about timing. Ford is currently one of the hottest foreign brands in the country. For the first nine months of the year, Ford sold 5,175 units, up 42.1 percent from a year ago.

As Korean consumers’ perception of American cars improves, Ford has pushed the new Lincoln MKZ, a midsize luxury sedan, as a challenge to German brands that dominate the domestic luxury market. In May, Korea was the first Asian country to get the model.

So far, it has been a success. Ford Korea said initial shipments of the MKZ sold out, and more are on the way.

The MKZ is the first model created by the Lincoln Design Studio, although critics deride the MKZ as little more than an upgrade of the Ford Fusion.

The first thing drivers notice is the “split-wing” grille, a reinterpretation from Lincoln’s famous 1938 Zephyr.

What’s more interesting, though, is the rear of the car. A tail lamp that runs the width of the vehicle gives the MKZ a futuristic look, though the trunk resembles that of the classic Ford Mustang. The most disagreeable feature of the exterior design may be the stubby antenna on the car’s back.

Korean designer Soo Kang contributed to the modern and elegant interior.

The first thing drivers notice is what’s not there: a gearshift. It’s not on the center console or on the steering column. The MKZ has a push-button transmission gear selector arranged vertically on the dashboard, so from ignition to the highway, changing gears is done by pressing buttons.

Transmission buttons may seem strange and awkward to use at first, but once you get the hang of them it’s fast and easy. Those who want a more traditional feel can change gears using a paddle shifter behind the steering wheel.

Just like the Ford Fusion, the dashboard is all touch pad with no dials, which makes controls neat and organized. At night, drivers can personalize the cabin atmosphere with ambient lighting in seven colors from purple to green, which illuminates the front-console cup holders and door release handles, among other things.

The 8-inch LCD touch screen is used to operate the navigation system, phone and entertainment functions, although its popular SYNC and My Lincoln Touch systems don’t support the Korean language. The LCD instrument cluster has an analog speedometer, but the needle is digital, and buttons placed on the steering wheel allow easy use and adjustment of the various entertainment functions.

The highlight of this car is its panoramic sunroof with its 15.2 square feet of glass, which Lincoln claims is the largest opening available on any sedan. Once you completely open the roof, it feels like a convertible. However, one disadvantage is that the glass panel extends about halfway down the rear window, which interferes with sight lines.

Everything seems nicely done inside, but backseat passengers will find the MKZ lacking. There is no rear air-conditioning control or heated seat back there; flaws that should be remedied if the MKZ is to retain its luxury image.

Out on the road, the MKZ performs adequately, but don’t expect a sporty or powerful feel from this front-wheel drive car. Ford says the 2.0-liter (0.5-gallon) Ecoboost engine is the performance equivalent of a 3.5-liter V6, and the power is delivered softly and stably with extraordinary sound deadening.

The MKZ offers a comfortable drive, equipped with a lane?holding assist system and an automatic high beam, which I found very useful, and adaptive cruise control, parking assist and a collision warning system.

Fuel economy of the MKZ was disappointing. Driving in large urban areas like Seoul, the car gets about 7 kilometers per liter (16.3 miles per gallon).

In short, the MKZ is a worthy ambassador for the new Lincoln brand and should be competitive given its 47 million won ($44,000) price tag. For those who want to stand out from the BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Lexus crowd, the Lincoln MKZ is well worth considering.

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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