Ford had a very successful transformation under the leadership of Allan Mulally which started late 2006, well before the global financial crisis. The product portfolio was completely renewed and became much more competitive in price and quality.
However, even in this transformative period Lincoln, Ford’s luxury brand, did not get the attention it deserved. It was only until very recently that FoMoCo takes the luxury business more seriously.
Do you remember Ford’s Premier Automotive Group (PAG) formed by then-CEO Jacques Nasser in 1999?
The aim of PAG was to gather under one roof and manage all premium brands Ford owned or acquired in these years. In 2004 Ford had paid about 17 billion for the acquisition of several luxury or premium brands. This was no ordinary portfolio consisting of big names like Lincoln, Mercury, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.
When Alan Mulally became Ford’s President and CEO in 2006, he started dissolving the PAG Group, killed the Mercury brand and sold all other brands in the group. The tragic story of PAG deserves a dedicated article.
The Two Faces of the MKZ
Back to today: Lincoln is now the only luxury brand in Ford’s hands (if we exclude the upscale Vignale line as a sub brand under Ford in Europe) and there is no more room for error.
To gain a fresh idea about the Ford’s Luxury business, I had the opportunity to test drive to versions of Lincoln MKZ, the brand’s midsize sedan based on the successful and mainstream Ford Fusion.
For the 2017 model year, the MKZ had a comprehensive mid-cycle upgrade (I would not call it just make-up).
The new front grill, inspired by the brand-new flagship Continental, is the boldest message of this upgrade. The car now looks much more mature and signals a more refined built quality. To me, this is also a revelation that the design language is still evolving and the brand is still in search of a new identity.
Inside, the dashboard not only has better materials and craftsmanship, but also has better design and functionality with real buttons and knobs instead of “touch-and-drag controls”. The plastic centre console has been replaced with brushed aluminum, and the wood trim complements well the upscale interior. When it comes to learning lessons from mistakes, Lincoln may be ahead of Cadillac.
The new Synch system is a big improvement. It is easier to use, has a new interface and more responsive. Nothing falls short of a feature in a luxury brand. The new capacitive touchscreen works well. However, I am not a fun of touchscreen controls that also leave an army of fingerprints in no time.
There is some evidence to be found that the MKZ is a Fusion derivative such as the floating centre console. However, with shift buttons on the dashboard, you have more space in the centre console compared to a Fusion.
The leather seats in both versions are very comfortable. The legroom in the rear is very good for this class. The headroom would be an issue for people taller than 180 cm, especially if you have the optional Panoramic Roof. However, the cabin feel is lovely under this huge glass.
The Versions, One MKZ
For two weeks (back-to-back) I tested two different versions of the MKZ.
First, the 2.0L version with the 245 horsepower, 2.0L, 4-cylinder Ecoboost engine, a powerplant used also across the Ford line and mated to a 6-speed auto. It delivers 275 lb-ft of torque, sufficient for an enjoyable drive and “effortless acceleration.” The base price for the MKZ is $46,000.
And for an additional $4,500, you get the more powerful 400 horsepower, 3.0L, twin-turbocharged V6 engine. This engine is exclusively for Lincoln. With 400 lb-ft of torque the 1,905 kg, all-wheel drive vehicle wouldn’t be an embarrassment on track.
I can tell you one thing, right away: In the daily commute, the 2.0L engine is powerful enough, (in my humble opinion). It provides effortless acceleration and a good amount of driving pleasure. We are not in Germany with some 13,000 kilometers of highway without speed limit. We are in Canada with an effective maximum speed of 120 km/h.
Our average consumption with both versions was just under 12 liters. With a mixed use and speeds up to the legal limit, this is normal. The combined average as per Lincoln is 10.3 liters for the 2.0L, and 11.8 liters for the 3.0L. For more economically conscious buyers, there is also a Hybrid version as before.
Both our test cars were fully loaded with almost every option available.
The 2.0L version has a MSRP of $61, 825. This price includes $13,925 of options such as panoramic roof for $3,450, Technology Package of $2,450 and Luxury Package of $5,500.
The 3.0L V6 version has a MSRP of $62,900. This price includes $15,000 of options such as panoramic roof for $3,450, Technology Package of $2,450 and Revell Premium Audio System of $1,100. The surcharge for the 3.0L V6 engine is $4,500.
Prices north of 60K is a challenge for Lincoln. These numbers touch the BMW territory without having the same perception.
Lincoln is on a growth path. As a September, in the USA, they achieved a 9 per cent growth in the luxury car market, that dropped 0.5 per cent.
They invest in better customer service where customers can have their cars maintained without leaving home.
It will be expensive, but necessary to build the brand.
Despite the criticism, Lincoln is obviously on the right track to become an established plyer in the luxury car segment. This brand has built great cars for decades, hosted several presidents and has a rich history. And Ford, the mother company took very costly lessons about how NOT to treat luxury brands under its ownership. Now it is almost time for a series of achievements with some fine tuning in pricing policy.
At least, it is a proof that Ford is serious in the luxury game.
Article: Varol McKars
Pictures: Varol McKars, Basak McKars, Burak McKars
Test vehicle was provided by Ford Canada (via BHG Media Fleet)
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