There is much sameness in the styling of midsize sedans, so when a crisp zephyr of styling blows in, it gets noticed.
The Lincoln MKZ is a power stroke of divergent styling that can only be recognized as a Lincoln. It’s unique without just being different. And this luxury division of Ford Motor Co. is reinventing the rest of its line with these character lines. The treatment can be seen in the MKC and MKX crossovers and the new Continental concept for a full-size sedan. (Just build it.)
The MKZ (nee Zephyr, in the pre-alphanumeric days of naming) is a competent midsize sedan sold in front- or all-wheel drive and with hybrid and V-6 powertrains. There are three trim levels with pricing that starts at $36,085 for the hybrid or the V-6 gasoline-powered MKZ. The midrange Select Hybrid model starts at $37,790 and the Reserve Hybrid starts at $40,555.
Today’s front-wheel-drive tester is an MKZ Hybrid Reserve Black Label Center Stage. It has a starting price of $46,460, including $895 freight charge from Hermosillo, Mexico, and was $55,055 with options.
Lincoln has the upscale Black Label editions for two models, so far: the MKZ and MKC compact crossover. Black Label vehicles are priced about $5,300 above standard Lincoln models. The vehicles come in four designer themes: Indulgence, Oasis, Modern Heritage and Center Stage. Each theme will come in special colors with exclusive leather and wood interior treatments, not found in other Lincolns. There are six special paint colors.
The Center Stage edition has Jet Black leather and Alcantara cabin treatment with Foxfire Red accents and ebony wood trim. The perforated Venetian leather seats have an L-shaped pattern.
Black Alcantara covers the headliner, windshield pillars, rear-window package tray, seat inserts, floor mat edging and side panels of the center console. The thicker, upgraded Jet Black floor mats have a Lincoln Black Label insignia.
The MKZ interior looks and feels rich and contemporary. And the ride quality is smooth and comfortable with front seats just bolstered enough for support but not to restrict easy entry and exit. The retractable panoramic roof — a 15.2-square-foot glass panel — makes a strong visual statement to passengers. Soundproofing was extensive to provide luxury-class calm.
The Reserve model also has the full suite of luxury perks, including navigation with voice recognition (and a six-year prepaid subscription to SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link), Blind Spot Information System with cross-traffic alert, power trunk lid with soft close, leather-trimmed perforated heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, leather-trimmed and heated rear seats, MyLincoln Mobile app with embedded modem and 19-inch polished aluminum wheels.
The Hybrid models use a new 2.0-liter, four-cylinder hybrid engine and continuously variable transmission. The system does the expected hybrid things, such as auto stop-start at idle, regenerative braking and to boost the engine on hard acceleration. The deep groaning sound made by four-cylinder and CVT on hard acceleration or on long uphills does not convey luxury. But it does sound like money being saved on gasoline and owners will like that. Some luxury brands are offering high-performance hybrid models and Lincoln also could exploit that niche with a top-line engine option to give the Z the power it looks like it should have.
Fuel economy ratings, on the recommended 87 octane, are 41 mpg city, 39 highway and 40 mpg combined. I was getting close to 41 mpg combined in my week of testing.
The back seat area is accommodating with a firm seat cushion, good seatback angle and 37 inches of legroom for adult-size comfort. The area is well equipped with seat heaters, a fold-down armrest with cup holders and storage, 12-volt and 110-volt plugs, coat hooks above each door and a large air vent in the back side of the front console.
The trunk seems larger and deeper than its 11.1 cubic feet, which is somewhat less than the standard MKZ because of the hybrid battery.
I experienced a couple of random electronic issues, with dashboard messages for “Key not in vehicle,” when I was driving; a navigation-system warning, when I wasn’t using the system; and Sync decided it didn’t want to play my Pandora channel. But each occurrence happened just once and didn’t affect drivability.
The Center Stage treatment makes the car seem special and individual. It is not something that is seen — or copied — by other luxury brands.
Black Label customers also get “membership privileges,” including a four-year, 50,000-mile complimentary maintenance plan that covers such things as brakes, fan belts and wiper blades. Lincoln will pick up vehicles from customers’ homes for service appointments. There’s also a network of Black Label restaurants.
Dealerships with the Black Label line must have specially trained sales consultants to work with those customers. The family-owned Witt Lincoln in San Diego is among the Black Label dealers and has remodeled a boutique-like area in the Mission Valley dealership.
“It is a very comfortable, distinct environment befitting of the Black Label brand,” he said. “It is a space to present the product away from the normal showroom traffic.”
Because Witt Lincoln is the only stand-alone dealership in California (selling no other vehicle brands), there will be specific sales associates assigned with BL responsibilities, Witt said, but the entire sales staff has been trained to sell the special vehicles.
“Black Label shows how Lincoln is in its evolution of the brand,” Witt said, “taking the client experience and product to the next level — or even a couple of levels higher.
“The product is exclusive (small volumes) and the owner privileges are, too,” he said. “This is our opportunity to be special to special people.”
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage