Remember when Lincoln rode the luxury lanes side-by-side with Cadillac?
Some of you younger folk may not remember the memorable 1956 Continental Mark II, and the '59 Mark IV. That one gave birth to the luxurious Town Car, which later would become its own nameplate for 30 years. Converted often into a stretch limo, it became the ride of executives - and even chief executives. Think White House.
Well, Lincoln is going to great lengths to remind us of those glory days. The Ford-owned carmaker even displayed some of the golden oldies at the Los Angeles auto show last November. Lincoln is hoping what once was can be again.
And it all starts with the 2013 MKZ, the first of four models designed to restore the Lincoln name and reputation. If this is Lincoln's renaissance, it's not a bad start.
Oh, the MKZ has been around awhile, but this year it's 5 inches longer, and wider, too. It's the first car to be born of Lincoln's own design studio and displays a split-wing grille and an LED taillight that runs across the tail. Creases on the hood and a sweeping roofline round out a distinctive look.
"Pretty sharp car; what is it?" asked one guy as I emerged from it at a gym.
"That's the new MKZ - and Lincoln's future," I said, briefly explaining the game plan.
Now, let's be frank. The MKZ shares much of its roots with the Ford Fusion, also redesigned and re-engineered for 2013. But don't be too quick to think the MKZ is just a rebadge of the Fusion.
Yes, you get the same turbocharged 4-cylinder and hybrid powerplants as the Fusion, but you can also get a 300-horsepower V-6 with the MKZ.
And, rather than a shifter on the center console, a row of buttons high on the center stack offers gear selection - reminiscent of the Ramblers and Plymouths and Dodges of the late '50s and early '60s. Dodge called it "the magic touch" when it first came out in 1956.
Footnote: I had a buddy with a '63 Plymouth Valiant that had push-button drive, and he was amazing as he popped those buttons back and forth to wriggle into a parking spot.
But that's not necessary with the MKZ's optional parallel-parking feature: With hands off the wheel, it will get you into the spot. Well, sort of. It takes some practice but I did get it to work.
The rest of the center console is thoroughly modern - smooth and flat, featuring touch controls rather than buttons or dials.
Another plus with MKZ over the Fusion is Lincoln Drive Control, with which electromagnetic dampers give drivers a choice of Normal, Comfort or Sport modes. And they actually work, offering a real difference in drive feel, unlike some.
The base engine, as aforementioned, is the same one as the Fusion, a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that gets 240 horses and 270 pound-feet of torque. But opt for the 3.7-liter V-6 and you have, essentially, the same 300-hp engine as in the Mustang. That one zips to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds.
Both engines are linked to a 6-speed automatic tranny with paddle shifters for those who want to take control of their rpm. All-wheel-drive is optional for more traction than the standard front-wheel setup.
Buzzing around town and on the highway manages a combined EPA-rated 26 mpg. Go for the AWD and it's only 1 mpg less. With the V-6 and FWD, mileage drops to 19 mph city, 28 highway for a combined figure of 22.
But the good news for the mpg-conscious: The MKZ, like the Fusion, comes in a hybrid version. And it delivers more miles per gallon than any other luxury hybrid in the nation - 45 mpg combined. I didn't fill the tank all week, which rarely happens on a test week.
Also, Lincoln is the only brand to offer the hybrid model at the same price as the conventional engine. That's an exceptional deal.
If you're worried about being shortchanged on premium goodies because you bought the hybrid, think again. The standard hybrid gets the MyLincoln Touch with 8-inch screen, leather seats, LED headlamps, and Lincoln Drive Control.
The ride is smooth and composed. There's good feedback in the steering, and it handles the bumps and dips along construction-afflicted interstates.
Handling is decent, perhaps better than ever for Lincoln. But the MKZ is not as nimble as the lighter and smaller sporty numbers from Germany.
The interior is elegant. Roominess is decent, though taller folks may find it a tad tight, especially in the rear where the roofline slopes back.
Trunk space is about average for the class at 15.4 cubic feet. But the hybrid, as is typical, chops off more than 4 cubic feet of that because of the battery pack.
All the expected safety features are here, including ABS, stability and traction control, front-side, front-knee and side-curtain air bags. Taking center stage, though, is the Technology package, which offers blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and collision warning with brake assist.
Trims? Only two, the standard MKZ and the hybrid. But there are option groups, like the Select package which adds rear-view camera and rear parking assist and wood trim on the steering wheel. Or the Reserve package, with navigation, blind-spot detection and power trunk lid. The Preferred package adds 19-inch wheels and 14-speaker sound system,
Among stand-alone options is a panoramic glass roof with integrated sunroof.
Having bid a sad farewell to the flagship Town Car two years ago, it is exciting to see a resurgence of the Lincoln. Time will tell if Lincoln can run with the big luxury boys again. But, if the MKZ is any indication of the new direction, I like its odds.
2013 LINCOLN MKZ:
-Base price: $35,925
-As tested, including destination charge: $49,800
Read more here: Auto review: MKZ gives Lincoln fresh start on road to relevance | Business | NewsObserver.com