You didn’t know Lincoln makes a 400hp, 400lb-ft, AWD Audi-killer? You are forgiven, because the base-model MKZ is a snooze-fest. Admittedly it’s a better-looking snooze-fest lately, now that the front fascia has been upgraded from “hideous” to “Continental.” Still, snooze-fest cars don’t merit column-inches around here.
However, spec the MKZ as Black Label, and click the boxes for 3.0T, AWD, and Driver’s Package, and you’ve got a genuine sports sedan. Ford Motor Company bores out their 2.7L EcoBoost V6 to three liters just for you, Mr. or Mrs. Lincoln Customer, and links the rear tires to the drivetrain via the twin hydraulically-operated, electronically-controlled 7-pack clutches in the rear differential. That rear diff is shared with everyone’s new favorite hot hatchback, the Focus RS. In the RS application, the diff can route 100% of the rearward-fired torque (up to 70% of the engine’s total torque output) to either one of the rear wheels—the same should be expected in the MKZ Driver’s Package.
The combination of the 3.0T and that beautiful differential means that when you’re on your test drive and decide to beat a grungy 350Z with an atrocious body kit around a corner and onto a ramp, you can do so effortlessly. And your sales guy, who might tragically be somewhat over-accustomed to FWD MKZ 2.0Ts, will be a bit startled and amazed at how easy it all was. Well, that was my experience, anyway.
“Black Label” is something of a lifestyle choice, or at least that’s how Lincoln pitches it. The fringe benefits include annual detailing, “reservation assistance” at some high-class restaurants, and a 4-year/50,000 mile maintenance plan that actually DOES cover normal-wear items. But the real reason you want Black Label is the luscious interior themes, and on the MKZ, there are three: Thoroughbred, Chalet, and Vineyard.
I had the pleasure of driving a Thoroughbred MKZ, and while black interiors are not my favorite (Chalet would be my pick), opening the enormous dual-panel panoramic roof brightened up the experience more than enough to allow me to overcome my personal bias. The roof doesn’t just let light in—the glass slides almost completely back, so you can enjoy a convertible-like experience. The Chestnut Leather on the center console and dash is rich and sumptuous, and all Black Label MKZs offer an amazing 20-speaker Revel Ultima Audio setup by HARMAN. I’d like to dig into the audio system a bit more, but what I briefly toyed with was pretty impressive.
The blessing and curse of this car is that “MKZ Black Label Driver’s Package 3.0T AWD” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and there’s been very little “buzz” surrounding this MKZ since it was announced at the LA Auto Show last November. This means the cars are—and will likely remain—pretty uncommon, and you’ll probably have to place an order to get what you want (you want all the elements mentioned above, and you want the panoramic roof…you can probably do without all of the semi-autonomous options). Ordering it means you’re paying market value, which is probably pretty close to MSRP, which is mid-to-high fifties, which is rather a lot for an up-engineered Ford Fusion with a gigantic plastic key fob and not a ton of rear-seat headroom.
On the other hand, instead of being a “snooze-fest,” this spec of MKZ is inarguably the most current dictionary definition of “sleeper.” It’s the most powerful Lincoln ever. It is no-joke fast and sounds impressive from behind the wheel. The 6-speed SelectShift gearbox shifts smoothly, positively, and fairly quickly with a tug on one of the wheel-mounted paddles. In Sport mode, the transmission holds gears as long as you like, and throttle mapping and suspension settings are adjustable from the in-dash menus. Every time you open the trunk you’re treated to a reminder that yours is not a snooze-spec MKZ; there’s some extra bracing back there to help that trick rear diff get power to the tarmac. It works—around uneven corners and over heaves in the pavement, the car remains steady, composed, and unflappable.
The two facts: a) that Lincoln wants mid-fifties for one of their cars and b) that the very proposition is not completely laughable, coalesce to indicate a very good thing. Ford has been pouring money back into the Lincoln brand for a few years now, and it seems the return on investment has begun to trickle in. Yes, this is an up-engineered Fusion, but it’s a worthy competitor to an A6 or a CTS Vsport or a 535i. And because Lincoln has been nigh-invisible for so long, it’s not likely that you’ll be seeing many of these during your commute. Lincoln is well and truly back, and now you’re among the first to know. Check it out.