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First drive video: Stylish Lincoln MKZ impresses

First drive video: Stylish Lincoln MKZ impresses

The Lincoln brand has been in trouble for years. Lincoln models have been too similar to their Ford counterparts to make it as credible luxury cars, and no amount of cosmetics and feature enhancements have made them feel all that special. Ford's latest gambit is renaming its luxury division The Lincoln Motor Company. There needs to be more than a name-change to turn Lincoln's fortunes around. It will take product.

That brings us to the MKZ, the first outing for The Lincoln Motor Company and possibly a break-out for the brand. Yes, it's based on the latest Ford Fusion, but thankfully the Fusion is a really nice car with excellent handling characteristics. And the MKZ doesn't look like a Fusion. Styling is unique to this car, and the interior and instrument panel are wholly different from the Fusion's, as well. Interior space is on the smaller end of the mid-sized sedan spectrum, as with the Fusion. (See our Ford Fusion road tests.)

In size, proportions, and sophistication, the MKZ comes across like a very good European sedan. Based on preliminary tests, we find that it drives beautifully, like no other Lincoln before. It rides comfortably and that the cabin stays nice and quiet. The front seats are well-shaped and comfortable—possibly the best seats of any Ford product to date. The gauge cluster is easy to see, but instrument labels are so tiny that only the eagle-eyed younger buyers Lincoln craves will be able to make them out at a glance. (See our luxury car buying guide.)

One feature of note is the gear selector, which is a column of buttons on the dash, just to the right of the steering wheel. Other standard features include LED headlights and tail lights and "drive control," a system that makes constant suspension adjustments to smooth out the ride. Aiding the hushed cabin is an active noise-cancellation system. Also standard is MyLincoln Touch, employing small touch buttons for audio, climate, and communications functions, and the Sync system for voice activation of those functions. We've never much liked MyLincoln Touch because the landing areas for the controls are too small and you have to take your eyes off the road to find just the right spots to hit.

Powertrains consist of either a 240-hp turbo four-cylinder or a 300-hp V6, both mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Most MKZ buyers are expected to choose the four-cylinder. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional. There's also a hybrid version (front-wheel drive only); our equivalent Ford Fusion hybrid yielded an impressive 39 mpg overall.

Also available are a lane-keeping system that warns you if you're straying out of your lane; a blind-spot warning system; and cross-traffic alert, which warns you of oncoming cars when you're backing out of your driveway or parking space.

The Lincoln MKZ has a lot to offer. We'll see how it stacks up against its latest competition, such as the Lexus ES, when we buy one to test. For now, check out our first drive video below.

Updated horsepower, 2/14/13.

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