2017 Lincoln MKZ 3.0TT Black Label Is the Fastest, Fanciest Fusion

The long-awaited return of the hot-rod Lincoln. Sort of.

Lincoln

The Lincoln MKZ 3.0TT is Lincoln’s second-nicest car, now that the Continental has joined the lineup and claimed the top spot in the luxury brand's hierarchy. Also, quite possibly the fastest-accelerating Lincoln in history, thanks to the combination of its twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 engine, all-wheel-drive system, and midsize sedan proportions—which are more or less shared with its sibling, the Ford Fusion. The MKZ comes in a wide variety of powertrains and trims, but the twin-turbo Black Label version is as lofty as they come. 

WHO IS IT FOR? Lincoln loyalists who secretly loathe losing stop-light drag races to BMWs and Cadillacs, both of the times that happened.

WHERE DID WE TEST IT? From Brooklyn to Vermont and back again.

THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE IS: After years of front fascia flops, Lincoln has finally found a face that works. The new look—shared with the Continental and, based on last year’s Navigator concept, soon to make its way to the company’s full-size SUV—is bold without being brash, confident without being cocky. It’s right in line with the carmaker’s attempts to brand themselves as an understated competitor to Cadillac and other sportiness-first luxury brands.

THING THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO NOTICE, BUT YOU DO ANYWAY: That confident new look only extends as far as the A-pillar. The back half (or even the last two-thirds) of the car still looks more or less the same as it has since Lincoln last redid the car, back in 2012, and the vaguely aquatic-looking tail seems like a vestige of the car’s older, cetacean styling.

The Lincoln MKZ 3.0TT is faster than you might expect

CAR IS GOOD AT: Picking up speed in classy fashion. It’s not a sports sedan, but it’s got a full pint of kickass under the hood. The twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 is currently only found in this car and Lincoln’s flagship; it may not sound as sexy as, say, Jaguar’s supercharged six-pot, but it hurls the car forward with more verve than any other car in the class that doesn’t have the letters “AMG” or “M” stuck to its trunk lid. 

Indeed, with six forward gears, all-wheel-drive, and a twin-turbo six-cylinder engine putting out 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque, this four-door Lincoln’s powertrain specs are in some ways remarkably similar to the Porsche 993 Turbo. Which is one hell of a weird thought to wrap your brain around.

CAR IS BAD AT: Achieving decent fuel economy. The MKZ couldn’t crack 25 miles per gallon over more than 800 miles of mostly highway driving, according to the on-board computer. Lincoln chose to brush Ford’s “EcoBoost” branding off its turbocharged engines; this seemed like a choice to disassociate the fancier brand from the blue-collar connotations of the Blue Oval, but it leaves me wondering if Lincoln also didn’t want people associating efficiency with its wares.

The six-speed automatic transmission, which is two gears shy of the luxury sedan standard these days, certainly plays some of the blame, keeping the engine spinning fairly quickly at interstate speeds. Even so, a company with the resources of the Ford Motor Company should be able to coax a little more efficiency out of a midsized luxury sedan.

TECH: As the top-tier trim, the Black Label model of the MKZ comes with pretty much every technological feature FoMoCo can spare. 

The Revel Ultima stereo jams 20 speakers into the midsize cabin, pumping 1,200 watts of power through them in a variety of interchangeable audio modes; the end result isn’t quite as dramatic as the Volvo Bowers & Wilkins stereo, which still stands as my personal high-water mark, but it’s close.

The infotainment setup strikes a comfortable balance between physical buttons  and touchscreen controls, with often-used functions like volume, tuning, and climate receiving their own fixed controls. Sync 3, the latest version of Ford’s long-despised touchscreen systems, handles the rest competently enough. 

The MKZ comes with what the luxury brand calls “Lincoln Drive Control,” which sounds fancy. In reality, it’s a catchall term that refers to the combination of continuously controlled dampers, electronic power steering assist, active noise control, and engine and transmission programming.  

While my MKZ tester had stop-and-go-capable adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, they were par for the course, at best; the active steering did a solid job of keeping the car between the lines, but the radar-based cruise system occasionally failed to pick up a slower car dead ahead, sending the Lincoln blasting towards another car at collision speed. It was nothing an attentive driver couldn’t catch—but it goes to illustrate the problems with anything short of fully autonomous vehicles. If people can’t depend on these systems yet, what’s the point of having them in consumer vehicles?

 

How does the 2017 Lincoln MKZ Black Label rate?

1. PERFORMANCE: 4/5

2. COMFORT: 4/5

3. LUXURY: 4/5

4. HAULING PEOPLE: 3/5

5. HAULING STUFF: 3/5

6. CURB APPEAL: 4/5

7. “WOW” FACTOR: 3/5

8. OVERALL: 3.75

The Black Label trim may seem like a gimmick—but it's not

WOULD YOU BUY IT? I might, especially if I already had a sporty machine sitting in the garage. Given the car’s Ford Fusion roots, the Black Label interior might seem like lipstick on a pig when you spy it on the options sheet, but in person it seems every bit worth the cash. The materials look and feel almost Mercedes-Benz nice; the front seats, adjustable six ways from Sunday and capable of both back and ass massage, are damned comfortable on a long drive. 

And while I didn’t have a chance to try any of the Black Label’s copious member service features—a personal liaison during the buying process, complementary car washes, special dining privileges at a select list of restaurants—during my week-long loan, they certainly add appeal when weighing whether to take the leap on a three-year lease or a five-year loan agreement.

DEEP THOUGHTS:

Lincoln’s new stylistic direction arrives just as the company seems, after years of wandering in the automotive wilderness, to have found a direction that works for it. I don’t know whether that’s a happy accident or an intentional move, but either way, it works in the carmaker’s favor. Look out world, it says: Lincoln is back.

But to succeed, Ford’s luxury division will need to do more than sell full-sized sedans with nostalgic names and giant sport-utes on truck-based platforms. Lincoln needs cars and crossovers in sizes S and M that are just as fresh, focused, and fantastic to look at as the Continental is (and the Navigator likely will be). By nature of economics alone, the roughly $35K–$55K MKZ will almost certainly outsell the $45K–$69K Continental by a hefty margin.

That’s why it’s vital for the new car to wear the same corporate styling, and why Lincoln needs to make sure it’s as close as possible to the same levels of quality as the carmaker can afford to. Whether it’s in the neighbor’s driveway or on a test drive, far more people are going to experience the MKZ than its big brother. For Lincoln to succeed, those people need to be impressed.

The MKZ isn’t quite up to the standards of the class leaders yet … but it’s much closer than it used to be. Come the next go-around, I have a hunch Lincoln will crack it. And considering the current model’s roots date back a few years, I’m betting an all-new one isn’t too far off. 

(Also, count me among the masses of automotive journalists who hope the resurrected Continental name means Lincoln is returning to actual words for its models. I’d much rather see that next car be called “Zephyr” than some tri-letter combination of consonants.)

SPECS:

1.Price (as tested): $49,560 ($63,515)

2.Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6, 400 horsepower, 400 pound-feet; six-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive

3.Fuel Economy: 17 city, 26 highway

4.Towing Capacity, Oddly Enough: 1,000 pounds

5.Times I glanced back at the car to check out the front end during a week: 6