It never hurts for an automaker to add a little Hollywood glamor to their cars. Product placement, celebrity spokespeople, and a flashy ad campaign can sometimes do wonders for a brand, and if any brand needs that kind of magic right now, it’s Lincoln. Ford’s luxury brand has a real uphill battle ahead of it to win back the hearts, minds, and dollars of well-heeled car buyers, and it’s been working the Hollywood angle hard lately. With spokesman Matthew McConaughey leading the way in a line of polarizing but memorable TV and print ads, the brand has worked its way further into the American zeitgeist than it has been since JFK, Frank Sinatra, and Liz Taylor were driving them.
So it’s no surprise that the brand’s latest big reveal came at last year’s Los Angeles Auto Show. It had already unveiled the Continental concept earlier that year in New York, but the first production car to get that glitzy new design language was the face-lifted MXZ, a Ford Fusion-based midsize sedan. But here’s the rub: The Fusion is a huge seller for Ford (over 300,000 found homes in 2015 alone), and can be had from bread-and-butter basic to near-premium luxury. What’s more, it’s also getting a facelift for 2017, and has an exciting new ringer in the Fusion Sport, which can go toe to toe with brands like Audi and Mercedes in the power department.
So as Ford’s mid-sizer gets even more formidable, and Lincoln’s mid-sizer gets prettier, how big is the overlap? Is it just enough to have something for everybody, or is it in-house competition that’s too close for comfort? That’s what we’ll find out in this week’s Buy This, Not That.
Tale of the tape
The prevailing criticism against the MKZ has always been that it’s just a little too close to the Fusion to be a real contender. Luckily, the brand has gotten the message and has moved its car about as far away from its CD4 platform-mate. The swept-back front-end butterfly-wing grille is now history, and the new sheet metal from the A-pillars forward gives it a bigger, more imposing look. Inside, the cabin is more new Continental than Fusion, with more Lincoln-specific trim pieces, buttons, and control stalks than there has been in years.
But the real ace up Lincoln’s sleeve is beneath the sheetmetal. A 2.0-liter turbo-four is the base engine, and the hybrid pairs a naturally-aspirated 2.0 four to two electric motors, but the gem is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, that is exclusive to Lincoln, and for now, exclusive to the MXZ. What’s more, that engine can be paired with Ford’s torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system (borrowed from the Ford Focus RS), and makes 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. The hybrid is front-wheel drive only, and the 3.0 is limited to 350 horsepower in front-drive models (though that’s still a lot of horsepower going to the front wheels), but overall, the changes to the MXZ are many and impressive, and with prices ranging from $35,935 (a little cheaper than 2016 models) to almost $60K fully loaded, there’s a lot that Lincoln has to offer.
But for $34,450, and topping out at around $40K, the Fusion Sport has been the car that’s really grabbed headlines lately. It made waves a few months ago when Ford announced that its 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 (also found in the F-150 and Edge Sport) would crank out 327 horses and 380 pound-feet of torque – more twist than an Audi S4, BMW 340i, and nearly as much as a Mercedes C43 AMG. Of course, it’s not really competing with those cars, but it’s a minor feat that a mass-market American midsize sedan can do what they can, and for a hell of a lot cheaper too.
The Sport benefits from the Fusion’s overall 2017 nip-and-tuck, as well as a unique grille, decklid spoiler, 19-inch wheels, and quad-tip exhaust. Inside, you can have it in any color you like, so long as it’s black, and since this is a mass-market sedan after all, that’s a lot of black. Fortunately, fit and finish and the quality of materials are very good, and the different textures, soft leather, and aluminum accent trim keeps it from feeling too dark in there.
This is a tough one, and not because the Fusion and the MXZ overlap much anymore; they don’t. The Fusion Sport is likely to bring some much-needed excitement to the full size sedan segment, and you can’t argue with world-class power for a sub-$40K price. But at the end of the day, the Sport isn’t a performance car, it’s a big, comfortable sedan that knows how to get out of its own way. It may have been a long time since we’ve had American sedans that knew how to do that (save for the criminally overlooked Chevy SS), but at the end of the day, we’d probably go for the Lincoln here.
Since the unveiling of the Continental last year, the brand has been focusing hard on its “Quiet Luxury” theme, and the MXZ promises to deliver just that, and at a price that’s right in Fusion Sport range. But with the exclusive twin-turbo V6 and the all-wheel drive system, and despite it not being a sport sedan, we figure you’re likely to have just as much fun in it as the Fusion Sport. Of course, it’ll cost you, but with the new interior and imposing sheetmetal, it looks like it would be plenty worth it. If Lincoln were to put this 400 horse engine and torque-vectoring system in a coupe on the Mustang platform, the automotive world would be ecstatic. Until that day comes (if it ever does), the MXZ is likely as close as we’ll get.