Lincoln Motor Company isn’t much for being showy, which explains why my breakfast meeting begins on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental in Columbus Circle. Sure, it’s a beautiful location with expansive city views but it’s also a very far away from the street where the new Lincoln MKZ is parked. Most car companies wouldn’t run the risk of separating me from the car but Lincoln isn’t most car companies.
Lincoln’s brand identity phrase is “quiet luxury” and it’s a concept they take seriously. Still at the breakfast table high in the sky overlooking Manhattan, I notice that MKZ exterior designer Solomon Song is doodling on a napkin, off in his own world. I assume he’s bored but, moments later, he hands me a stunning representation of the new MKZ that he just sketched freehand on a hotel napkin. Amazing! And this, folks, is the essence of effortless performance that Lincoln is known for.
Song has a lot to say about function. Speakers, for example, should be speakers not sculpture, Song says quietly. While he talks, he casts a sidelong glance at two massive black and silver objects near the restaurant’s massive windows. I hadn’t noticed them before but now I take a careful look. Song is right– these seashell-shaped things which are collecting dust as space age window dressing are actually ridiculously expensive ($45K) Bowers & Wilkins speakers. It seems like a bit of waste, which is exactly Songs’s point.
Song believes that nothing in his cars should scream for your attention. It’s an understated philosophy that becomes clearer when we finally head downstairs to check out the car in person. The MKZ parked in front of the hotel has the rearview mirrors tucked in and Song invites me to compare the lines of the MKZ mirrors and the Mercedes parked behind it. I see what he’s getting at. The MKZ mirrors, once folded in, merge with the lines of the body, whereas the Mercedes mirrors cut up and across the window. It’s subtle but now that I’ve seen it, I can’t un-see it.
On the drive up the West Side Highway, I notice more things: How quiet the cabin is, how lush the sound from the Revel audio system is and what a lifesaver the auto-hold function is. If you don’t know about this feature, you need to. Once activated, the auto-hold will apply the brakes for you every time you come to a full stop. Imagine not having to ride the brake in stop-and-go traffic. It’s a wonderful thing. This year’s MKZ also has a pushbutton gearshift. So, instead of using the traditional gearshift located between the two front seats, now you can simply push the appropriate button on the dashboard for Park, Drive or Reverse. This is a feature that I first discovered inside an Aston Martin, which gives you a sense of the kind of quality that Lincoln is pushing for.
Perhaps features like these are the reason that Lincoln car sales are up while the luxury car market as a whole is down by 2%. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Lincoln listens to its customers. Buyers in the premium compact sedan segment generally want three things: Sexy exterior design, high overall quality and, of course, the car has to be fun to drive. With the 2017 MKZ, Lincoln has certainly hit the mark.
In the end, explains Song, it’s about “creating a vehicle that the owner can wear, not a car that wears the owner.” I know exactly what he means.