Lincoln is trying to reestablish itself as a contender in the world of luxury cars. Leading the brand's rebirth is the 2013 Lincoln MKZ, which is based on the highly competent Ford Fusion sedan. We recently had the chance to drive the MKZ for several days to see if it has what's necessary to stand up to major players such as Lexus, Acura, Infiniti and even Mercedes-Benz.

Inside and Out

From the outside, the new MKZ can be opinion-splitting. Personally, I find it handsome, as did virtually everyone on our staff who had the chance to spend time with it, one editor simply said "Stunning." However, we're sensitive to those who don't like it. Admittedly the grille, wheels and taillights are all a little unusual, so they take some time to get acclimated to. But once you're used to them, the MKZ has a stately look and a unique style that goes beyond the bland look of some rivals.

Inside, the MKZ model's cabin isn't quite up to the exterior's high-class look. We're not overly-impressed with the buttons used to select the sedan's gears, which are on the center stack next to the touchscreen display. And the steering wheel feels positively cheap -- especially on some of its spokes where the horn pad meets the rim. But the overall look and feel of the MKZ's interior is on par or maybe a little nicer than rivals like the Lexus ES. One of the problems here is that of perception. Based on the MKZ's futuristic, concept-car look, our expectations were unexpectedly high.

Technology

One of the MKZ model's strong suits is its long list of high-tech features. We really like the center-mounted MyLincolnTouch system, which is easy to use and responsive to the touch. Our test car's hands-free parallel parking system, dubbed Active Park Assist, was also exciting, though its rapid pace is slightly unsettling. Nonetheless, it perfectly parked the MKZ in a medium-sized spot about an inch from the curb.

Our test car also included adaptive cruise control, which was easy to use and worked as expected. However, several drivers found the Collision Warning system to be a little intrusive. It includes flashing red lights and a loud warning chime when it detects an imminent crash. The system's sensitivity may have been because our MKZ tester was a pre-production model, not the final version that shoppers will see at thier local dealership.

Perhaps the only really disappointing issue with our test car was its lack of a sunroof. It's hard to believe drivers who pay around $44,000 including destination have to tack on an extra $1,200 for a simple feature such as that -- especially considering all the MKZ's high-tech gadgets.

Enough Power

Everyone who got seat time in the MKZ was wowed by nearly all driving characteristics. The biggest praise came from one of our editors, who noted the MKZ is "quite possibly the quietest car I have ever driven." Indeed, road noise was hushed -- but I actually found the ride to be even more impressive. Bumps were surprisingly muted and even the most jarring roads didn't cause any drama.

The MKZ received more positive remarks for its handling and acceleration. All drivers agreed that the steering was nicely weighted and balanced -- no surprise, considering its Ford Fusion roots. We were more taken with the MKZ model's 2.0-liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine. In addition to being efficient (The EPA says 22 miles per gallon city/33 mpg highway), it's also smooth and powerful around town. On the highway, however, passing feels just a little sluggish. Still, it would be hard to convince us to spring for the available 300-horsepower V6. The turbocharged 2.0-liter engine really add a lot of character to the MKZ.

We liked the MKZ a lot. And after a few days of driving it, we look forward to seeing what else Lincoln has in store. While it isn't perfect, the MKZ is certainly a great contender -- and for once, it's good enough to mount a strong challenge to top-tier rivals.

The MKZ is sharper and more focused than the Lexus ES, but not quite as performance oriented as the Infiniti G37. Luxury sedan shoppers tend to have favorites and it's probably going to be hard to win BMW and Lexus owners over, albeit for dramatically different reasons. In the end, the MKZ is clearly worth a test drive, for some that will be enough to seal the deal.

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Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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