Lincoln. When you hear the name, what car do you see in your mind? I immediately go to the Elwood Engle-designed Lincoln Continental from the 1960s. The fourth-generation Continental hardtop and convertibles defined the times in America, from the halcyon glamour days of the Kennedy administration to the limousine in which JFK was assassinated. The car’s “suicide” doors – rear doors hinged from the rear – were a defining characteristic.

The Elwood Engle-designed Lincoln Continental was the epitome of elegance.

The Elwood Engle-designed Lincoln Continental was the epitome of elegance. Image from Arizona Car Collectors

From 2004 – 2011, the HBO series Entourage used a black 1965 Lincoln Continental Convertible in its opening credits. The image of the four young stars riding through Hollywood in their top-down ’65 Lincoln ending with an overhead shot of them all exiting and slamming the doors in unison solidified the car’s cultural cool image for the 21st Century.

Another Lincoln that comes to mind is the classic Continental Mark series. Elizabeth Taylor owned a 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II – considered one of the most beautiful, expensive luxury cars ever made. In 1956, the car cost around $10,400 – close to $90,000 today. There was the 1970 Lincoln Continental Mark III used to smuggle drugs in its rocker panels in the classic Gene Hackman cop drama, The French Connection.

Elizabeth Taylor's 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II. Stunning. Simply stunning.

Elizabeth Taylor’s 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II. Stunning. Simply stunning.

And of course, over the past three decades (1981-2011), the Lincoln Town Car became synonymous with black car livery service.

2011 Lincoln Town Car

2011 Lincoln Town Car

Lincoln. What defining styling feature comes to mind? For me, aside from the aforementioned suicide doors of the 1961 – 1969 Continental, I think the bold vertical Rolls-Royce style grille, flanked by hidden headlights, stands out. First displayed on the 1969 Lincoln Continental Mark III – a true personal luxury flagship coupe – the feature defined Lincoln through the 1985 model year with the Continental Mark VI.

This 1970 Lincoln Continental Mk III was definitely a statement car.  An executive's personal luxury car.

This 1970 Lincoln Continental Mk III was definitely a statement car. An executive’s personal luxury car.

Today, the four-door Continental nameplate has been dead for a dozen years. There hasn’t been a Continental Mark coupe since the Mark VIII in 1998.  The truth is that Ford’s Lincoln division has been on life support for at least 20 years, selling mostly warmed-over Ford SUVs and rebadged sedans. It’s hard for consumers to believe Lincoln is a luxury car company if the parent doesn’t.

In a bold and risky effort to save Ford from bankruptcy, as part of his One Ford strategy, CEO Alan Mulally sold off its luxury brands – Jaguar/Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin, liquidated its controlling interest in Mazda and shuttered Mercury. He borrowed more than $40 billion just before the 2008 financial market meltdown that caused the Great Recession.  This was great timing as Ford would never have received a gigantic line of credit after Lehmann Bros went belly up and some of the world’s biggest banks nearly collapsed.

Mulally’s big bet paid off and Ford dodged the waves of recession bankruptcies that consumed GM and Chrysler in 2009. To the surprise of many, including me, Ford decided to save Lincoln. They couldn’t give up on the luxury (or near luxury) market and the corresponding higher margins that are built into premium products. In other words, Lincoln was worth saving.

First up, Ford hired a hot-shot young designer, Max Wolff, to create a modern Lincoln styling language. Mr. Wolff reached way back to a pre-war 1941 Lincoln Continental design for inspiration for the split-wing grille we see today. It’s supposed to evoke an eagle – but more metaphorically I’d say it looks like the wings of a Phoenix rising from the ashes. And if we’re getting into metaphysics, I’d posit that the ashes represent the burned pile of crap that was Lincoln before this new generation MKZ.

This 1941 Lincoln Continental Coupe first displayed the "eagle's wing" used as inspiration for the modern face of Lincoln.   Barrett-Jackson auction picture.

This 1941 Lincoln Continental Coupe first displayed the “eagle’s wing” used as inspiration for the modern face of Lincoln. Barrett-Jackson auction picture.

Next Ford took the symbolic step of renaming its Lincoln division to The Lincoln Motor Company. Cue the appropriate and warranted sneers and rolling of eyes. This was a waste of time and money, but the marketing department thought it was important. So be it.

Today, the new face of Lincoln, and its de facto flagship, is the MKZ sedan. Designed by Solomon Song and introduced in early 2013, the MKZ is the first all-new Lincoln under the new masthead.  While the larger Taurus-based MKS is slotted above the MKZ in pricing, it’s all but ignored by Lincoln’s marketing department and consumers.

The 2014 Lincoln MKZ makes a bold statement. The new face actually seems to work well on this car, particularly if you see it in person.

The 2014 Lincoln MKZ makes a bold statement. The new face actually seems to work well on this car, particularly if you see it in person.

In Lincoln’s bewildering naming scheme, MK = Mark. The Z is for Zephyr – a 75 year old nameplate from Lincoln’s (nearly) forgotten past.

Together with the upcoming 2015 MKC, a compact crossover based on widely-popular Ford Edge, the MKZ will either revive Lincoln in the near-luxury market or consign it to the automotive graveyard. Lincoln can’t lose money forever.

The 2015  Lincoln MKC hopes to capture a profitable chunk of the red-hot compact crossover segment.

The 2015 Lincoln MKC hopes to capture a profitable chunk of the red-hot compact crossover segment.

Fundamentally, the MKZ is a nicely-dressed Ford Fusion. It runs on the same platform, uses mostly the same powertrains and shares most of the stuff you don’t see or feel.

But the MKZ isn’t just a badge-engineered car. It has a very distinctive look, front and rear, and the interior appointments are a definite cut above the Fusion. I test drove the 2014 MKZ Hybrid, which starts at the same $37,085 as the entry-level front drive MKZ with 2.0L Ecoboost engine.

I think the new style works best from the rear of the MKZ. The slim LED-lit taillights make a beautiful sweep across the entire back of the car. It looks great at night.

I think the new styling cues are most successful from the rear of the MKZ. The slim LED-lit taillights make a beautiful horizontal sweep across the entire rear of the car. It looks terrific at night.

The hybrid drivetrain is shared with the Fusion. A 141-hp Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and 118-hp electric motor combination are mated to a planetary CVT (continuously variable transmission) and 1.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It has a pushbutton transmission selector, unique to Lincoln, located on left side of the center console. The buttons worked well, but quickly rocking the car from reverse to drive (like maneuvering into a tight space) might be frustrating.

The infotainment and controls of the center stack are framed by the push-button transmission along the left side.

The infotainment and controls of the center stack are framed by the push-button transmission along the left side.

I drove a fully-loaded model with the $5,375 Preferred Equipment Group and the $2,250 Technology package. All in, the car was $46,380 – and it could have gone higher if I wanted the $2,995 retractable panoramic sunroof – a gigantic (and heavy) sliding glass panel that is now a “signature” Lincoln feature.

The panoramic glass moonroof on the Lincoln MKZ is an engineering marvel. The light inside the cabin is really striking, day or nigh. Power shades can filter out the summer sun.

The panoramic glass moonroof on the Lincoln MKZ is an engineering marvel. The light inside the cabin is really striking, day or nigh. Power shades can filter out the summer sun.

The car was quiet, the steering was nicely weighted, without a hit or road feel. The regenerative brakes were a bit grabby, which seems to be fairly normal on hybrids these days.  I found the car comfortable, but wished for a little more thigh support. Perhaps the $595 multi-contour front thrones with the “Active Motion (11-Bladder)” massage feature would be a better investment than the ambitiously-priced $1,200 single-pane moonroof on my tester.

The cockpit of the MKZ Hybrid has a modern, high tech look.

The cockpit of the MKZ Hybrid has a modern, sleek and clean high tech look.

I loved the sound of the THX audio system, but I still have reservations about the MyLincoln Touch infotainment interface. The voice control was hit and miss. I found the on-screen icons a bit confusing and I’m still not a fan of the touch and slide controls on the center console for adjusting volume, tuning, temperature and fan. That said, they worked far better than those on the CUE system in the Cadillac ATS I drove last year. I think most drivers end up just using the physical buttons on the multifunction steering wheel.

The 2015 MKC will address some of these complaints with a return of physical knobs. Hallelujah!

The latest-generation MyLincoln Touch system sees the return of round knobs and physical buttons to replace the touch controls found in the MKZ.  It's unclear if the 2015 MKZ will adopt these changes, but it's likely.

The latest-generation MyLincoln Touch system sees the return of round knobs and physical buttons to replace the touch controls found in the MKZ. It’s unclear if the 2015 MKZ will adopt these changes, but it’s likely.

The biggest drawback I found was the compromised trunk space in the Hybrid. Trunk capacity drops from 15.4 to 11.1 cubic feet – not an insignificant 4.3 cubic feet.

The tech package stuff seemed to work perfectly. I tried the adaptive cruise control and lane keep assistants and they worked as advertised. Front and rear parking sensors were useful and the active park assist was uncannily accurate – although I didn’t try it in heavy traffic with a tight parking space.

The EPA rates the MKZ Hybrid at 45 mpg (city/highway/combined). But actual users at FuelEconomy.gov give it a range of between 33 to 40 mpg, with an average of 36 mpg. So don’t plan on 45 mpg in real-world driving. Bummer.

I enjoyed my time in the MKZ, but it was a completely forgettable experience. I struggled to remember anything exciting about it just 24 hours later. I really liked the self-parking feature, but how often would I use it? And that feature’s not unique to Lincoln.

So would I spend the extra $7,000 for the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid over the comparably-equipped Ford Fusion Hybrid? Probably not, although the Lincoln warranty (4/50,000) and dealership sales/service experience would be much nicer than rolling with the great unwashed masses at the local Ford dealer. The all-new 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid is an attractive new “green” car with tons of advanced tech features. The Toyota Avalon Hybrid is about as close you can get to a Lexus without the name and its cargo capacity is 14 cubic feet – only a 2 cubic foot loss to the hybrid’s battery. Between $35,000 and $50,000, there are many worthy (and more memorable) competitors.

This is a 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid, Titanium Edition (unchanged for 2014).  It has that handsome Aston Martin face.

This is a 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid, Titanium Edition (unchanged for 2014). It has that handsome Aston Martin face.

The 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited is also a good alternative to the MKZ.

The 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited is also a good alternative to the MKZ.

I think for me to be interested in Lincoln again, it will have be a rear drive luxury flagship – maybe a new millennium Continental Mark car. Ford has a newly-reworked rear drive platform underpinning the 2015 Mustang that debuts on April 17, 2014.  I’m begging Ford to give Lincoln a product on this platform. Anything else, count me out.

Chat  —  Posted: March 12, 2014 in Lincoln
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Just two weeks ago when I drove by Buerge Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in West Los Angeles on Santa Monica Blvd., the lot was full of cars. Fast forward to today, it’s a ghost town and fork lifts are hauling out service equipment.

All the inventory is gone from Buerge Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram in West LA

All the inventory is gone from Buerge Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram in West LA

Whatever valuable tooling existed in the service department was being carted out. Perhaps it had been sold or it was being repossessed by a bank or leasing company.

Whatever valuable tooling existed in the service department was being carted out. Perhaps it had been sold or it was being repossessed by a bank or leasing company.

What happened, I don’t know for sure, but I can speculate: Terrible customer service finally put the nail in the coffin.

The tiny showroom was a humbled design that was never updated. It could have been done, but the owners didn't invest much in the facilities.

The tiny showroom was a humbled design that was never updated. It could have been renovated, but the owners didn’t invest much in the facilities.

I’ve shopped at Buerge before and I’ve never  had a good experience at this dealer.  And I know it wasn’t just me.  Many of the Yelp reviews were brutal.

I remember my last visit to the showroom. There were no sales associates anywhere to be seen – not even a receptionist. And there were three other customers wandering around looking at the cars on the showroom floor, wondering if anyone was going to bother to talk to them.  When one sales guy showed up, we had to let  him know who was waiting the longest, like we were at the prepared foods counter at Gelson’s. Naturally, I knew more about the car than the salesman – not surprising – but this guy seemed particularly clueless.  It must have been a horrible, depressing place to work.

The lot was very small by modern standards, but there was no place to grow. The rear abuts residential property and the dealership already occupied the full city block. The original lots just weren't very deep.

The lot was very small by modern standards, but there was no place to grow. The rear abuts residential property and the dealership already occupied the full city block. The original lots just weren’t very deep.

After I purchased my 2012 Dodge Charger from another more responsive dealer, I took my car to Buerge for service as it is the closest dealer to me in West Hollywood and I can ride the MTA 4 or 704 to a stop one block form the dealership.

The service people never found the electronic gremlins that plagued my outside temperature gauge (constantly wrong) or why the climate control system didn’t properly sense the cabin temperature, but I was horrified by the customer “lounge” which hadn’t been updated since the building was built, probably back in the 1970s. The ceiling tiles were stained from ancient water leaks. The coffee “station” could have come out of an episode of The Office. The windowless room was truly soul-sucking.

I took these pictures about 2 years ago. Note the ancient TV.

I took these pictures about 2 years ago. Note the ancient TV. And check out that fantastic coffee station. No expense spared, right?

It's like they bought the seats at a surplus auction from a defunct Greyhound Bus station.

It’s like they bought the seats at a surplus auction from a defunct Greyhound Bus station.

 

It's hard to see, but there were water stains on the ceiling tiles.

It’s hard to see, but there were water stains on the ceiling tiles.

The dealership website is still online, but when you call the toll-free number, after the initial recorded voice, you’re connected to a fast busy signal. As the unceremonious notice on the door says, they are “Closed for Business as of 2/17/2014.”

Like the way the owners ran the business, the "closed" sign was a simple notice with no information or explanation.  Maybe they lost their lease? Maybe the real estate was too valuable for a poorly-performing business? Who knows?

Like the way the owners ran the business, the “closed” sign was a simple notice with no information or explanation. Maybe they lost their lease? Maybe the real estate was too valuable for a poorly-performing business? Who knows?

This is bad news for Chrysler as this leaves the company with no store in Metro Los Angeles — the same problem plagues Chevrolet. My choices are now Van Nuys, Glendale, Downtown LA, Inglewood or San Fernando. None of them are on a transit route and none are convenient.

There’s a huge market for Chrysler-group vehicles and factory service in Metro LA. Perhaps another dealer group will take up the franchise in Santa Monica or even Mid-Wilshire.  Jeep is a hot brand, as is Ram.  Just because Buerge finally tanked doesn’t mean a well-run group can’t fill the vacuum that now exists. Any takers?

Update: April 22, 2014

I received a flyer in the mail from the “All-New” Hooman Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Los Angeles – NOT conveniently located Inglewood.  This is apparently the replacement for Buerge, but I wonder why I got a flyer for my minivan but not my Charger.  Odd.  However, I won’t be taking either my 2012 Dodge Charger or my 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan there for service.  It looks like I’ll stick with Crystal Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram Fiat in Cathedral City.

Hooman Chrysler Jeep P1 Edit

Hooman Chrysler P2

Chat  —  Posted: March 3, 2014 in Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Los Angeles Specific Issues, Ram
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