THE LINCOLN MKZ is the first in a series of cars that Ford hopes will rebuild… (Spencer Platt, Getty Images )
If shoes make the man, tires make the car.
And that's perhaps why Lincoln slapped Ferrari-caliber tires on a media car it delivered toautoreviewers. The expensive rubber was first detected by Edmunds.com, which in turn blasted the automaker for trying to mask the shortcomings of its new MKZ sedan.
Edmunds.com, the Santa Monica car buying guide, noticed that the MKZ completed a slalom course faster than a BMW M5 — among the best-handling sedans on Earth.
"That's exactly the kind of data point those tricky tire-switching Lincoln engineers were hoping for. Foolish. Instead of trying to game the media, Lincoln should have designed and engineered a better car," Erin Riches wrote in a scathing review.
Ford objected to the Edmunds assessment.
"That insinuation is simply not true," said Timothy Elliott, a Lincoln spokesman. "The summer tires that were specified for the California-based media are in a sport package that will become available in January. This is not gaming the system."
The tires in question are actually available on the MKZ. Trouble is, fewer than 1% of consumers will actually get those tires, a Ford Motor Co. spokesman acknowledged.
The Lincoln MKZ is the first in a series of vehicles that Ford hopes will rebuild its flagging luxury brand. It has designated designers for Lincoln and created a new studio to make the vehicles more distinct from their Ford siblings. It even changed the brand name to Lincoln Motor Co. in a new advertising campaign.
Through the first 11 months of this year, Lincoln has sold 74,766 vehicles, a 3% decline from the same period last year. Cadillac, by contrast, has sold more than 131,000 vehicles while Lexus has sold more than 200,000 and Mercedes-Benz and BMW have each sold about 250,000.
Tweaking vehicles targeted for test drives and reviews happens occasionally, said Karl Brauer, editor of TotalCarScore.com. He should know, he's done 60 road tests of new models so far this year, and noticed that some drive better at the company-hosted events than inreallife.
"You can change the parameters of a car electronically very easily, and I think they do it," Brauer said. "I think this is an issue.... You want the publication to say it feels very fast and responsive."
Upgrading tires is probably less common than electronically adjusting the car's tuning, Brauer said. But tires can have a huge impact on test results. As the only point of contact with the road, high-performance tires, made of softer rubber, can yield large gains in traction, braking and cornering, even acceleration from a dead stop.
Edmunds.com noticed the ultra-aggressive Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires while testing a V6, all-wheel-drive 2013 Lincoln MKZ provided by Lincoln.
"They're the kind of tires that come standard on cars like the $90K BMW M5 and the $410K Ferrari 599 GTO," Edmunds.com said in its review.
The tires come with a $1,565 package, which also includes 19-inch rims and a sport-tuned suspension.
The Times is testing a different Lincoln MKZ — also provided by the company with the high-performance tires — for an upcoming review.
Scott Oldham, editor in chief of Edmunds.com, called the Lincoln move silly.
"This is not a car that represents what people will buy," Oldham said. "You wouldn't want the tires on the MKZ because they hurt ride comfort, interior noise levels and fuel economy. The gain in handling isn't worth the trade-offs. Lincoln understands that."