We’ve already seen this gas-electric powertrain in the Ford Fusion Ford Fusion
and the Mercury Milan, but Lincoln is upping the level of luxury with the 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. With hybrid credentials and a plush interior, the gas-electric MKZ is targeting a new breed of luxury buyers that avoid conspicuous consumption for more restrained products that also reflect a social conscience. The Lexus HS250h is the only direct competitor in the mid-size luxury-hybrid space, and Lincoln thinks it has a significantly stronger proposition with MKZ’s better fuel economy and lower price.
A familiar fuel-sipper
Under the hood, the MKZ packs the familiar second-generation Ford hybrid powertrain. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder operating on the Atkinson cycle provides the bulk of the power, but an additional 40 hp is delivered by an electric motor. The two power sources can work independently or together through the continuously variable transmission. Peak system power is 191 hp and the MKZ Hybrid can remain in a pure electric mode up to 47 mph.
Lincoln engineers have made only subtle changes to the powertrain calibration to improve cabin noise by reducing engine drone, so we’re not surprised to find the same excellent power delivery and smoothness. Transitions from electric mode to parallel mode would be practically imperceptible were it not for the audible clues. Driven in typical conditions, as we did around the Washington, D.C. area, the Lincoln hybrid execution reminds us that the Ford system is so good because it drives so normally-just like the gasoline cars we’re so used to. It’s these traits that led us to name the Ford Fusion Hybrid a 2010 Automobile Magazine All-Star. Like the Fusion, the MKZ Hybrid earns an EPA fuel economy rating of 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. By comparison, the Lexus HS250h is rated at 35/34 mpg.
As with the powertrain, the chassis provides a reassuringly normal driving experience. The brake pedal is a touch springy, yet it’s easy to modulate and the relationship between hydraulic and regenerative brakes is absolutely seamless. Quite simply, these are the best brakes of any hybrid on the road. The ride is comfortable, though sharp impacts can jar the rear suspension and send jitters through the chassis. When cruising in electric mode — which is a significant amount of time in the city — the cabin is impressively quiet. Handling isn’t exceptional, but is certainly acceptable with steering response that exceeds our (relatively low) expectations for hybrids.
Short on style
To coax owners into driving more efficiently, the Lincoln’s instrument cluster creates a sort of game with digital flora. On the LCD screen just to the right of the speedometer, vines grow to reflect how aggressive or conservative the driver is currently driving. More fuel-efficient motoring yields more leaves. Apple blossoms that grow more slowly reflect long-term fuel economy. The more flowers a driver has, the more difficult it becomes to grow more blossoms, requiring even more efficient driving.
Like the gasoline MKZ, the hybrid includes heated and cooled front seats, a ten-way power passenger seat, dual-zone climate control, and reverse sensors as standard equipment. The hybrid also includes a driver’s knee airbag that’s not available in the V-6. Options include adaptive high-intensity discharge headlights, navigation, blind-spot monitoring, and THX premium audio. Notably absent from the options list is keyless ignition with passive entry.
The interior features nice leather and real wood, though it under-delivers on style. The simple lines of the dash and trim components suggest a car that’s been designed from a straightforward functional perspective, rather than the high-style of luxury that we expect. Much like the interior, the sheet metal lacks luxury character, whether it’s in the form of dynamism or stateliness. Save for the HS250h, the MKZ may be the most staid looking vehicle in the mid-size segment. Lincoln desperately needs a car that reflects a focused company philosophy both in how it looks and how it drives, much like the 3-series works for BMW. It may drive nicely, but the MKZ hardly has the personality to define a path for Lincoln.
Priced to sell
It’s widely known that the typical hybrid premium of $2000 to $4000 takes years-sometimes longer than the life of the car-to pay for itself with money saved at the gas pump. With the MKZ Hybrid, Lincoln throws that notion to the wind, because the gas-electric car is priced identically to the V-6 model at $35,180. That also makes the MKZ cheaper than the Lexus HS250h, which starts at $35,525.
For anyone considering an MKZ, the hybrid model is the obvious choice in our eyes. There’s a definite performance penalty with the hybrid if you’re concerned about straight-line acceleration, but also a serious fuel economy benefit. With such a refined hybrid system, the gas-electric car is almost as quiet and just as comfortable and responsive as the gas car, which isn’t something that can be said for every hybrid.
2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
Base price (with dest.): $35,180
Price as tested: $41,490
Body style: 4-door sedan
Construction: Steel unibody
Engine: 16-valve, DOHC inline-4/electric hybrid
Displacement: 2.5-liter (152 cu in)
Motor: 40-hp AC
Battery: 1.4-kWh nickel-metal hydride
Total power: 191 hp @ 6000 rpm
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 41/36/39 mpg (city/highway/combined)