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2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid Review

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2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

SEE ALSO: Lincoln Buyers Guide
SEE ALSO:E-Carmony: Is the 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid Your Perfect Match?


2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid Review

Out with the old, in with the new. If you're thinking about a high-tech entry-luxury sedan, it's likely that that car is not a Lincoln. Given that past Lincolns have tended toward Traditional American, as in "for your parents or grandparents", that's understandable. But times have changed, and Lincoln has changed with the times. Today's Lincoln sedans can proudly hold their own against any other cars in their classes. And the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is, according to Lincoln and the EPA, the most fuel-efficient luxury sedan in the country. It's also, as I discovered during a recent week with a well-equipped example, as quiet and refined as expected of a luxury sedan, surprisingly quick, and often operates in EV mode at speeds up to 40 mph or more.

Quick background: After Ford's spending and acquisition spree in the Nineties to create the Premier Automotive Group out of Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo, American brands Lincoln and Mercury received little attention. And most of what they did receive was spelled SUV. Their sedans appealed to, to put it politely, a vanishing demographic -- older people who wanted what they always had wanted. Last-time buyers…

Economic woes meant dissolution of the Premier Automotive Group, with sale of Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo and the demise of Mercury. There was a silver lining for Lincoln, now Ford's stand-alone luxury division. It's finally getting attention, and what a difference that has made in the past couple of years.

Meaning introduction of new cars meant for a completely different sort of person than the old Lincoln customer. People who previously bought Lexus, Audi, BMW, or Mercedes. Or Cadillac, Acura, or Infiniti. Style and substance are important here, as is modern technology in cabin electronics, safety, and the powertrain. Lincoln delivers on all.

The MKZ is built on the same platform as the Ford Fusion and late Mercury Milan, and the Hybrid can be seen as a further upscale replacement for the Mercury Milan Hybrid. The regular MKZ's 3.5-liter V6 is replaced with a 156-hp, 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 40-hp electric traction motor running power to the front wheels via a CVT transmission. It's a full hybrid, the second generation of Ford's system, and capable of operating seamlessly in gasoline, electric, or combined modes. EPA mileage is 41 city, 36 highway, and with a 0-60 time around 8.5 seconds, acceleration for merging won't be a problem. During my week, I got "only" 35 mpg - but much of the time was at real highway speeds, or on narrow, steep mountain roads, in 100º temperatures with the air conditioning and cooled seats on full-strength and three people aboard. And I was driving normally, not trying for extra mileage.

"Only" 35 mpg? That's as good as any other similarly-sized hybrid I've driven, luxury or not, and with the added benefit of a compliant but responsive European-feeling suspension and a well-designed, comfortable, and quiet cabin. Even better, Lincoln is not asking a premium price for the MKZ Hybrid -- its base price is the same $35,180 (34,330 + 850 destination) as the MKZ V6. Add in standard equipment including leather-trimmed upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, real wood trim, Lincoln SYNC® communications, sonar Reverse Sensing System, the Personal Safety System™, MyKey® programmable key fobs, the Easy Fuel® capless fuel filler, and the venerable keyless entry keypad, and the MKZ appeals on value as well as technology and style.

APPEARANCE: If you have to have instant recognition as driving a hybrid, you'll be looking elsewhere. Mostly to your regret… If the MKZ Hybrid looks no different than its purely internal combustion stablemate -- with the exception of the "leaf and road" hybrid plaques on the front doors and the trunk lid. Other than that, it's a slightly boxy mid-sized sedan with a no pretense to coupeness -- all the better for passenger space. Instant recognition comes from the bright, toothy split grille that pays homage to the late-1930s Lincoln Zephyr without being overtly retro. At the rear, wide, low taillights -- another long-standing Lincoln styling cue, lit with LEDs now -- are split by a bit of sheetmetal adorned with the corporate logo, echoing the front styling.

COMFORT: As outside, the Hybrid differs little from the standard MKZ. There is one instantly-noticed exception - the "SmartGauge with EcoGuide" instrument panel. Like the "glass cockpit" of modern aircraft, it's electronic and reconfigurable, with a backlit, easily visible central analog speedometer flanked by the information displays. There are four levels, called Inform, Enlighten, Engage, and Empower, with an increasing amount of information displayed. It's simple to use and not merely a gimmick. Keep in in the "Eco" zone and improve your gas mileage - and the leaves on the right-hand side will grow flowers as a reward. The rest of the Hybrid's interior is pure MKZ, meaning a pleasantly conservative design with first-class materials and fit and finish. Seat bolsters and some door trim are leather, with a perforated suede-like material on the seat centers. Real wood, with metal binding, is used on the instrument panel, doors, and console. Seat comfort is very good, and both front seats are, as expected, power-adjustable. Fan-activated cooling and excellent air conditioning made life good during a triple-digit heat wave. Manual tilt and telescope adjustment of the leather-rimmed steering wheel helps any driver find the perfect position, and cruise and auxiliary audio controls add convenience. Ambient lighting is helpful at night, as are the outside rearview mirror-mounted puddle lamps. Controls for the optional navigation system are simple, and the touchscreen is glare-free. The rear seat is contoured for two, with good head, hip, and leg room for the outside passengers. The seatback doesn't fold, as the hybrid system batteries live behind it. Look closely, and you can see a vent for battery cooling in the base of the rear seat. Trunk space is only marginally reduced by the battery pack.

SAFETY: As in the regular MKZ, the Navigation Package includes Ford's radar-based BLIS™ blind-spot monitoring system. Besides detecting cars, motorcycles, or bicycles otherwise hidden on the sides of the car and alerting the driver with a light on the appropriate outside mirror and a chime, it also detects cross traffic to the rear sides that may be hidden when backing. Cars without the BLIS system have convex "spotter mirrors" integrated into the outside rearview mirrors. Further protection comes from a full complement of airbags, a perimeter antitheft system, the "SOS" cell-based post-crash notification system, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and the AdvanceTrac® stability control system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Hybrid, fun to drive? Yes, if it's a Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. Its fully-independent short-and-long arm front, multilink rear suspension has been slightly recalibrated compared to the regular MKZ, in order to better deal with the slightly greater weight and different weight distribution of the hybrid drivetrain. In the best European luxury-sport manner, the result is a comfortable ride with very good compliance -- and very good response to driver inputs with minimal body roll or pitch. First-rate soundproofing makes for a relaxing, quiet experience.

PERFORMANCE: Buy the MKZ Hybrid for fuel economy, and you won't be disappointed as an honest 35-plus mpg is easily attained. But there are times when power is needed, for safety, as in accelerating into fast-moving traffic. No problem here. Yes, the engine gets a little noisy under full-throttle acceleration, but the Hybrid gets up and moves, with an 8.5-second 0-60 time. Once underway, light throttle on level or near-level surfaces means electric-mode propulsion for maximized economy -- at speeds of over 40 mph instead of the 25 or so of competitors.

Ford's full hybrid system is as advanced as the Toyota/Lexus system, and similar in operation. Gasoline power is provided by an Atkinson cycle-modified version of the corporate 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with maximum output of 156 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 136 lb-ft of torque at a low 2250 rpm. Electric traction is courtesy a permanent magnet synchronous AC motor with 40 and an unspecified but likely considerable amount of torque as soon as it starts to rotate. Power is managed via a computer-controlled CVT, with a maximum combined output of 191 hp, and the engine switches off and back on seamlessly. Interestingly, the MKZ Hybrid has a regular key, not a remote transponder, so it's sure to really be off when you leave, as the engine will shut off at stops.

CONCLUSIONS: Lincoln offers a new alternative for the luxury hybrid buyer in its MKZ Hybrid.

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

 Base Price $ 34,330 Price As Tested $ 41,370 Engine Type full gasoline-electric hybrid Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in. Horsepower 156 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 136 @ 2250 rpm Transmission CVT Electric Motor 40 hp permanent magnet AC synchronous (torque n/a) Maximum combined horsepower 191 Wheelbase / Length 107.4 in. / 189.8 in. Curb Weight est 3800 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 19.9 Fuel Capacity 17.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P225/50R17 93V Michelin XSE Energy Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, AdvanceTrac®, and regenerative braking standard Suspension, front/rear independent short-and-long arm / independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine and motor, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 41 / 36 / 35 0 to 60 mph 8.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES Rapid Spec 202A - includes: Ultimate Package, Technology Package - includes: power moonroof, adaptive HID headlights, rain-sensing wipers, ambient lighting Navigation Package - includes: voice-activated navigation system, BLIS with cross-traffic alert, rear-view video camera, THX II 5.1 surround sound system $ 5,695 Executive Package $ 495

Destination charge $ 850