2012 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

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2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid — Review

This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2012.
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.2

Bottom Line:

Lincoln has jumped into the world of luxury hybrids with mixed results. Its 2011 MKZ Hybrid has an incredibly efficient engine, but lacks the refined feel of nonhybrid luxury competitors.
Pros:
  • Excellent real-world fuel economy
  • First-rate heated/cooled power leather seats
  • Ample interior room
Cons:
  • Somewhat soft ride
  • Uninspired interior design
  • Too much Ford Fusion, not enough Lincoln

Lincoln has nabbed the title of most fuel-efficient luxury hybrid from the seemingly unbeatable Lexus HS 250h. With up to 41 mpg city, the 2011 MKZ Hybrid is a wonder of modern engineering — and that's before you account for its large size and luxury features.

Unfortunately, the car is too similar to the Ford Fusion Hybrid to be a truly effective competitor in a market populated by metal from Germany and Japan.

Model Lineup
Lincoln is offering the MKZ Hybrid in just one flavor, though consumers can opt for a number of different styling and equipment packages. In base configuration, buyers get treated to the high-tech Sync system, which features a large, LCD touch-screen interface for operating things such as climate control, entertainment and Bluetooth hands-free calling. The leather seats offered as standard equipment are one of the few bright spots in an otherwise uninspired cabin. In the front, those buckets are both heated and cooled, and deliver enough power adjustment to fit nearly anyone behind the wheel.

A navigation package is available for an additional $3,595, and includes safety technology such as a blind-spot awareness system and a semicompetent voice-activated navigation system. During our time with the car, we found it less distracting to simply pull over and manually enter an address than to try to talk to the car, but results may vary depending on how like a computer you sound. Opting for navigation also means that your MKZ Hybrid will sport a rear-view camera, something that isn't necessary, given the sedan's excellent rear visibility.

Things top out with what Lincoln calls its Ultimate Package. On top of all of the technology goodies found in the Navigation Package, Ford throws in a power moonroof, flashy 17-inch chrome wheels and adaptive HID headlights. The best part is that the topped-out package also includes beautiful wood-veneer trim, which helps to make the cabin somewhat more tolerable. Unfortunately, the Ultimate Package isn't cheap: Expect to pay $5,695.

Under the Hood
The 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid gets its fuel savvy from the same Atkinson-cycle, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine found in the Ford Fusion Hybrid, and as you might guess, performance is similar, too. In Lincoln guise, the engine and its small electric motor produce a combined 191 horsepower and 136 lb-ft of torque, and the combo puts power to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission. Like many luxury hybrids, the MKZ is not available with all-wheel drive, a drivetrain that's bad for fuel economy.

The MKZ's drivetrain combination, however, is good for a staggering 41 mpg city/36 mpg highway — numbers that are almost unbelievable for a vehicle this size. One of the biggest strengths of the Ford hybrid system is that it allows the 2011 MKZ Hybrid to drive at speeds up to 47 mph on all-electric power without using a drop of gasoline. Thanks to that neat little trick, we saw better than 38 mpg in combined driving during our time with the vehicle.

Inner Space
Inside, the MKZ Hybrid situates itself squarely at the bottom of the luxury heap. There's extensive use of hard, dark plastics and cheap-feeling buttons and knobs, both on the center stack and on the door panels; it's not hard to forget about the sedan's close relation to its Ford counterpart. This is confusing, because Ford has recently turned out some industry-leading interiors in vehicles such as the 2011 Edge. How the MKZ Hybrid missed that boat is a story we're betting Lincoln won't be telling any time soon.

That's not to say that the cabin is entirely without merit, though. The LCD touch-screen is excellent in every way, thanks to beautiful graphics and quick, intuitive software. Likewise, the instrument cluster uses the same twin-LCD-screen setup as the Fusion Hybrid. With its large speedometer and wealth of information, it's a design we'd like to see used elsewhere in the Ford line.

Lincoln also has done well by offering extremely comfortable seats wrapped in high-quality leather as standard equipment. Typically, manufacturers ask for more of your hard-earned money when words such as "heated," "cooled" and "power" get thrown around.

On the Road
We were able to spend time in both the base trim of the 2011 MKZ Hybrid and in a vehicle decked out with the high-roller Ultimate Package and, as expected, there were no perceptible differences between their driving characteristics. Around town, the sedan is quiet, with plenty of low-end torque on tap for jousting with traffic. Our only complaint is with the sound of the continuously variable transmission. While a CVT is almost required to achieve this kind of fuel economy, this one is loud under acceleration, which is out of place in a luxury car. And while the electric motor can technically ferry the vehicle along on electric power at up to 47 mph, we noticed the 4-cylinder gasoline engine kicking in to lend a hand more often than not. Even so, the transition between electric and internal combustion is beautifully smooth.

Move to the interstate, and the newly electrified Lincoln has no problem holding its own. We never found the MKZ Hybrid lacking the grunt necessary to go for a pass or to take on steep inclines, which is surprising, given that this car is down more than 70 horsepower from its V6 counterpart. With the extra weight of the hybrid's nickel-metal hydride batteries, this version of the MKZ does have a ride that's just this side of soft, but it's still nothing like the pillowy float of older Lincoln models. Finally, and like most hybrids, the brake pedal on the MKZ isn't as firm as we'd like. In stop-and-go traffic, the pedal lacks the controllability of the V6 model, which makes it less than confidence-inspiring.

Right for You?
When it comes to fuel-saving technology, most American manufacturers tie hybrid and clean-diesel powerplants to fully loaded models to try to cover up the price premium associated with high-tech engines. As a result, those hybrids typically cost several thousand dollars more than their internal-combustion brothers. That's not the case with the 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. Ford has priced the sedan identically to the base MKZ V6 model, meaning that buyers have a clear choice of power or efficiency. Both cars start at $34,300, and while that sounds like a steal, the vehicle has one very important competitor to contend with — the Ford Fusion Hybrid. With nearly identical equipment and efficiency, the MKZ variant offers little more for its approximately $6,000 premium over the Fusion Hybrid. While some will undoubtedly be lured by the flashy exterior treatment on the newest addition to the Lincoln family, our bet — and Ford's — is that more will find favor with its cheaper cousin.

(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Lincoln provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.

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BB02 - 8/28/2014 4:54:06 PM