Car Review Lincoln MKZ Makes Hybrid a $0 Option Mobile Geek com

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Lincoln MKZ Electric Cars

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The 2011 Lincoln MKZ midsize sedan makes a hybrid drivetrain a no-cost option to go along with the dazzling Sync music and Bluetooth feature. Gas or gas-electric hybrid, it has a $35,180 base price including freight. Technically, the 2011 MKZ adds knockout features to an aging platform.

Its uncertain success may hinge on factors unrelated to high-tech, such as whether the Lincoln brand has traction with upscale consumers in the near-luxury segment that Lincoln declares to be in tune with uncertain economic times.

In a day of driving the Lincoln MKZ last month, we saw flat boulevards, beautifully maintained parks (thank you, U.S. taxpayers), and dozens of security barricades in Washington, D.C.; and breathtaking mansions, horse farms, and country clubs in suburban Virginia. But not many twisty back roads that would tell you how the MKZ stacks up to an Audi A6, Cadillac CTS, or Infiniti G37. I think the answer would be: To a Buick, very nicely.

To Lincoln s credit, I was impressed by how little hybrid-car noise was emitted by the MKZ. Or road noise or any other kind of noise. Most hybrids, including the Lexus HS 250h (see review ) that is the closest competitor of the MKZ, have lots of electrical sounds that are an acquired taste. The MKZ does, too.

You just don t hear them.

41 mpg City Driving, Up to 47 mph on Electric Power

The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor rated at 191 net horsepower. It is rated at 41 mpg in city driving (35 mpg city, 39 mpg combined) vs. 35 mpg city for the Lexus HS 250h. If this kind of thing intrigues you, Lincoln claims the MKZ under optimal conditions (fully charged battery, easy on the throttle) can go as fast as 47 mph on battery power alone, vs. 25 mph tops for the Lexus hybrid.

And the MKZ hybrid blows away its V6 gas-engine MKZ twin, with is rated at 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, 23 mpg overall. The only downsides to the MKZ hybrid vs. MKZ gas are slower straight-line acceleration, and a bit of the trunk lost to the hybrid battery pack.

I managed to do a bit worse than Lincoln s claimed averages while driving, averaging 34 mpg, without driving hard or hot-rodding, while a co-driver matched the overall average. With the Lexus, I did a bit better than the average, although the roads were different. It may be that my driving style doesn t match Ford s hybrid expectations for drivers; I also managed to underperform driving a then-new Ford Fusion hybrid (see review ).

Technology Up the Wazoo

When you buy a Lincoln or Ford car, even the ones that have been around a couple years, you get a lot of technology. Some of it is high-tech such as Sync, some of it is intriguing mild tech, such as the Easy Fuel capless gas tank filler (photo right).

Here are some of technologies I believe make a difference for Lincoln:

The SmartGauge with EcoGuide is a pair of reconfigurable 4-inch LCD gauges flanking the fixed mechanical speedometer. They give you four levels of information on how you re driving, plus tachometer and trip computer functionality, and a tricky-at-first pair of needles and bar graphs that show your power and battery power capabilities and how close you are to lighting off the gasoline engine. The green leaves that grow in size and number as you drive economically may be a gimmick or it may be a useful tool; at first I thought gimmick, now I can see both sides.

The blind sport detection system (Blind Spot Information System in Lincoln terminology) is typical of many higher-end cars, somewhat atypical in that it lacks no warning other than the LEDs in the mirror. Most other cars with BSD also have an audible alert (annoying because it s sensed by the passengers as well) or a tactile feedback vibration in the steering wheel (noticed only by the driver, whis is good). Lincoln engineers tell me the blinking LEDs are all you need; I think Ford/Lincoln comes up short here. When backing, the same BSD sensors also alert you of crossing traffic when you re backing out of a space in the mall, and for that there is an audible alert.

That s unique, and useful.

But there s no lane departure warning or active cruise control offered, which are on some of the car s Lincoln shoppers might aspire to in a midsize BMW 5 Series or Audi A6. The Lexus HS 250h has lane departure warning and a head-up display as options but no blind spot detection. Oddly, Lincoln compares the MKZ to the BMW 3 Series, which is a closer price comparison (that Lincoln still wins because of the number and sky-high pricing of BMW options), but for cockpit room and passenger comfort, the MKZ (191 inches long) is more of a mid-size than compact.

Sync is, well, Sync, and that means it s excellent. It s not quite as sophisticated as the My Lincoln Touch Sync variant coming on the truly new (not just enhanced) MKX midsize crossover, but it s still impressive, and it s standard on all Lincolns (on some Ford models it s $395): USB jack for most any kind of music device, Bluetooth, streaming Bluetooth audio, free crash notification using your phone (911 Assist), vehicle health report (uploaded from the car via cellphone to the Lincoln website), free rudimentary navigation (arrows and voice prompts, no moving maps) on cars not equipped with onboard navigation.

The premium audio option is built around THX technology. It s superb. THX isn t a brand of audio gear or an audio processing scheme like Dolby Pro Logic, but rather a set of specs that assures high-quality, undistorted audio.

THX strikes me as a gold standard for car audio. Too bad more cars don t offer it.

Luxurious Cockpit, Sustainable Woods, Not Too Much Chrome

To my eye, Lincoln has done a good job in the post-Lincoln Town Car era of creating a luxurious cockpit that s a tasteful alternative to what s offered by high-end Japanese and German cars. The wood trim includes a sustainable wood choice. The seats are heated and power-vented, both standard.

The interior designers used restraint, an attribute not always associated with too-much-is-just-enough U.S. cockpit design.

Bottom Line: Is the Whole Is Less Than the Sum of Its Parts?

At the press launch of the Lincoln MKZ, Lincoln brought out consumer-trends experts and futurists who declared that, without a doubt, the trend is away from conspicuous consumption and flashy brand names to simpler luxuries that satisfy the user and provide real value. Which by no small coincidence is just how Lincoln sees its line, since it has no $50,000 (list price) cars to sell you.

Lincoln MKZ Electric Cars

Lincoln invested the MKZ with an excellent and relatively powerful hybrid drivetrain at no additional charge, and filled the cockpit with excellent technology. They made the car quiet, especially so for a hybrid. But it s still sitting on an older platform that dates to the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr (see our 2005 review), soon to be renamed the MKZ.

The suspension is reasonable. Those who buy the Lincoln MKZ won t be put off by it. Sporty-car fans will probably buy elsewhere.

Buying is simple: Choose gas or hybrid and exterior and interior colors. If you go for the hybrid, it s front drive-only. A lot comes standard (heated and cooled seats, acoustic laminated windshield glass), but you ll probably want what Lincoln calls Rapid Spec 201A and which someone like Acura, which thrives on tech-savvy buyers, would call a Tech Package: DVD navigation, THX II audio, 10GB music jukebox, blind spot warning, and rear view camera, for $3,595.

The $5,695 Rapid Spec 202A option adds (to 201A) one important feature (steerable Xenon headlamps), one feature that should be standard (rain-sensing wipers), plus a power moonroof, and 17-inch chrome wheels that will be just right for some buyers and too garish for others. Maybe some old habits … hard. The first MKZ options package makes sense (all technology-oriented options) while the second is a grab-bag.

If you want xenon headlamps, you have to take the chrome wheels.

Deciding whether to buy may be harder. A fully equipped 2011 Ford Fusion hybrid, basically the same front-drive hybrid car underneath, tops out at $32,820, vs. $35,180-$40,875 for the much plusher MKZ. (To be fair, even though every reviewer makes this comparison, the MKZ from the cockpit seems a completely different car than the Fusion; it s only to an engineer that they d seem the same.) Lincoln may well be right that some well-heeled hybrid shoppers are looking for a more luxurious step-up from the Toyota Prius, and that s more likely a Lexus hybrid than a loaded Toyota Camry hybrid. The MKZ is cheaper than the Lexus HS 250h (which sells for $35,000-$45,000), but it remains to be seen if Lexus hybrid shoppers will consider Lincoln.

I see the 2011 Lincoln MKZ as a savvy marketing gambit: Keep alive an older car with a hybrid engine and a zero-cost-differential from the gasoline-engine model, redo the cockpit, and make available a flock of first-class technology, particularly Sync and the THX audio system. With this, Lincoln keeps the MKZ brand respectable while others such as the 2011 MKX crossover re-establish the Lincoln brand. (The Lincoln Town Car is being slowly put out to pasture.) I can see Lincoln competing well against GM brands and proably against Lexus (particularly the HS 250h).

Because Lincoln doesn t have much reputation as a luxury/sports brand unless you think of Hot Rod Lincoln as contemporary music inroads into the quarter-million-unit Audi-BMW-Mercedes market are less likely. Plus, the German offerings cost more and have been more keyed to diesel than gas-electric hybrid models until recently. So if it s an upmarket entry-luxury hybrid, the choice pretty much comes down to Lincoln MKZ vs.

Lexus HS 250h.

2011 Lincoln MKZ

Pros: No upcharge for the hybrid edition. Sync audio and Bluetooth standard. Refined cockpit. Sensational THX audio upgrade.

Cons . Built on older platform. No all-wheel-drive MKZ hybrid offered. Handling won t win away German car fanatics. Not the latest edition of Sync.

The bottom line: Lincoln builds a worthy competitor to the Lexus HS 250h hybrid and must hope Lexus shoppers notice. Between the hybrid MKZ and gas MKZ, it s a no brainer: Go hybrid

Lincoln MKZ Electric Cars
Lincoln MKZ Electric Cars
Lincoln MKZ Electric Cars
Lincoln MKZ Electric Cars
Lincoln MKZ Electric Cars
Lincoln MKZ Electric Cars
Lincoln MKZ Electric Cars
Lincoln MKZ Electric Cars

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