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First drive car review: 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

September 10, 2010

The veneers, according to Lincoln. come from well-managed forests, as defined by strict environmental, social and economic standards, and from other rigorously controlled sources. That’s how one knows that the new 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is really green. Not only does it have a best-in-class fuel economy, even the trim is environmentally correct.

With the 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, says Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president for global product development. “Lincoln has found a way to deliver a luxury sedan with the comforts they expect, the technology they want and the environmental responsibility society demands.

Putting aside for a moment the demands that society is making on the luxury sedan buyer, we’ll judge the 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid just from the car underneath. Before this review we had tested the 2009 Lincoln MKZ and the 2010 Lincoln MKZ and noted, as the title said, that the latter was a change for the (much) better. That was easy enough because the ’09 MKZ was the classic underachiever and one really must feel sorry for those who didn’t wait another year to buy or lease.

The improvements moved the 2010 Lincoln MKZ into the thick of the mid-size luxury field, though with a distinctly American feel. Not that BMW intenders will be swayed by the MKZ’s new persona, however enhanced. But neither will the American luxury buyer think the 2010 MKZ is only a gussied up Ford Fusion.

Although the Lincoln does share its platform and major body panels with the Ford, the execution creates an entirely different automobile.

What the 2011 Lincoln MKZ shares with the Fusion, however, is the hybrid engine from the Fusion Hybrid. While the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid we tested was not Ford’s first Hybrid, 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid we’re testing is Lincoln’s first. The engine is the 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four, which was named one of Ward’s 10 Best Engines of 2010, that blends flawlessly with Ford’s full hybrid system. It shone in the Fusion and, with the MKZ’s more extensive noise control, it does even more so in the Lincoln.


The engine and drivetrain are almost wholly unobtrusive in the 2011 Lincoln MKZ, which of course is why one buys a Lincoln in the first place. Score a big one for Lincoln.

The SmartGauge with EcoGuide that debuted in the Fusion continues with the MKZ, though enhanfoobies.com

ced. Based on a pair of full-color LCD screen flanking the analog speedometer on the instrument panel, the SmartGuage with EcoGuide—can’t it have a shorter name?—is a multi-configurable information center that can provide everything from fuel level to the amount of energy being consumed by the vehicle’s accessories.

We’ve gone into detail about the system earlier, but the Lincoln, being Lincoln, adds flowers to the Ford’s growing vines that reward efficient driving. The flowers are more than decoration, however, as they remain even if the driver engages in ecologically naughty driving after the flowers have been won but the vines have withered. They’re permanent until reset, and Lincoln claims that by the time the driver earns all five flowers, he or she could save almost 200 gallons of gas, two tons of CO2 and $544 compared to a regular gasoline-powered midsize luxury sedan.

Lincoln bases that on 9,800 miles of driving, the Lincoln MKZ’s EPA-estimated 39 combined mpg against competitors’ 22 combined mpg, and the average cost of gas per www.fueleconomy.gov.

Your mileage will vary, as Lincoln points out, and ours did. In fact, our test drive of several hours in varying driving conditions, from downtown Washington, D.C. to the Washington Parkway and the Washington Beltway and quasi-rural winding roads, netted 32.8 mpg. Others, hypermiling in the 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, achieved almost fifty miles per gallon. On a return trip, despite feather-footing the gas pedal, we couldn’t do better than 25.8 mpg.

Hmm.

The hybrid system operated seamlessly and transparently in our test 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. Only by watching the instrumentation were we were able to tell which mode of operation—full electric, full gas or combined—the powertrain was in. We found Lincoln’s claim that the MKZ Hybrid is able to operate on full electric up to 47 mph rather optimistic, achievable under ideal circumstances on billiard table flat pavement and the moon is right.

But any hill or acceleration kicked in the gasoline engine at half that speed or less.

In addition to the obvious enhancement of the hybrid engine, the 2011 Lincoln Hybrid has a mess o’ standard equipment, including Lincoln SYNC, spotter mirrors (actually a poor-man’s blind-spot detection system with a secondary convex driver’s side mirror, providing a wider view than the traditional outside mirror), heated and cooled front seats, parking assist, a 10-way power front passenger seat and driver memory power seat settings and Bridge of Weir leather seating. The latter, for those not up on their leather, is leather from Scotland (that) is milled for up to 12 hours to ensure a buttery, soft hand. Chromium-free tanning also makes the leather easier to recycle, for those out there salvaging leather from automobiles.

Unfortunately, standard equipment that accompanies the wood trim—Swirl Walnut or Olive Ash that comes from contented trees in the Enchanted Forest, as defined by strict environmental, social and economic standards, and from other rigorously controlled sources—is the perception of Gen X’ers that Lincoln is a car for old people. It’s custom-fitted baggage that even a car with the eco bona fides of the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid can’t have, whether the wood is green or not.

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid pricing: base price, $34,330

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid basic specifications

Engine/drivetrain: 2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve Atkinson cycle I-4; 156 hp@ 6000 rpm / 136 lb-ft @ 2250 rpm, 40 hp electric motor. Total net power: 191 hp; front-wheel drive; 41 mpg city / 36 mpg highway

Suspension: MacPherson strut front / multi-link rear

Steering: Rack pinion, 37.5 ft turning circle

Brakes: Four wheel power disc brakes with anti-lock braking system (ABS) and integrated regenerative braking, electronic stability control

Wheels and tires: 17-inch machined aluminum, 225/50VR17 low rolling resistance

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