Could the Lincoln MKZ be the poster child for delivering hybrid technology at a down-to-earth price?
Ford’s premium Lincoln division touts the new MKZ Hybrid sedan as the most efficient luxury car in North America and brags up its hyper-extended fuel economy. And in the $35,000 range, this MKZ also happens to be one of the best deals on the market, since the Hybrid’s base price is identical to the gasoline-V6 MKZ. That’s as level a playing field for both propulsion systems as you’ll find anywhere.
The hybrid version of the MKZ is new to the lineup for the 2011 model year, but its drive system was first installed in the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan (upon which the MKZ is based) for the 2010 model year. At about 3,600 pounds — about 500 pounds lighter than Lincoln’s larger MKS sedan — it’s an ideal platform to apply the hybrid magic wand.
Of course, the MKZ has to look the part of an upscale contender, and it really does. It might be based on the humble Ford Fusion, but Lincoln’s designers have done a solid job sculpting a distinctive front end. A delicately creased hood and jewel-like wrap-around headlights frame the brand’s signature “waterfall” grille. The taillights and trunk lid have also been dressed up with the Lincoln touch. The icing on the cake is a cool set of nine-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels that have been fitted with special low-rolling-resistance tires.
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You might expect that Lincoln would scrimp a bit on the Hybrid’s interior content to maintain price parity with its V6 gas-powered stablemate. Not at all, actually. This MKZ offers up standard genuine walnut or ash wood trim plus leather-covered seats that are power-adjustable (with memory settings) and heated and cooled in front. There are also standard backup sensors as well as Ford’s Microsoft-powered, voice-activated Sync system that controls a number of communication, entertainment and climate-control functions.
Other unique standard features include a capless fuel filler that makes topping up a one-handed affair, while a keyless entry pad is handy if you’re heading to the beach or out for a jog and don’t want to bring a set of keys along.
Optional is a power sunroof, voice-activated navigation system, keyless remote start, rear-view camera, blindspot warning alert and a premium THX-brand audio package.
The Hybrid powertrain consists of a 156-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine assisted by a 40-horsepower electric motor. The net power output is 191 horsepower directed to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The Hybrid is rated at 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. The higher city rating is due to the electric assist that takes the stress off the gas engine. As speed increases, there’s less assist. In fact, the MKZ can travel up to 47 mph on electric power alone.
By comparison, the similarly priced Lexus HS 250h hybrid manages up to 25 mph on electric power and is rated at 35/34 mpg city/highway.
MKZ drivers are kept in touch as to how the hybrid system is functioning by means of a SmartGauge that indicates which power system — or systems — are operating and how much energy is stored in the batteries.
In addition, an EcoGuide display screen adds symbolic vines, leaves and flowers as a sort of visual reward for practising exemplary fuel-efficient driving on an ongoing basis.
Buyers of luxury models who might have balked at the significant premium normally charged to take the hybrid route should be impressed by Lincoln’s efforts to provide this technology for no increase in price.
If the MKZ Hybrid catches on —‑and how could it not — you can expect other automakers to quickly follow suit.