Mid-size sedans have been taking it on the chin as of late and there’s no sector where more blood has been drawn than in the entry-level luxury ranks. The biggest threat has been hybrid crossovers, but now, the sedan, more specifically, the American luxury sedan, is doing it’s best to stage a comeback.
|1. Lincoln boasts the MKZ Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient luxury car on the market with a 41/36-mpg (city/hwy) rating.
2. Fuel economy is up significantly from the V6-powered MKZ, which gets 18/27-mpg.
3. Using the same 2.5-liter Atkinson Cycle 4-cylinder from the Fusion Hybrid, the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid makes 191-hp and can travel at speeds of up to 40-mph on pure electric power.
4. Pricing for this fuel-efficient luxury car starts at just $34,330.
Lincoln, set free from it’s Mercury shackles, is taking Lexus to task, dishing up a new variation on a solid formula to push the trapezoidal Prius-in-a-tux HS250h back into the ocean – in the form of the MKZ Hybrid. The model itself is new for 2011, even if much of the technology and engineering behind it is not.
DATED YET DISTINCTIVE LOOK MIGHT NOT BE ENOUGH FOR HYBRID SEGMENT
Like the HS250h, the MKZ Hybrid shares much of its DNA with a blue jeans brother, in this case the Ford Fusion. If you’ve spent any time in the regular MKZ, then you’ll feel right at home in this one. Even though the basic design of this car is now close to eight years old, it still cuts a unmistakable profile amid a sea of gilded-edge mobile porridge and the new corporate front fascia and tail tweak – introduced on all MKZs originally for the 2010 model year, make it look more mature and perhaps just a little menacing (a certain dark Lord from Middle Earth comes to mind for this scribe).
Unfortunately, aside from some hybrid badges, there’s little to distinguish the MKZ Hybrid as a “green” car, something that surely won’t help move these cars off dealer lots.
It’s decently put together too – panel gaps are nice and precise – the chrome is not over the top and the paint is better than some other cars competing in this segment (is it just me, or does orange peel seem to be enjoying a resurgence as of late?).
Inside, the MKZ Hybrid isn’t perhaps what you’d call futuristic. The dash and switchgear is as familiar as apple pie, but even though the design is getting on in years, the ergonomics are still good. The seats are actually rather supportive, with excellent height and rake adjustment, yet without the hard bolstering found on some Teutonic sedans, which can leave you wanting to stretch your back after just an hour of driving. Heated and cooled rotary knobs are also a nice touch and the Bridge of Weir leather – straight from Scotland – is distinctive, yet tasteful. Front passengers also get additional comfort in the shape of 10-way power adjustment.
Fit and finish inside are very good for this class of car – everything feels solid, from the one-touch power window switches to the turn signal stalk and shifter handle, plus the real wood inserts have a nice, deep aura to them. However, the biggest difference between the bent-six powered Z and this one, at least from inside, concerns the dash.
SMART GAUGE CLUSTER ACTS AS AN ECO-COACH
Flanking the speedometer is a ‘smart gauge’ cluster. This allows you to monitor vehicle system functions as well as ‘coach’ you to try and be a more fuel-efficient driver. Like it’s more pedestrian Fusion counterpart, the display has white blossom inspired leaves, which expand over time into a five-leaf tree, as a reward for being thrifty with the throttle. (According to Ford’s official stats, over the course of one year, a driver can save around 200 gallons of fuel and two tons of Carbon Dioxide emissions compared with a standard mid-size luxo sedan). Additional monitoring such as EV/gasoline engine power transfer, braking and active fuel economy can also be switched on or tuned out depending on how much information the driver wishes to absorb.
MOST FUEL-EFFICIENT LUXURY CAR WITH A 41/36-MPG RATING
In terms of fuel economy, Lincoln is pushing this thing on the merits of achieving 41-mpg in town and 36-mpg on the open road versus a rating of 17/29-mpg for the V6 version. It does this by utilizing what Ford calls its second-generation Hybrid powertrain, a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine, teamed with an electric motor. Based on technology used in Ford’s other Hybrids and developed from Toyota’s original concept, the MKZ is a ‘pure’ hybrid, able to run exclusively on electric power at speeds up to 44 mph. What’s interesting, is that according to Ford engineers, this almost doubles the EV vehicle speed over some of Toyota’s own offerings, including the HS250h.
On busy traffic and Segway infested streets of the Nation’s Capital, we had a chance to see if the MKZ was all it was cracked up to be. The 2.5-liter twin cam four-cylinder puts out 156 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 135 ft-lbs of torque at 2250 revs. While that might not seem much, combined with the electric motor, the result is 191 net horsepower (electric only you’ve got the equivalent of 106 hp), so in terms of acceleration, the MKZ Hybrid isn’t as sluggish as you might think. Combined with the electronic CVT transmission, it’s not what you’d call sprightly off the line; nor is it particularly involving and can at times appear to be a bit glacial, especially when trying to overtake on faster roads – but under most circumstances, it gets the job done.
In town, the transition from electric to gas-engine is barely noticeable at all and thanks to the acoustic laminated windshield and increased sound deadening, the car is whisper quiet – the biggest noises we heard were from expansion joints on the Beltway and random potholes on D.C. and Georgetown streets.
Engineers updated the chassis, with revised suspension geometry and tuning on all MKZs for the 2010 model year and the Hybrid delivers a decent blend of supple ride quality and fairly taut handling for this class of car, especially compared with Lexus. The steering is nice and crisp – both at low and higher speeds and whether cruising along the freeway or negotiating busy downtown streets, the car is among the most maneuverable in the segment. The regenerative braking is also quite relaxed, not overtly aggressive as on some hybrids, but compared to driving a conventional gas-engined vehicle, pedal sensation is a little strange at first – lacking the progression found in most modern systems.
Some hybrids appear to be long on style and short on substance, but from our observations; Lincoln’s statement of the MKZ as ‘the most fuel efficient luxury sedan in America’ is no idle boast. While we weren’t able to reach 41 mpg in town, city fuel economy in the high 30s is still pretty impressive – so is a 40-plus mph maximum electric motor vehicle speed and the fact that as a hybrid, the MKZ is still rather satisfying to drive from an enthusiast standpoint (most truly aren’t).
When you factor in the MKZ’s base price ($34,330) and it’s standard feature content (including a premium THX sound system, My Key, SYNC voice activated info/entertainment/communications, as well integrated blind spot mirrors and reverse sensing), then dated basic design or not, this mid-size contender manages to pack a velvet fisted punch in more ways than one.
When it comes down to it, as far as luxury brand hybrids go, the 2011 MKZ is an efficient and, therefore, a smart choice. But without the futuristic style of Toyota’s hybrid offerings, it might be considered as the Boomer’s green vehicle choice. And as hybrids go, it seems that the image a car portrays is at least as important as its fuel economy.