• Sep 8th 2010 at 11:57AM
  • 40
Shows other luxury hybrids how it's done

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid - Click above for high-res image gallery

On the whole, luxury manufacturers just can't seem to figure out what to do with hybrid drivetrains. Sure, there's some vague notion of improved fuel economy, but for every fuel-sipping Lexus HS250h, there's a 455-horsepower, 26-mpg BMW ActiveHybrid 750i to balance the scales. Part of the problem is that fuel economy and luxury traditionally play as well together as 50 Cent and KC and the Sunshine Band. High-end autos are synonymous with power, weight and cabins large enough to comfortably raise a middle-class family, while their miserly counterparts tend to be tinny contraptions with the driving dynamics of low-rent washing machines.

But that doesn't mean there aren't automakers trying to meld the two. One of the big buzz phrases making its way around automotive circles right now is "The 'And' Car." That is, a vehicle capable of being all things to all people through the miracle of technology. Lincoln believes it's come up with just such a creation in the 2011 MKZ Hybrid – a sedan that bests the fuel economy of the competition by a wide margin and provides all of the luxury amenities buyers demand. The question is, have they pulled it off?

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Photos copyright ©2010 Zach Bowman / AOL

Lincoln's designers have done a smart job crafting the MKZ Hybrid so that the average passer-by would have a hard time telling it shares more than a few bones with the electrified Ford Fusion. Like its non-Atkinson cycle brother, the MKZ Hybrid wears completely different sheetmetal from the A-pillar forward. More subtle fenders, a hood with fewer compound details and, of course, Lincoln's baleen grille on the front fascia are additions that do well to differentiate the MKZ from its more common cousin. Likewise, splashes of chrome along the lower fascia, mirrors and window sills also help to separate the two. We're not crazy about the shiny stuff, especially when it comes to the perpetually-smudged door handles, but this is a Lincoln, after all – chrome is a birthright in these parts.

The rear of the MKZ Hybrid holds up its end of the bargain when it comes to separating itself from the Fusion. Broad, horizontal taillights replace the trapezoidal pieces of the Blue Oval and lend the car a more stately appearance. The tall Lincoln crosshair emblem does seem a little crowded by the vehicle's rear-view camera lens, but that only comes to light if, like us, you've spent more than a minute or two with your eyeballs locked on an MKZ in front of you in D.C. traffic.

Unfortunately, we'd be lying if we said that the Lincoln's interior was anything short of disappointing, especially when it comes to the instrument panel and center stack. While our photo tester was clad in an Executive Package that swapped the vast expanses of cheap-feeling black plastic for wood veneer culled from renewable forests, the base trim serves up surfaces that are far below what we've come to expect from most Ford vehicles, let alone the company's luxury wing.

Without the wood overlay, the vehicle's squared-off center stack is neither attractive nor fitted with climate or entertainment controls that feel worthy of its MSRP. The same could be said for the door panels – a real shame considering that the massive LCD touchscreen mounted mid-dash is downright gorgeous. Likewise, the dual-LCD instrument cluster with its large center-up speedometer carries the kind of tech-centric design we'd love to see elsewhere in the cabin. Unfortunately, it's just not there.

But where the dash falls short, the standard leather seating surfaces absolutely shine. The hides are from some far-flung corner of Scotland where the tanners still use a chromium-free curing process – something that's important when you're selling a car that's supposed to be doing its part to save the planet. The perforated thrones breathe well, are nearly infinitely power adjustable and they're heated and cooled. Even better, they're standard equipment.

The good news is that while the instrument panel may not be the most stunning piece of interior design we've come across, it is well sorted. During our brief stint behind the wheel, we couldn't come up with anything to complain about ergonomically. The steering-wheel mounted controls for cruise and entertainment are easy enough to memorize and the buttons on the center stack, while cheap, are a cinch to navigate. Inside, the MKZ Hybrid is a case of function over form.

Of course, those shopping for a luxury hybrid will be most interested in what's going on under the hood, and to that end, the new Lincoln hybrid is no disappointment. The MKZ makes use of the same 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine found in the Fusion Hybrid, complete with a combined 191 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque. The mill is mated to a CVT gearbox that handles putting power to the front wheels without relying on an abundance of buzzing rpm. Lincoln and the EPA claim the combo is good for 41 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, though we're here to tell you that if you leave the car idling for two hours for a photo shoot, those figures will fall off precipitously. Just sayin'.

Before setting our lenses on the 2011 MKZ Hybrid, we saw around 38.6 mpg in mixed driving – damned impressive for a car with a total of 99 cubic feet of passenger room and the burden of lugging around a nickel-metal hydride battery. In an age when most compacts are struggling to crest the 40 mpg barrier, a mid-sized luxury cruiser that hits the mark is something worthy of wonder. But for us, the best part isn't the fact that it could conceivably save its owner 2,000 gallons of gasoline over 150,000 miles, it's the fact that it drives just like a normal vehicle.

There is no waiting for acceleration or awkward transition between gasoline and electric power. Like the Fusion Hybrid, the MKZ variant can whisk you along on all-electric go-go at speeds up to 47 mph. Were it not for a lack of engine idle at start up, we would have a hard time telling the difference between this MKZ and its non-hybrid counterpart. In short, buyers really don't have to make a sacrifice when it comes to opting for better fuel economy. For the first time in history, you really can have all of the legroom and trunk space of a mid-size luxury bruiser and the fuel economy of a compact in the same package.

Despite having just below 200 horsepower on tap, the MKZ Hybrid is a comfortable driver. We never found it out of breath while jousting with beltway traffic or accelerating for a pass, and on some of the spirited tarmac outside of D.C.-proper, it proved to be a surprisingly well mannered platform. While incredibly comfortable over broken pavement, the MKZ Hybrid doesn't deliver the typical slosh-and-dive indicative of prehistoric American luxury products. Its electronic systems and suspension are all well-matched for a finished product that's very well-rounded.

Surprisingly enough, Lincoln has sought to make the MKZ Hybrid a value story on top of being the most fuel-efficient car in its class. At a starting price of $35,180 (including destination), the MKZ Hybrid will set you back just as much as its V6 counterpart. Given this news, we start to understand some of the shortcuts the company took in the cabin, even if we don't approve of them. We would just as soon see the MSRP climb by a thousand dollars if it came with the kind of world-class interior we know Ford is capable of. If you don't believe us, have a close look at what the Blue Oval is up to in the 2011 Edge.

Fortunately, Lincoln says that we should hold onto our hats. According to the automaker, it's planning a deluge of new and updated models to be rolled out in short order, and we're hoping those plans include a refreshing of the MKZ cabin.

Even with its less-than-inspired innards, the MKZ Hybrid has no problem besting its closest competitor, the Lexus HS250h, in every way. With more room and power, a quieter cabin, a comparable MSRP and significantly better fuel economy, it's simply a better vehicle. Lincoln may not have seamlessly wedded the two worlds of luxury and fuel economy with the 2011 MKZ Hybrid just yet, but it has started down a path that will eventually result in a luxury hybrid that doesn't ask its owner to make any compromises.

Photos copyright ©2010 Zach Bowman / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      "...Lincoln and the EPA claim the combo is good for 41 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, though we're here to tell you that if you leave the car idling for two hours for a photo shoot, those figures will fall off precipitously. Just sayin'..."

      Pretty sure that if a gas electric hybrid is in park "idling" it's using the battery pack, not the gas engine. So, I'm not sure how that would effect your mpg figures.

      Also, I could care less how "cheap" a heated seat button feels. All you do is touch it for like maybe one second to turn on the seats. How in heck does that matter in the grand scheme of things?

      • 4 Years Ago
      Still wouldn't buy a hybrid just yet, but if I had to choose between this and the HS250h, it's not even a contest.
        • 4 Years Ago
        So true, the Lexus has much more class and style.
      • 4 Years Ago
      What an utterly pointless car. The Fusion is the same car, it has just as nice of an interior, is better looking, and it costs significantly less. The Taurus costs the same (or even less) than this car, is much nicer, much bigger, and much better looking. The only reason to offer these rebadged "standard" cars at luxury dealers/prices is to have a significantly better interior. If Ford screws that up, then why bother at all. It just makes them look cheesy. They could have taken the money spent developing this to make the Mustang interior actually impressive, rather than just simply passable.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Yeah, from the pics this interior doesn't look much better than the Fusion. I like the Fusion, but this version doesn't seem like it's worth the extra money. I dunno, maybe it looks better in person.
        • 4 Years Ago
        No, it doesnt. Its the same car as last year, they just offer the hybrid drivetrain in this one. Its overly tacky, like the Navigator. This is the car that people will buy to put dubs on... LOL

        I like the look of the Fusion too, and I like the interior, especially the Sport models. We almost bought one of those sport blue models with the two-tone blue interior last year.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Good, now Lincoln is Showing Lexus how to make a Luxury Hybrid. Does the HS250h have anything over this?
      • 4 Years Ago
      This car shows how far Lincoln has to go. The styling is a bit off, and the interior is terrible for a luxury (or mid-luxe) car.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Andrew L. I won't say much for your automotive knowledge....but it seems you have your act together with some good drugs. Lincoln products have no excitement, and get more boring as the new models come out, but you see reality in a different prospective and you my dear sir are entitled to your opinion.....by the way, I work at a ford-lincoln dealership.
      • 4 Years Ago
      too bad this car is butt ugly man....
      • 4 Years Ago
      I am surprised, and rather disappointed, to read that the interior is sub-par. I really figured that would be a highlight of this car, not a negative.

      Either way, the mileage you guys got is quite impressive... I think ALL luxury cars at some point will have to go hybrid in one form or another. The fact that Ford is not charging a premium for it is a very cool start.

      Still though, I think Lincoln in general still has no direction... their exterior styling is OK, at best, but still quite boring. The Ford division seems to be getting a cohesive design what with the Fiesta, Focus and eventually a Modeo/Fusion mid-size with similar styling. Now they need to do the same to Lincoln and give them a look that can knock people out, not put them to sleep.
        • 4 Years Ago
        the MKS is wicked cool... it's not boring at all...
        • 4 Years Ago
        agreed, outside and IN. jeebus, that interior? better than the hs? sure. but anything else in the luxury sector, that's, you know, competitive? no. come on ford, time to play with the big kids and really make your luxury lineup stand out, no more pag, get to work already.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I support Ford Motor's independence from the stimulus package graft scam of earlier Obama-nation, but face it, the Lincoln MXZ appears to be a Milan or Taurus wearing make-up.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Finally - a color that the MK Zephyr looks good in...

      ...but I wouldn't hold my breath on an interior update since it has a new interior that's only a year or so old - I actually prefer the "dual-cowl" interior styling of the original MK/Zephyr, particularly the unique door panels with the large rectangular inlay.

      All in all - this would have been a great Mercury, but it's a pathetic Lincoln.

      • 4 Years Ago
      I like the fact that there's no penalty for choosing the Hybrid versionof this car, its' priced the same. Would be interesting to see what the take rate though, although I'm sure there's a cap as to how many will be available. I really don't see a compelling reason to purchase a HS200 over this MKZ.
        • 4 Years Ago
        There actually is a purchase price penalty. While the sticker price is the same, the gas version currently has $2,000 in rebates that the hybrid version doesn't qualify for. So, one could at this point consider the sticker price of the MKZ Hybrid $2,000 higher.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I think it also kind of shows the price you're paying for the Lincoln badge. The Fusion has around an $8K difference between the base and hybrid. Although there are feature differences between the two Fusions, as well as Fusion to Lincoln, it shows your paying a lot of extra.

        But the price similarity is very clever, very much broadening the options for those who want luxury but don't want to pay extra for a hybrid.

        Smart moves, Ford.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Autobloggers would get a lot more credit if they would just admit this car is really damn ugly.
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