I recently got to spend a week with the 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid.
The MKZ slots into the entry-level of the Lincoln line-up, in terms of size and price. They start at about CDN $38,000 – nearly 10 grand cheaper than the next Lincoln, the bigger sedan called the MKS. That’s followed by the MKT, which is, in my humble opinion, one of the coolest cars on the market. And of course, there is the cross-over MKX and the land-barge Navigator to round out the line.
The MKZ Hybrid starts at CDN $42,200, and this particular example rang in at a healthy CDN $51,955, which included over $8,000 in options such as the Vision package (Navigation, Blind Spot Detector, Backup camera), the moonroof, HID headlights, THX sound system upgrade and a couple of other things.
The MKZ is essentially a Ford Fusion underneath the skin, and this isn’t a bad thing. A friend of mine owns a Fusion, which I’ve been driven around in, and I feel it is a very competent and competitive vehicle. Whether or not spending something in the neighbourhood of $53,000 for this car is your opinion of good deal is up to you – you can get a Fusion for significantly less, and it will have most of the functionality cloaked in a different style and without the Lincoln nameplate. The one note I can make on value is this: the Hybrid model is the same price as the 3.5 L V-6 MKZ, which is an interesting strategy from Ford. So if you’re interested in Hybrid technology, because you’re an eco-weenie, or your moral compass has swung toward saving Mother Earth, or you just want to look green, it won’t cost you any more to get into the Hybrid version of the MKZ. The car has a 4 year/80,000 km warranty, with 8 years/160,000 km coverage on the hybrid electrical componentry.
So, what’s going on under the hood here? Nothing exciting when you look at it. It’s a sad state of affairs in today’s automotive world – in my opinion, the plastic shrouds that cover all the bits of most engines are a testament to the waning importance of the driving experience. I grew up looking under hoods, and loving the plumbing under there, and looking for beautifully shaped manifolds and trying to see exhaust pipes if I could. Those days are done in most vehicles, and this is no exception. Anyway, short of a huge plastic shroud that shouts “HYBRID”, you can’t see much under the hood. Under it is a 2.5 L inline-4 Atkinson-cycle engine – noted for their exceptional fuel economy and lack of torque. It’s mated to Ford’s Hybrid system, which makes up for the lack of torque. The battery is mounted between the back seat and the trunk. The net HP of the system is a respectable 191 HP, and it’s directed through a CVT transmission. You won’t find any kind of manual shifting mode here – no paddles (which are ridiculous on CVTs anyway), etc. I supposed trying to hold higher revs for sportier driving is counter-productive to this car’s mission in the first place.
The exterior of the MKZ is well done. The modern styling is clean and won’t grab your attention – that could be good or bad. You probably won’t see a lot of heads whipping around to catch another look as you drive by in one. The MKZ looks more substantial than the Fusion it is based on. I liked each particular view – the front, the side and the rear, yet somehow the sum of its parts left me wanting something more. There’s nothing wrong with the styling, but there’s nothing exciting about it.
The front sports the Lincoln love-it or hate-it split-wing grille. Personally, I’m fond of it – at least it has some character. I did like the styling of the rear lights as well, but I have always hated the small-diameter exhaust tips on cars – it just looks wimpy. I know Ford has graduated to more substantial ones on recent models, and I hope they’ll follow suit with the MKZ.
You’ll find evident Hybrid badging around the vehicle – and on the back, a noticeable camera dome on the trunk’s vertical surface. There is a small dome-style antenna on the roof.
The wheels are a bright-chrome 9-spoke design that I have never liked. It’s clean and works, but they don’t say sporty to me, or even youthful, which is the direction Lincoln is heading into – trying to follow Cadillac’s lead. The wheels shout lame to me – but that’s personal taste too. The Lincoln logos front and back and side are big, but tasteful. I did like the little black plastic inserts around the exhaust tips on the back bumper – it does give a slightly more sporting appearance to the rear end and worked well for me.
This car was equipped with optional HID headlights, which were quite effective and bright. I always think they give a car an air of quality and priciness, which should be the case when you’re dropping over $50 grand on something.
The moment I got into this car, I felt it had a mission. This car aims to do away with the old “green thumb” concept, and replace it with the “green foot” instead. It’s definitely economy-centric, in terms of the information you are given while driving and while stationary. And this car can be very economic indeed, which I’ll get into shortly.
What else do you see when you get into this car? Well, the interior is a nice, tidy place to be. The dash is relatively clean – you sit in front of a nice gauge cluster, including a center-mounted speedometer flanked by two 4″ LCD screens with various functions. The functions of the left screen can be customized, using a set of non-intuitive buttons on the steering wheel (good luck trying it while you’re driving!) – you can see a very basic display, a more driver-oriented display and a fuel-economy oriented display – the latter is the most useful, especially considering the mission of this car. The screen on the right has a digital fuel gauge, instant fuel economy (in the form of a bar graph that yo-yos up and down as you touch the gas) and a nifty screen with leaves on it. The theory is that this screen shows you how green you’ve been driving. It is a long-term measure, and the greener you drive, the more leaves you grow until one day, something magical happens. Your little Lincoln beanstalk grows a magic flower. Little white flowers are the next step in rewarding your efforts to save the world, and apparently they are fashioned after apple blossoms. So, if you’re really good, which I apparently was, you start getting flowers on the screen. If you’re just sick of your success, you can reset this screen and start all over, planting the seeds of environmental consciousness, and watching them grow. It’s a bit hokey, but I looked at it this way. The new VW Beetle doesn’t have a bud vase in the dash anymore – the MKZ let me grow a whole tree! In front of the gauge cluster sits a nice steering wheel. I found the plastic inserts on both sides at the 4’ish and 8’ish positions to feel cheap and they irritated me when I was trying to hold the steering wheel there.
The center stack is topped by a nice, clear, legible and easily reachable touchscreen LCD powered by the excellent Lincoln SYNC – below it you find quick access buttons to Map, Destination (entry), Info (location, calendar, etc), Climate Control, Radio and a general menu, which lets you access system settings, colors, voice control, etc. I really like how quickly those hard buttons let you get to the core parts of the system, which you can then control on the touchscreen. Below that are the climate controls for an excellent dual-zone automatic system and at the bottom of the stack is a small storage bin with a flip-up lid – it contains a 12V plug. As always, most functions of Lincoln SYNC work very well, and things like tuning the radio or pairing a phone through Bluetooth are very easy to do and work well. I liked how clean and functional the combination of the center stack buttons and the Lincoln SYNC looked AND how well it worked.
In terms of other storage, you won’t find a lot of it here. There are small, shallow door pockets front and back, and a double in-line cupholder in the center console. That’s not as useful as when they’re side-by-side, but when you don’t have the real estate to do that in a smaller car, you make do. The cupholders can be covered by a scrolling, accordion-style cover. There is a deep, but relatively small footprint center console bin – it has two levels which open with separate buttons: a shallow tray and then the rest of the deeper compartment. In the main bin, you’ll find USB, auxiliary audio-in and 12V plugs. The lid of this console slides fore and aft to adjust to your arm-rest needs, but when my wife and I were sharing the armrest on the highway, it moved on us whenever it felt like it. There is a small glove compartment, and some map pockets on the front seatbacks. I’ve noticed a great Ford innovation on their vehicles – they have a small clip on the sun visors, which allow you to put a parking pass, or card, up there without drawing attention to it. Great little detail. The trunk is reasonably-sized – it’s cheaply upholstered and the rear seats don’t fold down on account of that hybrid battery. There is a pull-down strap on the trunk lid that took me a couple of swings to figure out, leaving me with bruised knuckles the first couple of tries. Last note on storage – the sunglass storage bin overhead was not big enough to accommodate my glasses. It’s the first time EVER that I’ve experienced that – so if you’re Elton John and you want to store your sunglasses in this car, look to the glove compartment.
This car had a great THX sound system with 14 speakers throughout the cabin – it accesses various media sources, including a jukebox for you to rip music to, single CD slot, Sirius satellite radio, iPod connectivity, etc. There is a tilt and slide power moonroof, and a 3-setting HomeLink transmitter for garage doors. There is a power trunk release, which is replicated on the key FOB. You’ll find buttons to adjust the color of the interior ambient lighting from white to blue and every other color you can think of. My kids loved this. I didn’t care so much and enjoyed it mostly on white or blue. The steering column is manually adjustable for tilt and telescopic reach. The side-view mirrors are power, but not power-folding. One thing that threw me for a loop was finding a real hand-lever actuated parking brake in the centre console.
Safety/convenience-wise, you’ll find a nice back-up camera that displays on the screen (sadly no trajectory on there) as well as a parking proximity sensor with audible warnings. There is also a great, inobtrusive blind-spot warning system – little orange lights glow in the side-view mirrors when there is a vehicle in your blind spot. And finally, there is a back-up warning system, letting you know that there are things/vehicles off to the side as you’re backing up. This is more than handy in parking lots, when you can’t see if someone is coming as you’re backing out of a stall. It uses beeps and lights to get your attention.
The dash is very nicely upholstered in a leather-print, rubbery soft plastic which feels and looks really luxurious. The seats are covered in Bridge of Weir leather from Scotland. Honestly, I’d never heard of Bridge of Weir leather, but Lincoln made such a big deal out of it in the literature, that I had to look it up. Apparently they are pretty famous and one of Scotland’s proud exports – along with grumpy old haggis-eating people and impossible to understand accents. All the seating in the car was perforated black leather with brown piping – it looked, smelled and felt fantastic. Both front seats are power adjustable (including lumbar support), as well as having 3 graduated levels of heating and cooling. The cooled seating worked really well on the highway. Driver’s seat has 2 memory settings as well. The MKZ has beautiful real-wood inserts around the cabin – they are done nicely and really add a touch of class, in my opinion. Which is always right.
The rear seating is generously-sized for this category. You can sit three adults if necessary. I always evaluate vehicles based on my own situation and needs – in our case, we do need three children’s seats in varying sizes, including a huge, rear-facing infant seat and booster seats. Though it was using up all the available space, we were able to accommodate all three kids and their seats in the back, which is respectable. You’ll find two sets of LATCH anchors – one in each of the outboard seating positions. The seats are comfortable and I found leg room and foot room to be decent for a mid-size sedan. The seatback of the middle seat folds down to become a dual cupholder. You could consider it an armrest, but it’s not a good one. There are three headrests back there, and a ceiling-mounted map light. And that’s it. Seriously. It feels pretty spartan back there, especially for a Lincoln. No vents, no temperature controls, no plugs, nothing. There’s a little scalloped edge on the back of the centre console that houses an ambient lighting bulb and that’s about as exciting as it will get back there. Invest in some iPads – our kids never noticed the lack of fun stuff back there. As an adult, you’ll notice a high beltline in the back seats – it’s not claustrophobic, but certainly cozy and snug-feeling. You’ll find an interesting grate behind your knees in the back seat – I’m guessing that has to do with providing air flow/cooling the hybrid battery.
So, what’s it like to drive? This is my first experience with driving a hybrid vehicle and getting a ride in one doesn’t quite cut it. There are some things that just feel unnatural to the uninitiated. Like starting the car. With a key. Like a real old-school key – no push-button start here. When you turn the key, it almost never starts the engine. And that freaked me out. The first time I started it, I thought “Curse you, Lincoln! You’ve left me here, stranded! With this ridiculous hybrid car. Thanks for nothing!” And while I silently wept, gripping the steering wheel and shaking my fist at Mr. Lincoln, I read the dash where it said, clear as day, “Ready to Drive”. It occurred to me that it might be saving fuel. Being a hybrid and all. I put it into reverse, and sure enough, I was off. THAT is unsettling. It will also switch the engine off when you come to a stop, so when you’re at a red light, expect the tiny hiccup of the engine turning off. It will always try to break the friction point of driving (which is where we use up the most gas) using electric power, and then it will start the engine a second or two later. Once again, you’ll feel a little barely-perceptible hiccup – nothing bothersome or annoying. I’m certain you’d forget about this once you drive the car for more than a week. Actually I found it kind of neat to follow along with this car’s efforts to save fuel wherever it can. On that note, this hybrid also uses regenerative braking to charge the system, and it will show you that on the screen when you are using your brakes. Other information related to how the Hybrid system is working to save the planet comes from the screen to the left of the speedometer. It can show you how it is powering your forward progress, and it’s a neat split between electric (more when you’re accelerating) and gas (more when you’re cruising, maintaining speed). There is also an instant fuel economy bar graph, as well as a read-out of the long-term average economy.
In terms of power, this car has enough. I never felt wanting for more when I was commuting, and it did just fine on the highway. It’s not going to set any records or push you back in your seat, but it will ultimately satisfy the vast majority of drivers. I have always disliked the experience of driving a vehicle equipped with a CVT transmission – mainly because of the whiny, irritating way it makes the engine sound when you step on it. This car was no different. Things get a little buzzy when you get on the gas, but honestly, in my normal every-day driving, I never needed to do that. The ride was taught and very competent. It wasn’t stiff to the point of jarring, and it absorbed hits, bumps and potholes very nicely – but leaves the driver with a car that handles well. The car felt heavy around corners, but that’s probably because it is. I never felt the suspension was plush, but I also never caught myself wanting a softer ride on the highway – it is a well balanced car. Speaking of highway driving – one thing I consider very important in a car is the placement, and comfort, of armrests on the door panels. Because that’s where I put my left arm. The armrests in this car are what I consider perfect. Nicely padded, in the right position and height. Nicely done, Lincoln. Nicely done.
Let’s talk about what this car is really about. In terms of economy, I can give you what they say this car will do, and what I experienced. The official fuel economy ratings are as follows: 4.6 L/100 km (51 mpg) in the city, and 5.4 L/100 km (43 mpg) on the highway. I didn’t quite see those kind of numbers, but the car is pretty efficient. The long-term average on this car (it stores it forever, unless you choose to reset it manually) is at 6.9 L/100 km which is 34 mpg – that includes mostly city driving (crappy commuting, with lots of stop and go) and a decent highway drive. We did take a several hundred kilometer drive on the highway, during which we average 7.1 L/100 km (33 mpg) driving 120 km/h and using cruise control the whole way. I actually thought we’d do a little better than that, but the car was loaded with 5 people and the trunk absolutely full of stuff, and we had a nasty cross/headwind – all factors that likely brought the economy down a little bit. When you switch off the car, the MKZ Hybrid tells you how far you drove on that trip, your average fuel economy for that trip and exactly how much fuel you used. One of my commutes to work was truly spectacular – I drive 18.5 km to work (about 11.5 miles) – I used 1 L of fuel and averaged 4.8 L/100 km which is an astounding 49 mpg – in regular city rush-hour driving. A final note on fuel economy related business: the MKZ Hybrid has a 66 Litre fuel tank – I put 787 kms (490 miles) on it, and it still showed 50 km left on the range.
A few issues I had with this car – I have come to really enjoy, and frankly rely on, a car’s ability to automatically blink the signal light three times when I move the signal stalk – I use it for changing lanes, and virtually every vehicle I’ve driven in the last few years has that. This one didn’t. I’d often catch myself giving driver’s in other lanes the courtesy of a half-second of signalling. You’re welcome! We found this car to be very susceptible to cross-winds on the highway. We weren’t travelling at very high speeds (about 120 km/h) but there were significant wind issues – the car felt very floaty and the steering became quite finicky – it seemed almost like a different car when gusts would come up. And finally, we got scared a number of times when this happened. When you’re just sitting there, it will almost invariably shut the engine down, and you’ll hum on electric power – at a red light, in a parking lot, etc. Sometimes, I guess the power just runs out and so it has to run the engine to generate more. When the car fires up the engine, while you’re at a standstill, it felt and sounded as though we had just been hit from behind in a gentle accident. It was a bang/knock sound, accompanied with a true physical jolt – as though someone bumped us. I’m not sure if that’s normal, but I didn’t like that at all – there is no warning it’s coming, and it freaked out my wife and kids.
I think that about covers it. I enjoyed my time with the MKZ. I felt it was designed and built well – the quality of materials and fit and finish was great. As I always evaluate vehicles based on my family’s needs, this wouldn’t cut it for a family with three small children, but I don’t think they’re shooting for that market with the MKZ. The Hybrid drivetrain is excellent and for the most part, invisible to the driving process. I’d be happy to commute with this vehicle, and the fuel economy, compared to what I’m driving is incredible. With that said, I thought we might do a little better, but still – it’s a decent-sized sedan and we were loaded up – so I’m sure you could get better highway mileage if you had less weight in it. I think Lincoln has some competition at this price level, and consumers are doing some educated buying these days. There are a lot of options in the marketplace at this price, but in terms of mid-sized luxury sedans that offer a no-charge hybrid upgrade, you might be a little closer to making your decision. I’d rate this car a 7 out of 10 for my purposes – and an 8 out of 10 if I didn’t need to lug kids around. WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was relatively high, and dampened mostly by the car’s inability to house all our offspring comfortably.
Feel free to ask any questions about this car. Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Ford.