There are lots of hybrids of all types on the market. But only one isn’t priced higher than the non-hybrid version of the car it’s based on – Lincoln’s MKZ hybrid.
That’s not all it’s got going for it, either.
WHAT IT IS
The MKZ hybrid is a gas-electric version of Lincoln’s MKZ mid-sized entry-luxury sedan. It features a four-cylinder engine/electric motor combo instead of the V-6 that’s standard in the non-hybrid MKZ – but the price of both versions is identical at $35,180.
Lincoln is the only manufacturer not charging extra for the hybrid version of one of its vehicles.
Primary competition is the $35,100-$37,870 Lexus HS250h.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011
The MKZ has been out since 2008 but the hybrid version is a new addition for the 2011 model year.
41 MPG city – as good as the highway mileage of the much smaller Ford Fiesta economy car – and better mileage than any other luxury car hybrid, including the Lexus HS250h.
Decently quick (0-60 in about 8.6 seconds).
Readable/informative SmartGauge hybrid gauge cluster.
Capless fuel filler system; keypad entry system.
Tasteful looks outside; nicely finished inside.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Not as sporty as Lexus HS250h
Looks like the Ford Fusion it’s based on.
FWD only (non-hybrid MKZ offers AWD).
UNDER THE HOOD
The MKZ’s hybrid powertrain consist of a 2.5 liter gas engine working with an electric motor and battery pack. Total horsepower is 191 – enough to squeeze by the hybrid Lexus HS250h’s 187 hp.
A continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission drives the front wheels.
Gas mileage with this combo is 41 city, 36 highway – significantly better than the HS250h’s 34 highway figure (though it’s a dead heat as far as city driving goes, where the Lexus rates 35 MPGs).
It’s also almost twice the mileage of the non-hybrid, V-6 powered MKZ – which averages 19-21 MPGs.
Maximum possible range on a full tank is close to 700 miles, too.
Expect a 0-60 time in the mid 8-second range vs. low 7s for the V-6 powered MKZ.
ON THE ROAD
If you’ve driven the best-known hybrid – Toyota’s Prius – you may be thinking the MKZ hybrid makes you suffer to save gas, with Old Man in a Buick acceleration especially. Don’t worry. The MKZ hybrid is not a BMW stalker, but it’s not slow, either. It’s at least two full seconds quicker to 60 than the Prius and – even more important – accelerates decently using less than full pedal, which makes you feel much more comfortable behind the wheel. That’s even true going up some pretty steep hills. I live up in the Blue Ridge mountains, outside of Roanoke, Virginia – and every day I go up and down a road with a 5 percent grade that has an elevation change of nearly 1,000 ft. in less than two miles. This is a fine place to test the reserve power of any car. The Prius struggles like Monty Burns trying to run the 50. But the MKZ trundles up the mountain, no signs of calling up the Volksturm just to maintain speed.
And coming down the mountain, you don’t need the engine at all.
The MKZ can operate on its batteries and electric motors at speeds of up to 47 mph. It’s true it takes a very light touch on the pedal to keep the gas engine from (quietly) engaging, but it can be done and it’s pretty neat to be able to operate the car in stealth mode (because there’s no sound at all) at close-to-highway speeds .
You can keep track of what’s happening – and how much gas you’re saving – by watching the vertical bar graph displays in the SmartGauge cluster – which are in my opinion the best hybrid gauges on the market. They’re very straightforward; no silly animated displays – just “up” or “down” (higher mileage; more power, etc.) depending on how you’re driving. The EcoGuide function tells you at a glance how much power accessories (such as AC) are drawing; current battery charge, instant and average fuel economy, miles to empty – and so on. A tutorial function helps you learn the best way to drive the MKZ for optimum mileage.
The most important thing about the SmartGauge layout,however, is that you don’t have to study a manual to fathom its operation; the primary readouts are immediately understandable the first time you get behind the wheel.
But excepting the hybrid-specific gauges, you can easily forget you’re driving a hybrid vehicle. The MKZ runs, drives, feels and sounds like a quiet, smooth luxury sedan – emphasis on luxury. Lincoln is one of the few premium brands that is more interested in making you comfortable than scoring the quickest lap times on race tracks. There are BMWs and Caddies for people who want luxury- sport cars. Not everyone does – and Lincoln wants to give those who don’t a car with a more relaxed demeanor.
I think it’s smart strategy.
AT THE CURB
Yes, you can tell the MKZ is related to the Fusion. That may be a handicap to status-conscious buyers. Then again, it hasn’t kept people from buying Toyota-based Lexus cars like the strong-selling ES350. I think the key factor is not the familial relationship but whether the higher-end (and higher-priced) version is good enough to justify the cost. If all you get is a different grille and maybe some chrome trim plus a little leather – in exchange for a 30 percent price premium – well, yeah, you have a right to feel taken.
But in the case of the MKZ hybrid, you literally do get the proverbial kitchen sink. It comes in just one loaded trim, with a nine-speaker stereo, heated and cooled front seats, high-end leather, real wood trim (Swirl Walnut or Olive Ash), 10-way power seats, Sync multi-media interface and also the Lincoln-exclusive keypad keyless entry system. No other brand of car has this feature, which lets you access the car by punching in your five-digit code. The capless fuel feature is another nice item. Just pop open the filler door and insert the nozzle. No fooling with a grimy cap. Gas up – and go.
The major options – 14-speaker ultra-premium stereo with music storage hard drive/GPS, rain-sensing wipers and a sunroof – are bundled together in one of two Rapid Spec packages. Lincoln – and other automakers – claim these packages save you money by giving you more features for less than they’d cost you individually, which is true…. sort of. The package deal is cheaper than it would be if you ordered each item a la carte. However, if you wanted just the one thing – the upgraded stereo, for example – but not all the other stuff, then it’d be less expensive to just buy the stereo. Which Lincoln (and many other companies) won’t let you do.
This is my only gripe with the car – and it’s not really a gripe with the car. It’s a problem with the way cars are sold these days.
And not just the Lincoln MKZ, either.
Yes, it’s based on the Ford Fusion, but the Fusion’s an excellent car – made even better by Lincoln’s tuning and tweaking – which includes softer suspension settings, more and better insulation (acoustic laminated glass, etc.).
The seats are wonderful – because they’re not heavily bolstered “sport buckets” that make you feel strapped in like an F1 racer – and they’re finished with Lincoln’s exclusive and extra-nice Bridge of Weir leather.
That’s subjective, of course.
Objectively, the MKZ is roomier than its main competition, the Lexus HS250h. It has almost an inch more headroom up front (38.7 inches vs. 38 for the Lexus) and – wait for it – four inches more front seat shoulder room (57.2 vs. 53.8) and and 1.2 inches more front seat hiproom (54 inches vs. 52.8). Those are differences you’ll notice immediately – especially if you’ve got someone sitting right beside you.
The Lincoln’s got a much more occupant-friendly back seat area, too: 36.7 inches of legroom vs. 34.5 for the Lexus and 37.8 inches of headroom vs. 36.8 inches.
If you define luxury as being synonymous with being comfortable, the Lincoln is the clear winner.
Also: Lincoln doesn’t charge you a penny more for the hybrid version of the MKZ. It’s typical for the hybrid version of a car to cost several thousand dollars more than the non-hybrid version – which eats away at the financial value of the hybrid. After all, if you’re spending more on the car, your total ownership costs may be higher than they would have been if you’d just bought the (lower priced) non-hybrid version.
Add to this the fact that the MKZ hybrid gets much better mileage than the Lexus HS250h – its major competitor – and it’s hard to come up with a strong reason to choose the Lexus over the Lincoln.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This one’s a home run. If you want the best entry-luxury hybrid car on the market, you want the new MKZ hybrid.