2011 Lincoln MKZ Review

2011 Lincoln MKZ - Premium mileage without a premium price.


PLUSES: Derived from the midsize Ford Fusion sedan and  dressed for luxury with all the amenities; the mileage rating of a much smaller car without the much smaller sardine can dimensions. Ability to run in battery mode only at times to conserve fuel. Gas engine shuts off at idle. Dramatic driving range of 400 miles plus. No plugging in to recharge.

MINUSES: Rear seat a tad snug and trunk not real deep.

The attraction of the 2011 Lincoln MKZ hybrid is posted on the window sticker for all to see.

Check out the numbers and a smile lights up your face from ear to ear---41 m.p.g. city/36 m.p.g. highway, and from 400 to 500 miles of travel before the need to pause to refill the tank.

The human bladder should go that long before need to pull over!

We tested the new for 2011 Lincoln MKZ hybrid, the gas/battery version of the midsize luxury sedan derived from the current Ford Fusion as well as the vehicle formerly known as the Mercury Milan before Ford pink slipped the division.

With Fusion one of Ford's--and the industry's--best offerings in terms of comfort and performance, the MKZ starts life with excellent DNA. And with the battery assist helping relieve the gas engine, MKZ also has excellent fuel economy, as much if not more than smaller compacts.

However, it also becomes a member of the Lincoln alphabet family, a group of vehicles that some Ford gnome thought best to give letters rather than names to tell one apart from the other.

So the Lincoln family now offers an MKS, MKZ, MKZ hybrid, MKT, and MKX. Outside of Ford world headquarters, perhaps two people, three tops, can tell you which of those letter machines are sedans (MKS based on the Ford Taurus/MKZ based on Fusion), and which crossovers (MKT based on Ford Flex/MKX based on Ford Edge).

Actually, have to suspect not everyone in Ford is fully aware of which is which either, perhaps the reason CEO Alan Mulally is considering giving the vehicles actual names in the future. Here's hoping sense prevails and the vehicles get real names, rather than confusing alphabetical designations that don't provide a clue as to what the vehicle actually is.

But we digress.

By offering a hybrid MKZ, Lincoln provides motorists with a 5-passenger sedan that offers gobs of miles per gallon per journey. Slip in, turn the key, shift into D and depart silently---because the sedan starts in battery mode (unless cold outside and then gas gets the machine going).

It's a weird sensation to move without any sound from the engine compartment filtering into the cabin. Keep that in mind when pedestrians appear ahead. And pedestrians must be aware to look closely before stepping off the curb now that hybrids are more common.

By making only light contact with the accelerator pedal we were able to keep the car in battery mode for several blocks at speeds up to about 22 m.p.h. before the four cylinder went to work. How far you go is limited by the ability to keep a light touch on the pedal, to avoid hills that require an assist by the gas engine to climb, and to avoid being in front of a car or truck less than willing to crawl behind a 22 m.p.h. vehicle without honking the horn or waiving a finger at you.   

We also found that once up to 40-50 m.p.h., we could coast in battery mode and give the gas engine time to rest. And, of course, rather than waste fuel idling, the gas engine shuts off. The rule of thumb with the hybrid is that on flat land, going downhill, or coasting, you can milk it for mileage in battery mode, but when climbing any incline, it needs the muscle of the gas engine to get up and over.

Battery mode only means consuming not a drop of petrol. The more you rely on battery power, the less you need gas. Being able to coax the machine to stay in battery power at low speeds is one reason for the 41 m.p.g. rating.

One problem, however, is that the longer you stay in battery mode, the quicker the orange bars disappear that warn that the battery pack is being drained of energy. The gas engine kicks on if too much time is spent in electric mode to keep from exhausting all battery power.

A set of schematics in the dash screen shows when in battery mode, when in gas, and when in both at which time the battery pack provides an added 35 h.p. boost to the 156 h.p. gas engine when needed. There's also a schematic in the instrument panel in which leaves grow to symbolize your driving habits are conserving fuel.

Actually, watching leaves grow isn't as important as watching the leaves and assorted fauna give way to a "trip summary" after each jaunt, such as the one that showed our quick run to the store and back totaled 8.9 miles, consumed a meager 0.10 gallon of gas, and resulted in an average fuel economy of 46.6 m.p.g.---while still leaving enough fuel in the tank for more than 400 additional miles in a 5 passenger, midsize luxury sedan.

While most time was spent trying to milk every mile out of the hybrid powerplant, we also found that when it comes to off the line get up and go, even the added 35 h.p. boost from the nickel metal hydride pack isn't going to throw you back into the leather saddle. Tires will neither squeal nor smoke. Mileage over muscle.

If you want quicker reaction to pedal input, the 3.5 liter, 263 h.p. V-6 is the performance alternative in the non hybrid MKZ. But in doing so the mileage rating drops to 18 m.p.g. city/27 m.p.g. highway with front wheel drive, 17/24 with all wheel drive. The hybrid doesn't offer AWD.  

While decked out in luxury duds, ride isn't as satin smooth as you'd expect. Little firm. Stiffer low rolling resistance radials are the cause. You also feel the 3,700 plus pounds in the wheel when cornering and parking.

Rear seat room is a tad snug, thanks to housing the battery pack behind the rear seat, which means trunk space suffers a bit, too. The trunk stands high, but it doesn't go as deep as it would without the battery pack.

Couple noteworthy features include a plastic clip in the driver's sunvisor to hold credit card or parking pass, and an easy to see and use power trunk release button in the dash to the left of the steering wheel. There's also an auxiliary plug, power plug, and coin holder under the center arm rest up front, though the holder would be more useful if not positioned at the rear of the arm rest.

And seat warmers/coolers are standard to keep driver and front seat passenger comfortable regardless of the season. That's a much appreciated attention to detail, as are such touches as power heated outside mirrors, dual zone climate control, and stability and traction control.   

The MKZ also comes with MyKey as standard, which allows parents to program a key for teens to use that limits speed and sound chimes at 45, 55, and 65 m.p.h. as a warning. The key system also reduces audio volume when teens are at the wheel.

Another set of numbers many will appreciate is that the base price of the MKZ hybrid is $34,330, same price as the non hybrid MKZ with the 3.5 liter V-6.

Premium mileage without a premium price

Novel touch.

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Wheelbase: 107.4 inches
Length: 189.8 inches
Engine: 2.5 liter, 156 h.p., four cylinder gas engine with 35 h.p. nickel metal hydride battery pack and electric motor.
Transmission: CVT automatic.
Mileage: 41 m.p.g. city/36 m.p.g. highway.
Base price: $34,330.
Price as equipped: Add $3,595 for package with voice activated navi, blind spot warning, cross traffic alert, rear view camera, and THX premium sound system, plus $850 freight.

Jim Mateja

Jim Mateja enjoyed a 42 year career with the Chicago Tribune before retiring in 2007 as the newspaper's automotive columnist. He received numerous awards for his reporting and writing, including the National Automotive Journalism Association's "Moto" award for best regularly published column and automotive feature writing, and a Best in Show award for his test ride of a horse in conjunction with the Tribune's 150th anniversary. He also earned the Detroit Press Club Foundation's Gold Wheel Award for best car reviews, and a Tribune Professional Performance Award for his column and regular reporting. He still writes occasional car reviews for the Tribune, is one of the nation's 50 automotive journalists who serve as members of the North American Car of the Year judging panel, and is a panel member who helps select Best Buys for "Consumers Digest" magazine. Mateja also is the founding President of the Midwest Automotive Media Association.