By Charles Krome
As soon as Lincoln decided it would offer the MKZ Hybrid at the same base price as the standard MKZ—$34,330—I moved the car up to the top of my test-drive wish-list. And lo and behold, guess what ended up in my driveway over the weekend, complete with a full tank of gas, courtesy of our friends at Lincoln?
Now, I know the MKZ doesn’t have the best rep in the auto blogosphere, but I had thought there might be a strong business case with the Lincoln that buyers weren’t quite hipped to. Consider: There are certain types of vehicles that offer certain market differentiators that are so far ahead of the competition that said vehicles get a bit of a free pass when it comes to more mundane features. Take something like the Lotus Elise. By focusing on a low curb weight to the exclusion of nearly everything else, the Lotus offers stunning performance at a relatively low cost.
With the MKZ Hybrid, I thought, maybe Lincoln was running the same sort of strategy, except that in this car, the focus was on technology, both in the cabin and in the powertrain. So I came to the MKZ willing to forgive it if it lacked something on the luxury side, provided it made up for that lack by delivering a Lotus-like tech experience. Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.
For one thing, the MKZ packs the previous-generation SYNC system, not the brand-new MyLincoln Touch setup debuting on the 2011 MKX, so I didn’t actually have the latest latest tech. That’s a strike for the MKZ on principle alone—if Lincoln wants to sell its sedan based on technological prowess, it needs to put its absolute best foot forward. Especially because, at this stage, the SYNC setup in the MKZ seems somewhat underwhelming. As soon as I got comfortable using it, which didn’t take long, I found myself thinking Lincoln could have done even more with it.
I’ve also been disappointed with the MKZ’s fuel efficiency. The car is rated at 41 mpg city/36 mpg highway/39 mpg combined, but I’ve seen nowhere near those numbers. I finished my first day with the Lincoln, after about 20 miles of mixed city/highway driving, at 33.1 mpg. Since then, over another 80 miles, mostly in the city, I’ve watched the mpg gauge slowly but steadily fall to 27.4 mpg after this morning’s car-pool duties.
It’s true that a lot of this driving has been while temps have been in the teens (and lower), and that’s required plenty of warm-up time, heated-seat time and time spent with the thermostat set at 80 degrees, but I’ve used an awfully light touch with the right foot and expected better fuel economy. I’ve even been paying close attention to the MKZ’s configurable IP, which I have configured to display as much info as possible, to garner real-time insight on how my driving is affecting fuel efficiency. The problem with this is that whatever distractions the SYNC system eliminates are more than made up for by the amount of time I spent looking at the MKZ’s instrument panel.
The bottom line here is that the tech experience in the Lincoln MKZ simply isn’t amazing enough to make up for its drawbacks, of which there are too many as compared to other entry-lux sedans that compete primarily on actual luxury. A few notable points: The interior of the Lincoln seemed a step down from the Chevrolet Malibu I drove late last year, something particularly notable where the dashboard and door panels meet. In the Chevy, the wood accents make for a wrap-around effect that welcomes the driver into a cockpit-like environment, while the Lincoln shows off a sharp right angle that’s filled with hard-to-reach buttons.
The Lincoln also uses a two-tone interior design, but in an odd way: Pretty much everything below the beltline is black, while everything above is gray. Combined with the car’s lackluster acceleration, the design had me feeling like I was mired in a black swamp from which I couldn’t escape no matter how hard I pressed the gas pedal.
Finally, there were at least two places on the exterior that were noticeably lacking in craftsmanship. As you can see in the pictures—which I took in a 13-degree mini-blizzard—the seal around the top of the windshield was poorly executed, with bare metal still showing through, and the accent pieces at the top of the hood, near the bottom of the windshield, looked as if they were carelessly jammed on. This is the kind of stuff that’s unforgivable on a Lincoln, regardless of its price point.
I’m still confident that Lincoln could score customers with a mid-size sedan that offered superior technology and “only” competitive amenities, but the 2011 Lincoln MKZ isn’t it.