By Chris Haak
Writers for Autosavant are given free reign to write about whatever they want to, as long as it’s about cars and the car business, whenever they want to. I almost never give them specific assignments, nor deadlines, unless it’s been a while since a time-sensitive event has occurred. I get many different perspectives on the issues using this approach, and also hopefully have writers opining on topics that they personally find interesting and enjoyable to write about.
Sometimes, however, this Wild West approach to editorial assignments results in interesting, or uncomfortable situations, like when two people write about the same subject. Or when two people drive the same car. (It should be noted that we never schedule the same vehicle twice at Autosavant, but some of our writers are freelancers with individual access to manufacturers’ press fleets). This happened a few years ago with the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, when one of our writers reviewed the same truck that a freelancer did. Since one guy was in the Texas Hill Country and the other on Long Island and they have very different perspectives, I think it worked. Hopefully we’ll be able to say the same about the piece that Charles Krome wrote last month on the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and what you’re about to read below.
The Lincoln MKZ is, of course, a Ford Fusion in drag. But just as the Fusion had a substantial update for the 2010 model year, with a new interior, new powertrains, and a spruced-up design, so did the MKZ. The car that was called the Zephyr for its first model year now carries the Lincoln family face, and manages to pull it off perhaps more elegantly than do its brethren, the MKT and MKS in particular. That’s a solid accomplishment considering that the exterior design changes for the 2010 MKZ were just front and rear clips, with no change to the greenhouse.
This car is actually the third MKZ that we’ve had in the Autosavant Garage over the years (not counting the one that Mr. Krome received as a result of his other ventures) and I still can’t quite fall in love with the MKZ. A friend asked me if the MKZ is the “Cadillac Cimarron of Lincolns.” It’s an interesting question to ponder. The MKZ is a far, far better car than the Cimarron was, but the fundamental concept: taking a “regular” car (the Chevy Cavalier in the Cimarron’s case), sprucing it up with leather, chrome, and extra sound deadening material, and proffering it as a luxury car. But just as the unloved Cimarron could never hide its Cavalier legacy, neither can the MKZ hide its Fusion roots.
In the case of the MKZ Hybrid, Lincoln took the Fusion Hybrid, which we really liked when we reviewed it, and which also happened to be the 2010 North American Car of the Year, so it begins with a solid foundation. The transplant surgery was relatively simple; take the Lincoln MKZ’s body and interior, and slap it onto a Fusion Hybrid. There is no difference at all in the powertrain, doors, roof, or performance. The cars even have identical fuel economy ratings of 41 city/36 highway. A popular aftermarket conversion in the truck world was to put a Cadillac Escalade front clip on a Chevy Silverado; might we see Fusion owners converting the front half of their cars to MKZs?
Inside, there are the expected levels of wood, chrome, and leather for a near-luxury car. Most of the upper surfaces, such as the dashboard, center console armrest, and door panels, are soft to the touch. As the MKZ was revised for 2011, it has SYNC and Ford’s newer high-resolution, large navigation display in the center of the dash (navigation is optional; SYNC is standard), but lacks the latest MyLincoln Touch interface that the MKZ features. Based on some experiences that we have had with MyFord Touch in the Edge and MyLincoln Touch in the MKX, that may not be a bad thing. Though the MKZ’s center stack is littered with similar-looking buttons whose function can be hard to decipher at a quick glance, at least it avoids some of the software glitches that seem to occasionally occur with the newer systems. Also, it’s harder to accidentally brush against the wrong button, which is quite easy to do with MyFord Touch/MyLincoln Touch.
The real technology parlor trick for the MKZ Hybrid, though, is impressing your passengers with your electric-only hypermiling capabilities. With a stronger traction motor than the Prius, Camry Hybrid, or Lexus HS250h has, the MKZ Hybrid can reach and maintain up to 47 miles per hour on battery power alone, versus just 25 miles per hour for the Toyota-built cars. And when you inevitably lose patience (or worse, the drivers behind you do), the gasoline engine can be summoned with just an additional poke of the accelerator pedal. Older hybrids struggled in making a smooth transition between propulsion sources, but Ford basically nailed it, with the gasoline engine’s starting and stopping nearly imperceptible. In situations where the radio and fan are both off, it’s a bit eerie to sit at a traffic light with the car “on,” yet making almost zero noise. The only thing audible in those situations is the faint noise of the battery’s cooling fan coming from underneath the back seat.
On the road, it seemed that the MKZ Hybrid was more tuned for comfort than for handling prowess. I didn’t notice such a sensation in the Fusion Hybrid that I reviewed a year ago, so perhaps one differentiation that Lincoln has vis a vis the Ford is that it’s more softly sprung. The large steering wheel and electric power steering conspire against the notion of providing good feedback to the driver. The car’s brakes – while the transition between regenerative braking and friction braking is reasonably linear – aren’t exactly race track material.
So it’s not a driver’s car. But that’s okay. It is a Lincoln, after all. It’s intended to get its occupants from point A to point B with a modicum of style and more comfort than you’d find in a conventional car. In the daily commuting grind, the car responds happily. Driven sanely, it’s quiet, refined, and sips gas in traffic jams rather than guzzling it. Video game fans may enjoy being rewarded for efficient driving habits with blooming foliage in the right-hand LCD display; my personal-best was 18 leaves and 3 flowers, and my worst was a sad-looking 3-leaf arrangement.
During a pure highway trip, I observed fuel economy of 34 miles per gallon at 75 miles per hour, just a bit below the EPA’s claim of 36 miles per gallon. During the car’s weeklong stay in the Autosavant Garage, it reported an overall fuel economy number of 32 miles per gallon. That figure is three miles per gallon worse than what I observed from the Fusion Hybrid in December 2009, but I idled the MKZ a number of times in my driveway to warm up the car while I cleared ice and snow from around the car; that was not necessary during the Fusion’s stay.
Pricing for the MKZ Hybrid is interesting. It undercuts the smaller, less powerful, less efficient Lexus HS 250h by $2,885 according to TrueDelta. Comparing against itself (the V6, non-hybrid version of itself), the cars have the same base prices, and TrueDelta agrees, showing just a $100 difference when adjusting for equipment (only because TrueDelta assigns a value of $1,100 to the MKZ’s six-speed automatic and $1,000 to the MKZ Hybrid’s CVT). The Fusion Hybrid, however, undercuts the MKZ Hybrid by $6,380 according to TrueDelta. So if you want to save money, don’t buy the Lincoln version of the Ford Fusion Hybrid.
My tester had a $34,330 base price, and only one option: Rapid Spec 201A for $3,595, which added navigation, blind spot warning, rear view camera, cross-traffic alert, and THX II sound system with 5.1 surround sound. Tack on the $850 destination charge, and you get to the $38,775 final MSRP.
Not cheap, but you’re getting an efficient, capable car, and the most fuel efficient luxury car that you can buy. As long as a Lincoln meets your definition of “luxury car,” and you put a premium on the Lincoln’s nicer interior, additional exterior chrome, and luxury-brand badge, then it might be worth looking into instead of a Fusion Hybrid.