The Lincoln MKZ gets a new hybrid-powered version for 2011, joining a lineup of midsize luxury sedans that was thoroughly updated for 2010.
We found the Lincoln MKZ quite pleasant, with a spacious, understated interior, and a well-balanced combination of ride comfort and easy handling. The MKZ seats five, it offers ample leg and hip room front and rear for four, and boasts a large trunk. The Lincoln MKZ comes standard with front-wheel drive and a V6. A sports suspension package and all-wheel drive are available for sportier handling and all-weather capability.
The new 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is a four-cylinder gas-electric model that trades some straight-line performance for an exceptional EPA-estimated 41 mpg City and 36 mpg Highway. The Hybrid is priced identically to the V6 model and comes with all the same standard equipment. We found the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid easy to drive and operate. It's smooth, sophisticated and refined. The Hybrid employs a four-cylinder engine and an electric motor. (You do not plug it in.)
We found the Lincoln MKZ stable and calm through the corners. The all-wheel-drive sports model has a driving performance envelope that overlaps that of sporty cars. The standard V6 revs to 6750 rpm and we found engine and transmission responsive when called upon. The MKZ is more of a luxury car than a sporty car, but it can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 7.1 seconds, which is reasonably quick.
New for 2011 is MyKey, a programmable key that allows you to limit speed and audio volume, useful when loaning the car to your son or daughter. MyKey encourages seat belt use, provides earlier low-fuel warnings, and can be programmed to sound chimes at 45, 55 and 65 mph. Also new for 2011 are side mirrors that incorporate a convex section to reduce blind spots.
The Lincoln MKZ looks similar to the MKS flagship luxury sedan. The MKZ offers many of the features and capabilities as the top-of-the-line Lincoln sedan, but in a more compact and affordable package.
The Lincoln MKZ clearly borrows Lincoln design cues from other vehicles in the brand, sharing the strong split-wing grille, high compound headlamps and prominent placement of the Lincoln star on the front quarter panels. In the MKZ, the grille is slightly narrower, and the lines somewhat more fluid than the more rigidly defined, cast-in-concrete bodywork of its big brother, the MKS. The front grille, in particular, is designed to create a distinct presence in the company of other cars; a high belt line adds a look of substance and heft.
There is judicious use of chrome on the door handles, fog lamp bezels, moldings, mirrors and exhaust tips. Window glass is solar tinted. LED tail lamps are wide and broad, extending across the rear deck and into the quarter panels, adding further emphasis to a wide stance. All-season radial tires on nine-spoke, 17-inch wheels are visually proportionate to the wheel wells and wheelbase.
The end result is a strong Lincoln family resemblance both coming and going, and a car that appears modern, technically endowed, and well planted.
For 2011, the sideview mirrors incorporate a secondary convex spotter mirror in the top outer corner, which reduces the driver's blind spots. The more sophisticated electronic Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) is still available as an option.
Ford and Lincoln have begun to introduce capless refueling systems under the brand name EasyFuel. We've found it works well and creates one less thing to lose: the fuel cap.
The Lincoln MKZ interior has a conservative design sensibility, conveying the virtues of simplicity. There is a distinct lack of clutter for a car with a complete suite of convenience features and technology.
Seating might be the best part of the interior. The seats are generously wide, allowing easy entry and exit, both up front and to the rear seating area. They are 10-way adjustable, with power lumbar, and have heated/cooled seating surfaces as standard equipment. There is legroom to burn for our average-size frame, both front and rear, and likely enough for those well over 6 feet to be easily accommodated. Armrests are wide and well placed, and functional grab handles are located at every door.
Quality materials are evident. The wood is real wood, the aluminum is real aluminum, and the leather is real leather. Plastic, what there is of it, has been well textured and does not suggest that it will appear cheap two years down the line. Controls and buttons are low relief, within easy reach, and remarkably intuitive. The navigation screen, at 8 inches, could be a little bigger but it's well located at the top of the center stack and the software makes use of the entire screen.
Our biggest complaint about the Lincoln MKZ cabin is that it looks a bit too much like a Ford interior. You may feel like you're sitting in a Ford rather than a Lincoln.
Instrumentation, consistent with the rest of the interior, includes speedometer and tach, a message center, with low oil pressure indicator. A universal garage door opener is standard.
There is also a voice-activated hands-free in-car communication and entertainment system developed by Ford and Microsoft. The system integrates Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and digital media players for hands-free phone and music selection. It also enables further communications, such as 911 Assist and Vehicle Health Report, which are provided with no monthly fees.
The standard audio system, with nine speakers and CD/MP3 play capability, will be perfectly suitable for most drivers, especially considering how quiet the MKZ is inside. However, there is a 10-speaker THX II Surround Sound system that has a 10-gigabite hard drive, enough for 2400 MP3 tracks, and plays DVDs with home-theater sound depth. We can attest to the fact that it can play music or movies at very high volume without distorting, and that the sound in the back seat is just as good as the sound up front. With or without the THX sound system, both navigation packages include HD radio. Its operation is transparent to the driver: Simply tune in a station, and if the broadcast is in HD the radio automatically senses the signal and switches to digital mode.
The Lincoln MKZ is a smooth and quiet car, whether equipped with the V6 or the hybrid gas-electric powertrain.
The cabin of the Lincoln MKZ is conspicuously quiet with the V6 engine running, which helps create an atmosphere of sanctuary inside. Certain road surfaces bring a little more tire noise through than others, but the MKZ is an unusually quiet car, clearly on a par with the best when it comes to noise control. Ride quality was gracious and hospitable as befitting a luxury car. Parking in narrow spaces is easy, a benefit of the turning radius of the MKZ.
The available all-wheel drive is a tangible handling benefit. We felt it added to handling stability as we powered through corners on Southern California's winding Ortega Highway, with no apparent torque steer or sense of biasing from wheel to wheel. We found ourselves casually steering through 35 mph corners at 45 and 50 mpg.
The brakes are strong and progressive, perhaps a little touchy at the top of the pedal until you get used to it, but definitely have enough stopping power to create a secure sense of control. The car stays flat and composed when pushed into a corner, tracking cleanly along any reasonable line. Simultaneous braking and steering, as if correcting to shed speed on a surprise corner, did not upset the car. It was hard to generate tire noise, even with sharp steering inputs. The brakes on the MKZ Hybrid model felt normal.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine is paired well with the 6-speed transmission for responsive performance. The SelectShift feature allows manual gear changes. Using it, we found the upshifts crisp, and the car will continue pulling well through 6000 rpm. Downshifts were another matter because programming protects the engine from over-revving on heavy downshifts, so we found it harder to manage the car heading into corners in manual mode with the computer second-guessing our choices. Usually, we preferred to leave it in Drive. Driven as an automatic, the transmission responds well to throttle. We don't think we could get the car to go any faster shifting manually, but it does add to the fun factor.
The V6 makes peak torque at 4500 rpm, which is relatively high in the rev range, but again, the transmission applies the power so well it's generally possible to accelerate without effort. With gradual, progressive increase in throttle, the car builds speed without a downshift. Floor it, and you'll get a quick kick-down and, in the lower gears at least, brisk acceleration. Even though the car has well isolated acoustics, the intake song of the V6 at full throttle does come through to the cabin, and it is not entirely unpleasant to the sporting ear.
We found the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid cruised smoothly in stop-and-go traffic outside Washington, D.C. The system feels smooth and sophisticated, and it seamlessly switches from using the electric motor and the engine. We noted that on a cold morning, we were able to start the car and go back inside while it warmed up, the engine cycling on as needed to run the heater.
The Hybrid uses the same Ford-developed hybrid powertrain as the Ford Fusion. That means a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine coupled to an Aisin E-CVT transmission, an electric drive motor, a 275-volt nickel-metal-hydride propulsion battery, and regenerative braking. None of the MKZ's luxury trimming has been subtracted from the package for weight or complexity reasons. It's equipped exactly the same way as the gasoline MKZ, with the same option list, except for all-wheel-drive. It also means that the clever, easy-to-use digital display screens developed for the Ford hybrid have been carried over to the Lincoln, including a four-step driver assist system and the virtual leaves (and now flowers) that grow on the screen the more carefully you drive. Like the Fusion, the MKZ will drive on pure electric power up to 47 miles per hour, when the engine comes on automatically to assist or accelerate.
Fuel economy for the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is an EPA-estimated 41 miles per gallon City, 36 mpg Highway. Lincoln says that makes it the most fuel-efficient car in the mid-luxury segment.
All of the major accessories in the Hybrid operate electrically, including the power steering, which has been tuned to be more like conventional hydraulic power steering. It shuts down completely at stop signs and traffic signals, and always starts on the electric motor unless the throttle is floored, which brings on the Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine. The battery and fuel economy gauges on the left and the virtual leaves on the right that grow and turn into apple blossoms are very entertaining to watch.
We found the MKZ Hybrid a delight to drive, quiet, efficient, and for the most part transparent. There are no violent noises or clunks when the gasoline engine goes on or off, and full-throttle acceleration with both the electric motor and the gasoline engine working together is smooth and solid, but not exhilarating (Ford rates the combined power at 191 horsepower, well down from the V-6 engine). What is exhilarating is watching the mileage meter and getting the long-term fuel economy gains that a city-dwelling commuter will be able to get at 41 mpg.
The Blind Spot Information System is a safety features that uses radar sensors to sweep the roadway to the side and rear of the car. If you're moving into an object in your blind spot, a red indicator light on the outside of the side mirrors comes on and a warning tone sounds. It's sometimes beneficial on the highway, or during heavy commuting. On narrow roads, it's sometimes better to switch it off to avoid false alarms. A side benefit of this new technology is that the radar can also warn against backing into cross traffic. When the car is in Reverse, the radar tracks up to 65 feet on either side of the vehicle and warns the driver with audible alerts. The navigation system comes with a rearview camera, which is an excellent safety device.
The Lincoln MKZ is a quality luxury car that feels right and looks right, and it comes at a good price. Luxury car owners from other brands might be surprised by the quality of the execution. We found the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid works very well and we recommend it.
John Stewart reported from Southern California, with Jim McCraw in Detroit, and Mitch McCullough in Washington, D.C.