On paper, the 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid makes for a compelling choice. Lincoln claims it has a "best-in-class" quiet interior, "more standard luxury" than competitive vehicles and, of course, "best-in-class" fuel efficiency, with the highest electric-vehicle-mode speed. The MKZ Hybrid also boasts the same base MSRP'”$34,330'”as the standard MKZ; that is, you sort of get the hybrid system thrown in for free. But how does the sedan match up out on the road? Thanks to the friendly folks at Lincoln, who provided me with a 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid plus a full tank of gas, here are some initial impressions.
The Generation Gap
First off, let's take a minor detour to note some complaints that Consumer Reports recently made about the latest MyFord/MyLincoln Touch technologies, which the publication found to be "time-consuming and distracting to operate."
While the MKZ admittedly doesn't have the brand-new MyLincoln setup, even based on the tech it does have, it's easy to see how CR could come to that opinion. But after spending a few hours in the car, I'm wondering if the publication's editors are simply on the wrong side of the generation gap. I didn't find using the touch screen and voice commands to control the MKZ's systems inherently "time-consuming and distracting." They just required a completely different set of reflexes from the ones I've spent building up in my past 30 or so years of driving.
If you've spent three decades manually adjusting climate controls with dials and buttons, for example, switching to touch-screen/voice-command controls simply isn't going to feel natural at first. Once you get used to it, and remember the goal here is to help the driver keep his/her hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, the advantages become obvious.
That's not to say I didn't find any ghosts in the machine, although I've only found one so far, preventing me from entering street addresses of more than three digits in the nav system. But when I used voice recognition, it was no problem.
High Mileage Despite Low Temps
The other big selling point of the MKZ Hybrid is its fuel efficiency, and so far I've been relatively impressed. The EPA line on the vehicle is 41 mpg city/36 mpg highway/39 mpg combined, and while I can easily get near that mark on the expressway, I'm struggling to top 32 mpg around town. Of course, the temperature here in the Detroit area has been hovering in the mid teens the past two mornings, which has meant warming up the Lincoln (a lot) before heading out on the car-pool run, and that, in turn, requires spending a not-insignificant number of minutes waiting in line to actually drop the kids off.
The fact that I'm garnering more than 77 percent better city fuel efficiency than the standard MKZ, despite running the heater full blast, maxing the temp on the heated seats and idling in driveways, is a notable achievement. I've even been able to start getting some EV-mode driving out of the Lincoln, thanks to some coaching from the "Smart Gauge" instrument panel.
But this is where things do get a bit distracting. In its most comprehensive mode, Smart Gauge provides at least seven different real-time feedback inputs for the driver, letting you know things like when the MKZ is operating in EV mode, when the batteries are recharging, your current fuel efficiency, your average fuel efficiency (in two different locations on the IP), how much power is being used to run the vehicle's accessories, and how many leaves you've earned from the EcoGuide.
It's all useful and effective, but I found myself spending too much time checking all those gauges, dials and whatnot.
Is it a luxury sedan?
Perhaps the best way to deal with this conundrum is to compare the MKZ Hybrid with, wait for it, the Jeep Wrangler. In both cases, you can easily find similarly priced vehicles that best these two in a lot of measures, but not in their core competencies. That is, you're not likely to find a better $22,045 rock crawler than the Wrangler, and you probably can't find a $34,000 sedan with the same levels of technology and fuel efficiency as the MKZ Hybrid.
That doesn't make the latter a luxury vehicle, but it does make it a good solution for the right drivers.