By on November 22, 2010

Ten years ago I would never have considered comparing a Lincoln to a Lexus, but times change and with Lincoln heading up market with their latest product refreshes and Lexus searching for their soul in the mass market, the stars have finally aligned. And nothing out of Detroit strikes so closely the heart of the Japanese competition as the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. After all, reliable entry-level luxury and hybrid tech are two things the Japanese mastered long before anyone else. Is it possible for an American company to beat Lexus at their own game?

The Lincoln MKZ aka the Zephyr, has had a hard life, and despite following the same formula that made the Lexus ES a success – take your mid-size volume car, add some bling and call it luxury – the MKZs sales figures are less than half the competition from Japan. With the 2010 refresh of the MKZ and Fusion models Ford may finally have some competition.

From the outside the MKZ finally has some style; like it or not, the corporate proboscis has been grafted on just about every Lincoln product. While I personally hate the baleen whale motif, I have to admit that in a land of bland styling the Lincoln sure stands out. In my week-long stint in the MKZ people either loved or hated the look; a definite improvement considering nobody could ever recall the previous car. Sadly, however, Lincoln decided to restrain themselves when it came to the sheet metal and plastic out back. Pity, I think a resurrection of the fake-spare-tire hump could have been an interesting look. Sure the MKZ’s rump is decidedly more Lincoln than its Fusion brother, but I had hoped for something more daring.

Inside the MKZ the first thing you notice is that Ford has been spending some money on their interiors lately. The fit and finish in our tester was excellent, although parts quality was something of a mixed bag. The center console looks fantastic when covered in the stained walnut that our tester had, but a quick jaunt to the local Ford shop reveals that buyers unwilling to pay for the $495 executive package will get a console with questionable plastics. Adding injury to the $41,370 MSRP (as equipped) are the Ford-parts-bin parts. It’s not that the borrowed components are bad… if they match. What makes the mirror and door lock switchgear objectionable is how good the other interior parts are, allowing for a quality clash within arm’s reach. Keep your paws off the borrowed parts however and you’ll notice tasteful wood, chrome, leather and faux-suede accents in all the right places. My only further quibble is with the Ford corporate tiller: it’s not a bad steering wheel per se (its thin rim lacks any kind of sport grip and the leather feels cheap), but it doesn’t belong in a $40,000 car.

Speaking of pricing, Ford is trying something novel with the MKZ Hybrid, starting at $34,340, the Hybrid MKZ manages to be the exact same price as the FWD MKZ with the 263HP 3.5L V6. Buyers just have to decide if they can give up 72 horses in exchange for an 86% improvement in fuel economy. So far in 2010 Ford claims the Hybrid MKZ has had a 25% take rate so early indications are that buyers are willing. My local Lincoln dealer thinks the take rate would be much higher if they could keep the leather coated battery hauler in stock.

Out on the road our inevitable comparison to the HS250 begins to bear fruit for Ford. While Toyota may have been first to market with the Prius and arguable still holds the innovation title in the hybrid arena, the HS250 is far from the “Lexus Prius” everyone had hoped for. Oddly enough, that title really goes to the Lincoln MKZ and here’s why: The HS250’s economy ratings are honestly a failure. Rated at 41MPG city, the MKZ bests the Lexus by 15% (35MPG) and its combined economy of 39MPG makes the MKZ Hybrid 10% more efficient overall then the HS250. Ouch. Over the course of a week and almost 900 miles we averaged 36.5MPG (mostly highway with plenty of steep-hill driving) overall and easily managed 41.8MPG overall when treating the MKZ more gently (this involved highway speeds of 75MPH and a daily commute involving going over a 2,300ft mountain pass). The last vehicle I tested that yielded this many MPGs was the much-lighter Ford Fiesta. Even the EPA is infatuated, ranking the Fusion/MKZ/Milan triplets the second most efficient cars in America. The HS250? Not even on the top 10 list.

When the road starts to curve the difference between the Fusion and MKZ become more obvious. While I would not say the MKZ handles poorly, it is obvious it is tuned for a more compliant ride than its platform mates. Under hard braking the nose dive is extreme, but otherwise it’s about what you would expect from a baby Lincoln. The seats are cushy and rear passengers are treated to enough leg room for a moderate road-trip, 5 passenger odysseys should be kept to lunch-runs with your thin coworkers however. It will be on these short runs that the MKZ’s real party trick becomes obvious. Thanks to a larger traction motor and bigger batteries than Ford’s first gen hybrids, the MKZ is able to drive electric only up to 47MPH (as long as you keep your right foot light) compared to the 25MPH electric-only top speed of the HS. This means that in heavy traffic that isn’t quite stop-and-go, the Hybrid system in the MKZ pays dividends.

While the MKZ Hybrid will never be a track star, the 191 net horse power system (156HP 2.5L I4 and 40HP motor) are more than adequate for most situations. The system integration is well executed and the transitions from electric only to hybrid power are as seamless as anything from Toyota save for the LS600hl. What the MKZ lacks in scoot, it more than makes up for in electronic goodies. Gone are the days that going American meant settling for old tech, the SYNC system with the massive LCD nav screen in the dash is quite simply the best voice command infotainment system shy of BMW’s iDrive system. Seriously. For the tech-nerds out there, Ford has added twin LCD screens on either side of the speedo that adds some Star-Trek bling to the cabin.

As my week with the MKZ Hybrid drew to a close I realized that I would actually miss the car. Lincoln’s MKZ may be less appealing than much of its regular gasoline powered alternatives, but compared to the hybrid competition, the MKZ really shines. When you factor in the 2,000 gallon fuel savings over a supposed 150,000 mile lifetime with no additional cost at purchase, the MKZ even makes a compelling argument against other more premium marques in the segment. While this “Ford in drag” can’t compete with the likes of the Audi A4, BMW 3, Mercedes C or the former Ford stable-mate the new Volvo S60, it never the less adds an interesting dimension with the superb fuel economy. With January to October sales of the MKZ barely totaling 17,466, the MKZ may just be the best kept secret in Detroit. Pity.

Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

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24 Comments on “Review: 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid...”

  • avatar

    Going up to 47mph in electric only plays a BIG part in the MKZ’s city rating by the EPA.  Most non-EPA tests return near identical fuel economy between the hybrid Fusion, hybrid Camry, and hybrid Altima.  I’d say the real world fuel economy differences between the MKZ and HS250h are smaller than the EPA numbers imply.

    • 0 avatar

      “Over the course of a week and almost 900 miles we averaged 36.5MPG (mostly highway with plenty of steep-hill driving) overall and easily managed 41.8MPG overall when treating the MKZ more gently (this involved highway speeds of 75MPH and a daily commute involving going over a 2,300ft mountain pass).”
     reports the following:
      2010 Fusion Hybrid: 39 mpg combined EPA, 37.9 mpg reported from 27 users
      2010 Lexus HS250h: 35 mpg combined EPA, 36.7 mpg reported from 4 users
      EPA difference is about 10%, which is well within individual driver/route variability. There are no 2011 MKZ hybrid user-reported figures, and not many 2010 HS250h user-reported figures. reports 37.9 mpg ave for the FFH, no samples for the HS. reports 39.3 mpg ave for the FFH (21 samples), 34.5 mpg ave for the HS (2 samples).
      Not exactly a slam dunk for comparing the FFH to the HS, but it looks like FFH drivers are seeing slightly better mpg than HS drivers. MKZ hybrid should be similar to FFH, if perhaps a bit lower due to higher curb weight.

  • avatar

    What is it with grilles? Lincoln, Acura, Toyota… ugly is the new black.

  • avatar

    Having driven neither the Lexus or the Lincoln I can only say that when I see the HS250h on the road I always do a double take at what I think is a slightly odd looking Corolla, and then I realize it isn’t a Corolla at all.
    The new Lincoln’s nose and tail, while not exactly attractive, certainly don’t blend in like the Lexus does.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed.  The proportions of the HS250h are all wrong and always cause me to do a double take.  It makes me think “cheap economy car saddled with hybrid drivetrain with Lexus badges stuck on the nose”

  • avatar

    Isn’t this really just a Ford Fusion Hybrid with a different grille and Lincoln badges ??

    Can’t you just buy the Fusion with most of the same upgrades and options ( the ones that really matter ) ??

    Lincoln needs a unique car that is only Lincoln, built to what passed until recently as Lexus standards.

    I am thinking Pre-2006 Lexus; which to me is the year Lexus started downhill. In 2006, the new GS and IS were not nearly as good as the prior cars; with the ES following downhill in 2007. I use to always think the ES was worth the few extra bucks it cost over a loaded XLE V6 Camry. Now I am not so sure.

    • 0 avatar

      As with many luxury analogues to mainstream brands these days, you can get a lot of the same equipment from the MKZ in a Fusion if you like.  The Lincoln does add some unique features, like air conditioned seats, HID headlights and LED tail-lights, a better premium audio system, higher quality leather, and read wood trim.  You also get a longer warranty (1 year extra plus extra miles on both bumper to bumper and powertrain) and right now free maintenance for the first four years.  Whether all of that is worth the price premium is a personal call.

  • avatar

    The low sales numbers don’t say anything about demand.  In a few spot checks in m local market (Indianapolis), the local dealers have NEVER had an MKZ Hybrid in stock.

  • avatar

    I’m not a big fan of the “hybrid for free” marketing angle, given the loss of two cylinders.
    This suspension tuning is probably more suitable to the car. I reviewed both the Fusion Hybrid and the sport-optioned V6 MKZ for this site, and found the ride in both inappropriately firm, especially in the Lincoln.
    Reliability has been a strength for the Fusion et al from their very first model year, though some of the 2010’s non-hybrid’s powertrain tweaks proved glitchy.

  • avatar

    The HS is only selling about 700 cars per month.  With numbers like that this segment isn’t even worth being in let alone splitting with someone else.

  • avatar

    the lexus is alot shorter than the lincolni think, also its a hatchback.  which makes it a competitor for the A3 and tha GTI mostly, not the lincoln. I am a city person so i am interested in the lexus, but will  not be looking at this lincoln.

  • avatar

    Ford could have really hit something out of the park here if they only would have had the balls to make this a Hybrid-only vehicle like the HS250. I am not a hybrid fan, but an all-hybrid MKZ would have effectively given Lincoln a halo-car under 40K. Something they could roll out in front of the younger, hipper buyers they are so desperate for. A missed opportunity I believe.

  • avatar

    A lowly Fusion with a different sticker on the front and some silver paint in the interior makes it a Lexus competitor?
    Sorry, but Lincoln is a joke.  The only thing farther from a true luxury brand was Mercury…and Ford did the right thing when they killed that brand.  But, just like Ford always does, they did a half-assed job…because Lincoln should have gone away as well.
    It will be YEARS before Lincoln is even close to a ‘near’ luxury brand.  Rebadging mediocre Fords isn’t going to cut it.  Lincoln needs to offer something unique before anyone takes them seriously.

    • 0 avatar

      Let me get this right – a rebadged Camry aka “Lexus” is OK, but a Fusion based Lincoln is not?

    • 0 avatar

      Far be it for me to ever agree with Simple_Silvy… but there’s a lot more difference between a Camry and ES350, than a Fusion and an MKZ.

    • 0 avatar

      Not true at all. I test drove a Fusion and ended up buying the Lincoln. Accuras are just like their base Honda counterparts and you never hear the comment an accura is just like a Honda. This is 100% anti american biase. I actually drove both the Ford and Lincoln and the later has a much smoother ride, much better high quality interiors and the exterior looks better fitted together. I bet anything you have never driven a Lincoln. I have driven a Lexus, Cadillac and Accura and the Lincoln is every bit as good and more reliable. I like all the other cars I mentioned also because I am objective and not opinionated. People like you are discounted so you shouldn’t even comment.

  • avatar

    From the rear these remind me of the robot “Maximillian” from the Disney movie “The Black Hole”.

  • avatar

    Has Ford worked on the overall feel of the car?  I’ve driven my mother’s 2007 back to back with my Altima Hybrid.  The overall feel of the Altima is more substantial.  Also, the Lincoln’s interior is kinda cheap, at least for a Lincoln.  The Altima has some cheap stuff, but Nissan is more careful about where they cut corners.  Ford’s window switches feel crappy.  Nissan’s fuel release is a POS.  Which leaves more of an impression?  The Lincoln has nice features, though, and has had zero repair issues.
    The 47 mph on battery power is pretty cool.  The Altima is 40 mph, max on a good day.  That extra seven mph adds for quite a bit more time w/o the engine as long as the battery holds up.  Smooth transitions to engine power at a stop is not the Altima’s forte.  The restart is pretty obvious.  Another oddity is that from highway speeds to a full stop, the car goes to EV mode for about 5 seconds the starts the engine for maybe 15 seconds and then back to EV.  Heat soak mitigation?  Underhood the Altima says “Toyota” on the hybrid controller.  Does Ford make their own hybrid components?  The MKZ should be a success but I think Lincoln needs to push the product and try to leapfrog others, rather than just going for par.

    • 0 avatar

      The 2010+ models have dramatically improved interiors.  The current MKZ interior is nicer in terms of materials and that ‘luxury feeling’ than the Lexus ES or the Mercedes C class.
      The transitions from EV mode to gas mode are nearly seamless, you won’t feel it unless you are trying really hard to notice it.
      Ford designs and makes its own hybrid equipment.

  • avatar

    I have a 2010 base options…stickered at $34.5.  I compared it to the Buick LaCrosse.  Although I liked some of the Buicks styling elements (both interior and exterior)…there were several tiebreakers from a practical point of view that tilted in the Lincolns favor.  A-Pillar visibility in the Buick stinks, Lincolns engine is more responsive, the Lincoln is nearly 10 inches shorter—key in a city, SYNC blows away anything GM offers, and at the time…the Lincoln had proven reliability.  All of these elements overcame the minor interior trim nits that I fully agree with Alex on. Net…I got the Lincoln and think that anyone who chooses the hybrid option is getting a good bargain at $34.5 base (not many options you need above this price)  

  • avatar

    Ford is still working with retreads of old platforms with most if its cars. It will be interesting to see the new MKZ in a couple of years and how they differentiate it from the next Fusion.

  • avatar

    I have owned this car for three weeks. Unequivocally, this is a fantastic vehicle, probably underrated by some, and clear evidence of the resurgence of Ford Motor Co. One would never know it’s a hybrid, judging from its acceleration and overall performance. There’s no lag when stepping on the gas pedal, no spongy feel when stepping on the brakes. The fit and finish, inside and out, is virtually flawless. The interior is understated, yet elegant, as is the vehicle’s carefully crafted enveloping sheet metal. Faulting Ford for building on the success of the Fusion makes no sense at all; why would one not utilize successful technologies and innovations in an upscale model? I guess it’s just too hard for some to think beyond their narrow and pre-ordained prejudices. Go for the optional upgrades, including the backup camera/blind spot detection feature, and ambient lighting, and you’ll think you’re in a car costing thousands more. Lincoln/Ford is to be credited for bringing to market a superb “luxury” car that easily competes with, minus the sticker price, BMW and Infiniti. The U.S. auto industry is alive and well, judging from this Lincoln entry.

  • avatar

    This thing actually looks good to me.  Would be on my short list if the current ride got totaled.  Since I prefer a slightly firmer ride than most, is the Ford a better option, or can some after market shocks etc. allow me to have the upscale cake and not eat a side rail after upsetting the balance over a steel expansion gap on a wet, curving bridge?

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