The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is for “thoughtful customers who prioritize fuel economy and reducing emissions,” yet are unwilling “to compromise on luxury, driving quality and advanced technology.”
I wouldn’t have thought there would be many such buyers out there and the sales numbers for “premium” hybrids suggest so. But Jim Farley thinks otherwise. Those are his words. He’s the Ford group vice-president who doubles as president of the newly formed Lincoln Motor Co.
Right now, as veteran auto analyst Joe Phillippi says, Lincoln is essentially a one-car luxury brand – and the MKZ (regular and hybrid) is that car. In fact, the Hybrid is expected to account for 40 per cent of MKZ production for the model year. As the MKZ goes, so goes Lincoln – at least for the immediate future. Here is another interesting twist, too: the base version of the gasoline-only MKZ (2.0-litre EcoBoost engine rated at 240 horsepower) lists for exactly the same price as the MKZ Hybrid.
True, Lincoln sells the slightly larger MKS sedan (all-wheel-drive starting at $48,000) but it’s an older design and Lincoln sells just a handful of them. Lincoln sells mostly upscale light trucks such as the MKT, MKX and Navigator. However, the MKZ is the first of four all-new vehicles Lincoln is introducing between 2012 and 2015.
Lincoln certainly has a future, but for now it is a premium truck company working to transition into a challenger for Audi and Lexus. The MKZ Hybrid I just tested ($38,350 base) has the Lexus ES 300h ($43,900 base) in its sights. Not only is the Lincoln less expensive, it gets better fuel economy (4.0 litres/100 km in the city, 4.0 highway versus the Lexus’s 4.7 city/5.1 highway). On the other hand, the ES 300h’s combined output is 200 horsepower, compared to 188 hp for the Lincoln.
“MKZ is our strongest proof yet on what the reinvented Lincoln stands for – beautiful vehicles with compelling and warm experiences that create a clear alternative in today’s increasingly competitive luxury marketplace,” adds Farley. He and other Lincoln types also point out that their MKZ Hybrid also gets better fuel economy than the BMW ActiveHybrid 3, the smaller Lexus CT 200h and “Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicles.” They are more reluctant to mention that the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which shares almost all of the MKZ Hybrid’s mechanical components, starts at $29,999.
Of course, the Fusion’s design is entirely different. The MKZ’s bold look is marked by a panoramic sunroof and the winged grille treatment that The New York Times suggests is a somewhat modernized and streamlined version of the grille on the Stout Scarab of the 1930s. Perhaps. Without a doubt, though, the MKZ is a looker that grabs attention and it most certainly does not resemble a Fusion – which is handsome in its own right.
Once you slip inside, the cabin looks and feels expensive. The seats are thickly padded and adjust for lumbar support. The ones in my tester ($51,475 with options) heated and cooled and were excellent on a long drive. The controls for the infotainment system and such – MyLincoln Touch – take some adjustment and require a short learning curve.
What takes some getting used to is a touch screen divided into quadrants. At first this seems confusing, but with practice, all becomes clear and user-friendly. Not everyone likes this approach, however. We know this because Ford’s problems with its infotainment systems have been covered to death in every form of media known to humankind.
On top of that, Lincoln’s designers have gone with slider controls for the fan and volume. They are Star Trekkie, but not as precise as a simple old knob that you gently twist. The Sync voice commands worked fine and did what I asked without any fuss. The cabin is roomy enough for four large adults, too, and the leather seating surfaces are rich. However, because the modern lithium ion battery intrudes into the trunk, I couldn’t see room for two full sets of golf clubs back there.
Worth noting is that buyers can get the MKZ Hybrid only as a front-drive sedan, though all-wheel-drive is available with other powertrains. If you’re a buyer who has sampled the Lexus ES hybrid, the MKZ driving experience might seem more refined. The transitions from gas to electric and back and forth are amazingly seamless; good luck deciphering when you’re going with gas or electric or whatever. The ride is nice, quiet, and comfortable.
And despite the well-publicized launch problems of the new MKZ, Ford says all has been fixed. In fact, trade journal Automotive News reports that Ford is no longer transporting cars from Hermosillo, Mexico, to Flat Rock, Mich., for additional quality inspections. Moreover, it’s worth noting that the Lincoln brand is highly rated in J.D. Power and Associates long-term Vehicle Dependability Study – and the MKZ tied with the Lexus ES atop the Entry Premium Car category.
Rocky as it might have been, the rebirth of Lincoln has begun.
2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
Type: Entry premium sedan
Base price: $38,350 (destination charge $1,650); as tested, $51,475
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder combined with electric motor and lithium ion battery pack
Combined output: 188 horsepower
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 4.0 city/4.0 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Lexus ES 300h, BMW ActiveHybrid 3, Lexus CT 200h, Ford Fusion Hybrid