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2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid: Buy the Ford

Posted by Keith Griffin  March 28, 2011 12:12 PM

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(All photos: Ford). Click photo for larger version.

There is an inescapable ying and yang to the 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. Traditionally, Lincoln has been an aspirational brand for the upper set, but this car is simply a good deal among luxury cars.

Instead of its nameplate, the MKZ Hybrid gets you on price. It costs the exact same amount of money, $34,330, as the standard Lincoln MKZ with a conventional gas engine.

Perhaps I'd jump at the news if the regular MKZ was more exciting (like the Mercedes S400 hybrid versus its gas-engine counterpart). Except when I reviewed the regular MKZ last year, I wrote that it had "a vanilla feel to it in a class of cars where you start to expect more exciting flavors."

Then there's the major problem: It's only a slightly more luxurious Ford Fusion Hybrid. That hybrid costs about $5,000 less and gets the exact same fuel economy in the exact same-size vehicle. Both are rated at 41 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. Those are truly outstanding numbers that I never came close to hitting in the winter, but I still achieved almost 32 mpg combined.

That begs the question. Why buy the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid when you can order a Ford Fusion Hybrid with leather seats?

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Possibly you could justify the extra expense based on the MKZ Hybrid's interior, with its wood trim sourced from environmentally responsible forests (says Ford). It has heated and cooled front seats, which are trimmed with leather from Scotland. In addition, the passenger and driver seats have 10-way power — something you won't find on the Ford.

A couple of other nice touches are the capless fuel filter, which keeps your hands from fumbling around with a gas cap and inadvertently triggering your "check engine light," and the keyless entry system. However, if Lincoln really wants to be impressive and deliver the luxury of, say, a Kia Optima, it needs to add push button start to the MKZ Hybrid. Otherwise, this Lincoln feels almost pedestrian. It doesn't feel luxurious to have to crank the ignition.

The MKZ Hybrid uses Ford's second-generation hybrid technology — the 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder, named one of Ward's 2010 "10 Best Engines." It's mated to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission that seems to have no soul to it.

The gasoline engine, paired with the 79-kilowatt electric motor, provides 191 net horsepower. Plus, the pure electric mode on the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid extends to a best-in-class 47 mph, compared with the Lexus HS 250h battery-only mode, which reaches just 25 mph. The comparison to the Lexus HS 250h is a good one because that particular Lexus loses in any head-to-head competition.

I'm not a horsepower hound when it comes to hybrids, but it seems only reasonable that the MKZ Hybrid, which bills itself as a luxury sedan, would have some more oomph to it. It feels sluggish off the line (published reports putting its 0-60 time at 8.4 seconds), and you'd probably throw fuel economy out the window to get anywhere close to that number. Maybe I'm forever biased by happy memories of the now-defunct Honda Accord Hybrid that produced 255 horsepower and clipped 60 mph in 6.9 seconds.

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The one area that Lincoln does nail with the MKZ Hybrid is the ride. Obviously, noise, vibration, and harshness are almost non-existent when it operates in electric mode up to 47 mph. It's a comfortable highway cruiser that lets in little of the outside world.

Pricing starts at the aforementioned $34,330. The model loaned to us for review by Lincoln came with the optional navigation package that costs $3,595 and includes the voice-activated navigation system, blind-spot detection with cross-traffic alert (when backing out of a parking space), rearview camera, and the THX II sound system with 5.1 channel surround sound.

When all is said and done, the problem with Lincoln right now is that its MKZ Hybrid is actually a nice Mercury. Lincoln has done little to distinguish it from a design standpoint from its Ford sibling. Hopefully, the brand's new design chief Max Wolff, former head of Cadillac exterior design, can have some influence in this area.

The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is a baby step up from the Ford Fusion Hybrid in terms of interior creature comforts, but it's not ready for the luxury moniker of Lincoln. Save yourself the $5,000 and skimp a little bit on the interior. If it's fuel economy you're after, you won't be sorry with a Ford.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
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Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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