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2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
A premium hybrid that's worth the hybrid premium

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Lincoln MKZ HybridCould the Lincoln MKZ be the poster child for delivering hybrid technology at a down-to-earth price?

Ford's premium Lincoln division touts the new MKZ Hybrid sedan as the most efficient luxury car in North America and brags up its hyper-extended fuel economy. And with a $43,750 price tag, this MKZ also happens to be one of the better buys out there.

The hybrid version of the MKZ is new to the lineup for the 2011 model year, but its drive system was first installed in the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan (upon which the MKZ is based) for the 2010 model year. At about 1,635 kilograms - about 225 kilograms lighter than Lincoln's larger MKS sedan - the MKZ is an ideal platform to apply the hybrid magic wand.

Of course, the MKZ has to look the part of an upscale contender, and it really does. It might be based on the humble Ford Fusion, but Lincoln's designers have done a solid job sculpting a distinctive front end. A delicately creased hood and jewel-like wrap-around headlights frame the brand's signature "waterfall" grille. The taillights and trunk lid have also been dressed up with the Lincoln touch. The icing on the cake is a cool set of nine-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels that have been fitted with special low-rolling-resistance tires.

2011 Lincoln MKZ HybridYou might expect that Lincoln would scrimp a bit on the Hybrid's interior content to maintain price parity with its V6 gas-powered stablemate. Not at all, actually. This MKZ offers up standard genuine walnut or ash wood trim plus leather-covered seats that are power-adjustable (with memory settings) and heated and cooled in front. There are also standard backup sensors as well as Ford's Microsoft-powered, voice-activated Sync system that controls a number of communication, entertainment and climate-control functions.

Other unique standard features include a capless fuel filler that makes topping up a one-handed affair, while a keyless entry pad is handy if you're heading to the beach or out for a jog and don't want to bring a set of keys along.

Optional is a power sunroof, voice-activated navigation system, keyless remote start, rear-view camera, blind-spot warning alert and a premium THX-brand audio package.

The Hybrid powertrain consists of a 156-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine assisted by a 40-horsepower electric motor. The net power output is 191 horses directed to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

2011 Lincoln MKZ HybridThe Hybrid is rated at 4.6 l/100 km in the city and 5.4 l/100 km on the highway. The better city rating is due to the electric assist that takes the stress off the gas engine. As speed increases, there's less assist, however the MKZ can travel up to 75 km-h on electric power alone.

By comparison, the similarly priced Lexus HS 250h hybrid manages up to 40 km-h on electric power and is rated at 5.6/5.9 l/100 km.

MKZ drivers are kept in touch as to how the hybrid system is functioning by means of a SmartGauge that indicates which power system - or systems - are operating and how much energy is stored in the batteries.

In addition, an EcoGuide display screen adds symbolic vines, leaves and flowers as a sort of visual reward for practising exemplary fuel-efficient driving on an ongoing basis.

Buyers of luxury models who might have balked at the premium normally charged to take the hybrid route should be impressed by Lincoln's efforts to provide this technology for a price differential of less than $4,000.

If the MKZ Hybrid catches on - and it's tough to see how it won't - you can expect other automakers to try and match this Lincoln's impressive fuel economy, features and price point.

What you should know: 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Type: Four-door, mid-size, front-wheel-drive entry-luxury sedan
Engine (hp): 2.5-litre DOHC I4, combined with an electric motor (191, net)
Transmission: Continuously variable (CVT)
Market position: Lincoln is venturing into the premium hybrid arena that's currently dominated by Lexus, along with offerings from Mercedes-Benz and BMW. However the MKZ raises the bar with its fuel-sipping powertrain.
Points: Outstanding fuel economy along with a reasonable base price; Not a stripped-down model; arrives with plenty of creature comforts; Roomy interior beats primary competitors; No all-wheel-drive option; Other automakers might have to revisit their hybrid's level of performance in light of the MKZ's superiority on virtually every front.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 4.6/5.4
Base price (incl. destination): $43,750

By comparison:     

Lexus HS 250h
Base price: $41,850
Prius-based model adds more power, but is not nearly as fuel-efficient.

Chevrolet Volt
Base price: $47,000 (est.)
Electric motor combines with gas assistant to offer unlimited range.

Infiniti M
Base price: $65,000 (est.)
Upcoming 2012 model features V6 plus electric motor to make 369 hp.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted January 7, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM


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