Road Test

2012 Lincoln MKZ

MKZ is a well-finished and luxurious vehicle that just happens to have a hybrid powertrain

2012 Lincoln MKZ
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$50,520 base. $59,750 as tested.
FUEL CONSUMPTION
NR Canada (L/100 km): 6.0 city. 6.0 highway.
POWERTRAIN
engine:156 hp and 135 lb-ft of torque; electric motor: 106 hp; 26-kw nickel-metal hydride battery p

Lincoln is synonymous with luxury, but rarely mentioned in the same sentence with technology or innovation. That situation changes with the arrival of the MKZ hybrid.

Sharing the well-developed hybrid system and chassis of the Ford Fusion provides a good start. But it is what the development team did from that point on that makes the Lincoln MKZ worthy of a closer look.

I’m still hung up on these strange Lincoln names so before we go any further, let’s try to sort them out. The MKZ is the "small" Lincoln, the MKS replaces the now-discontinued Town Car and the MKX, MKT and Navigator are the SUVs. Got it? Neither do I.

The MKZ is based on the Fusion platform. It comes in front and all-wheel drive variations powered by a 3.5-litre V-6 engine.

Then there’s the hybrid version, the subject of this review, which uses the Fusion’s hybrid’s drivetrain – one of the best in the fledgling hybrid business.

Lincoln has positioned the hybrid atop the MKZ family with a $50,520 starting price. But my fully-optioned tester was awfully close to $60,000 before taxes and delivery.

At that price point it had better be good. And it was in most aspects.

Looks a matter of personal taste

Let’s get the negatives out of the way right off the top. Other than the price, they are the look and the driving dynamics. To me the MKZ looks dated, dowdy. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder so that opinion may not be common.

The suspension, on the other hand is decidedly Lincoln of old – i.e. - meant for boulevard or highway cruising at reasonable speeds on straight roads. A sports car this is not! More on this later.

The huge chromed "waterfall" grill and the massive taillight clusters are both out of proportion with the rest of the vehicle – to my eyes. The MKZ is a mid-size sedan, not a large car by American standards. I guess I am a fan of a more subtle look, a more refined one that doesn’t shout "look at me".

High-tech interior

The traditional Lincoln buyer, let’s admit, is not exactly in his or her prime and will need some time learning how to operate all the various electronic devices and extract the amazing amount of information available in the MKZ

Straight in front of the driver is a display with a very awkward name: "Smartguide with Ecoguide". It shows real-time information on fuel usage – nothing very innovative about that. But this one allows you to take up gardening – to grow flowers!

Intended to give the driver positive feedback in terms of long-term fuel efficiency and driving performance, it "grows" virtual small white flowers, inspired by apple blossoms, on the LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screen to the right of the speedometer. Suffice it to say I do not have a green thumb.

The LCD displays, one on each side of the speedometer, can be configured to display four different sets of information. In addition to trying to grow apple blossoms you can judge how far you can go on pure electric power, the charge state of the battery pack and when it is being recharged by regenerative braking.

The THX audio system will delight audiophiles with crisp, distinctive sound at either end of the spectrum, sound that can be controlled by voice-command through the Sync system. Capable of accurately producing 5:1 surround sound it also can convert MP3 tunes to that format.

The heated and cooled front seats are covered in glove-soft hides. They’re comfy over long distances and there is reasonable room for two in the back, three in a pinch. There is not a surplus of head and legroom in back, but enough for all but the tallest.

The trunk is also somewhat handicapped by the large

275-volt nickel metal hybrid battery pack atop the rear axle, stealing space normally left for luggage.

The MKZ is loaded with an extensive list of features and amenities expected at this price pointincluding "Bridge of Weir" leather that uses a chromium-free, organic tanning process.

Other "green" items include genuine wood trim from "well managed" forests and recycled plastics, used to make the splash shields and radiator air deflector shields.

Well-developed powertrain

Since it is a hybrid, let’s start there. The engine is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder producing 156 hp and 136 lb-ft of torque, operating on the Atkinson cycle (valve timing has been altered for maximum fuel mileage, at the cost of some power at low speed).

But that power loss is offset by the use of a 106-horsepower electric motor. Since electric motors produce their maximum power at start, the instant it is deployed it adds its considerable kick to the overall output. The combined rating of the gas engine and electric motor is 191. You can’t simply add the two maximum outputs because they peak at different speeds.

The MKZ is available only in front-wheel-drive with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Lincoln has done a nice job of disguising the "motor boating" associated with CVT’s – the annoying sound of sustained high engine speeds during acceleration – by equipping this one with a "pseudo" kick down feature that mimics a shift when you ask for more power.

Ford engineers also deserve kudos for making this one of the smoothest hybrid setups on the market, especially when the gas engine restarts after being shut down at a stop. The same smoothness – and remarkable quiet - is evident when you are moving along at low speeds on electric power and the engine is asked to join the party.

The average consumer probably would mention Toyota first when asked about hybrids. But this setup is as good as anything the other guys have to offer. It might also be one of the reasons Toyota has joined Ford in developing hybrid systems for larger vehicles – SUVs and pickups.

Full-on acceleration could be called brisk, if not impressive. This is a lot of car to motivate and the trade-off for that exceptional fuel economy comes during acceleration, passing or climbing long steep hills. We were able to get the MKZ up to just over 65 km/hon several occasions on electric power alone – eerily quiet!

A boulevardier

If you like the looks and are prone to driving at a reasonable rate in a less-than-enthusiastic manner, you might like this Lincoln – a lot. Several reasons come to mind:

1)This might just be the quietest of several thousand cars I have driven over the years. It certainly seems so;

2)This relatively large five-passenger sedan gets an impressive 7.1 L/100 km on the highway;

3)If you have a touch of geek in you, it has a killer audio system and enough voice-activated features to give you a sore throat;

4)According to J D Power Lincoln is THE most reliable brand on the market, and;

5)It has been named a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The MKZ hybrid comes with a full slate of safety features including six airbags, ABS, electronic stability control and a post-crash alert system and "personal safety system"

Conclusion

The Lincoln MKZ is an exceedingly well-finished, refined and luxurious vehicle that just happens to have a hybrid powertrain.

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