First Drive: 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

By Charles Krome

As soon as Lincoln decided it would offer the MKZ Hybrid at the same base price as the standard MKZ—$34,330—I moved the car up to the top of my test-drive wish-list. And lo and behold, guess what ended up in my driveway over the weekend, complete with a full tank of gas, courtesy of our friends at Lincoln?

Now, I know the MKZ doesn’t have the best rep in the auto blogosphere, but I had thought there might be a strong business case with the Lincoln that buyers weren’t quite hipped to. Consider: There are certain types of vehicles that offer certain market differentiators that are so far ahead of the competition that said vehicles get a bit of a free pass when it comes to more mundane features. Take something like the Lotus Elise. By focusing on a low curb weight to the exclusion of nearly everything else, the Lotus offers stunning performance at a relatively low cost.

With the MKZ Hybrid, I thought, maybe Lincoln was running the same sort of strategy, except that in this car, the focus was on technology, both in the cabin and in the powertrain. So I came to the MKZ willing to forgive it if it lacked something on the luxury side, provided it made up for that lack by delivering a Lotus-like tech experience. Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.

For one thing, the MKZ packs the previous-generation SYNC system, not the brand-new MyLincoln Touch setup debuting on the 2011 MKX, so I didn’t actually have the latest latest tech. That’s a strike for the MKZ on principle alone—if Lincoln wants to sell its sedan based on technological prowess, it needs to put its absolute best foot forward. Especially because, at this stage, the SYNC setup in the MKZ seems somewhat underwhelming. As soon as I got comfortable using it, which didn’t take long, I found myself thinking Lincoln could have done even more with it.

I’ve also been disappointed with the MKZ’s fuel efficiency. The car is rated at 41 mpg city/36 mpg highway/39 mpg combined, but I’ve seen nowhere near those numbers. I finished my first day with the Lincoln, after about 20 miles of mixed city/highway driving, at 33.1 mpg. Since then, over another 80 miles, mostly in the city, I’ve watched the mpg gauge slowly but steadily fall to 27.4 mpg after this morning’s car-pool duties.

It’s true that a lot of this driving has been while temps have been in the teens (and lower), and that’s required plenty of warm-up time, heated-seat time and time spent with the thermostat set at 80 degrees, but I’ve used an awfully light touch with the right foot and expected better fuel economy. I’ve even been paying close attention to the MKZ’s configurable IP, which I have configured to display as much info as possible, to garner real-time insight on how my driving is affecting fuel efficiency. The problem with this is that whatever distractions the SYNC system eliminates are more than made up for by the amount of time I spent looking at the MKZ’s instrument panel.

The bottom line here is that the tech experience in the Lincoln MKZ simply isn’t amazing enough to make up for its drawbacks, of which there are too many as compared to other entry-lux sedans that compete primarily on actual luxury. A few notable points: The interior of the Lincoln seemed a step down from the Chevrolet Malibu I drove late last year, something particularly notable where the dashboard and door panels meet. In the Chevy, the wood accents make for a wrap-around effect that welcomes the driver into a cockpit-like environment, while the Lincoln shows off a sharp right angle that’s filled with hard-to-reach buttons.

The Lincoln also uses a two-tone interior design, but in an odd way: Pretty much everything below the beltline is black, while everything above is gray. Combined with the car’s lackluster acceleration, the design had me feeling like I was mired in a black swamp from which I couldn’t escape no matter how hard I pressed the gas pedal.

Finally, there were at least two places on the exterior that were noticeably lacking in craftsmanship. As you can see in the pictures—which I took in a 13-degree mini-blizzard—the seal around the top of the windshield was poorly executed, with bare metal still showing through, and the accent pieces at the top of the hood, near the bottom of the windshield, looked as if they were carelessly jammed on. This is the kind of stuff that’s unforgivable on a Lincoln, regardless of its price point.

I’m still confident that Lincoln could score customers with a mid-size sedan that offered superior technology and “only” competitive amenities, but the 2011 Lincoln MKZ isn’t it.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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  1. It seems you were pre-disposed to dislike this Lincoln, given your unrealistic expressed expectations. You criticized the car for subjective differences in the interior and such, and even tried to put your expectations in the context of the Lotus Elise in comparison to other cars. Come on. It’s not like you were unaware of this car. Did you really expect Elise style lightness from this cr, or are you just trying to dazzle the anti-American slickers with your slamming of a product that, by the way, cost the same as the gasoline version? Can Lexus say that?

  2. Actually, I was really hoping to like this car, and was quite excited about it being offered at the same price as the non-hybrid—as I mentioned in the very first paragraph of the review.

    And I wasn’t expecting Lotus-like lightness—just the same level of focus on technology that Lotus uses in keeping the weight of its vehicles down. If you’d like an American comparo, you can use the Jeep Wrangler, which sacrifices a certain amount of comfort, etc., to bolster its key area of focus, off-road capabilities.

    Offering hybrid powertrains at no premium is great, but Lincoln can’t rebuild itself as a luxury brand on that alone. It has to do more, and trying to position itself as a tech leader is an excellent strategy. But, again, it needs to do better than the MKZ.

    And frankly, I think I should score some “pro Lincoln” points for not even mentioning the sheet-metal similarities between the MKZ and the Ford Fusion. Until now.

  3. Imho, what I see as your 2 main criticisms (build/design ‘quality’ and lack of the latest&greatest tech) can be understood (expected) by looking at the MKZ’s timeline.

    This generation is still closely linked with the Fusion (many say too closely),
    BUT the all-new nextgen is not much more than 1 year away (ONE!)… which has been promised to differentiate from the Fusion – possibly with a hint of Jaguar XF per web rumors.

    Re: tech, MLT MyLincolnTouch has just appeared. And tho I’ve ranted for quicker proliferation of the ‘new’ for Lincoln (design as well as tech), in this case with the nextgen not far off, I’m willing to cut them some slack — Esp. since it Does Have SYNC
    AND since MLT has shown a few teething pains in the new MKX. By next year it will surely be quirk-free.

    [ broken record Rant ]
    If I fault Lincoln (FoMoCo) for anything right now, it’s the lack of news-of-the-new at the “size-extremes” of their lineup:
    Silence about the even older “flagship” MKS’s refresh-or-CHANGE,
    Silence about new smallest vehicles (Kuga/Vertrek And? Focus-based? …we don’t even know THAT).

    [ end Rant before going waaay off the MKZ topic ]

  4. Hybrid is slower than V6, but it is expected. I would not be also over-excited about My Touch – I tried it and it is slow to respond. And you cannot expect on older model which MKZ is to have latest Ford tech. On the other hand I agree about exterior craftsmanship criticism – Malibu’s exterior looks more luxurious car than Lincoln’s. I think GM simply has more advanced production system. Now even Sonata looks more upscale than MKZ.

    A also agree that interior design is weird. While most interior materials are of high quality – many others are straight from Fusion. Especially cheap looking are turn-signal-wiper stack, gear selector, radio and climate controls, mirrors control, door openers, key fob – essentially everything you can touch is poorly made. Also it is impossible to reach head-light switch and some buttons on left side of dash, all other buttons are tiny and difficult to handle. Most of exterior panels are straight from Fusion and look dated.

  5. I own a 2012 MKZ hybrid and get terrible gas mileage. I feel like most of the reviews out there are from dealers and salesman trying to push this car. I was swept up by a slick salesman who kept emphasizing 41 MPG to me. I signed on the dotted line and there was no turning back. I average 25 MPG city driving. Am disappointed with the cheap interior. The big deal features come standard on all the new cars out there now.

    Thanks for your honesty. I wish I would have read it before I bought my car.

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