Car Report

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

  • Lincoln

     (Lincoln)

  • Lincoln

     (Lincoln)

The MKZ is Lincoln’s best selling car. That’s good, but also a little bad.

Healthy sales are always appreciated, but as Lincoln’s least expensive offering, the MKZ may not be the finest ambassador en masse for the automaker, seeing as it isn’t much more than a Ford Fusion in a tuxedo. This problem is compounded by company’s recent switch to an alphanumeric naming convention, which puts the focus on the brand name instead of the model – the MKZ used to be called the Zephyr.

So how do you make that situation work in your favor?

Lincoln exec: “What can we do to make the MKZ more impressive as an image leader?”

Lincoln exec’s flunky: “Is rap still cool?”

‘Knock, knock.’

Delivery guy: “Hey, I’ve got a shipment of batteries and electric motors for the Mercury Milan Hybrid, but there’s no one around. It’s almost like the company is out of business.”

Lincoln exec: “I’ll sign for that!”

And just like that, the “most fuel-efficient luxury sedan” was born: the MKZ Hybrid.

Rated at 41 mpg city, 36 highway and 39 mpg combined, the MKZ Hybrid trumps the best four-door that Lexus has to offer, the HS250h, by 4 mpg. This is despite the fact that the Lincoln is a much larger car. And you even get a little more power in the bargain: 191 hp vs. 187 hp. Not a ton either way, but the Lincoln makes good use of what it has and never feels overtaxed.

Speaking of taxes, the bean counters at Lincoln HQ have managed to eliminate the dreaded hybrid premium for the first time the short history of this type of car. Priced exactly the same as the much more powerful, but much less fuel-efficient 21 mpg V6 model at $35,455, you can have your cake, eat it and stick it to the man. That is if the Ford family qualifies as the man where you come from, because if Lincoln is making any money off of this car then Alan Mulally really is the bailout-busting miracle worker that he’d like you to believe.

If not a tire-squeal generator, the powertrain in the MKZ is one of potent parsimony. It is capable of running at speeds of up to 47 mph in electric mode, and often does. No cordless car spends more time with its internal combustion engine off than this one, and the customizable EcoGuide displays in the instrument cluster effectively encourage you to get the most out of it.

When the engine does turn on it is noticeable, and under full throttle sounds like the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that it is. At other times it and the rest of the MKZ comprise one big noise-canceling headphone. This may very well be the quietest four-cylinder automobile ever.

Last year the entire MKZ lineup was given a thorough once-over and noise, vibration and harshness levels were brought to new lows. Interior surfaces are now covered in softer plastics and upscale woods and leathers, which Ford says are eco-friendly. That is if you don’t happen to be a tree or a bull.

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Unfortunately the simple, rectilinear look of the cabin is from a bygone era when environmental concerns were unimportant. Even when fitted with one of the excellent infotainment system options, you can’t help but get the impression that you’re at your parent’s house watching a console TV. It is roomy and airy, though, and the heated and cooled 10-way power adjustable seats are in it for the long haul. Combine them with the extra-light feel of the steering and it’s not long before you’re ready to trade your Lucky Brand Jeans for a pair of Sansabelts.

The fuel economy figures aren’t a stretch, either. You can forget about the 41 mpg city rating; I saw that on the highway, and I don’t drive 55 (unless of course that’s the prevailing speed limit, Mr. Fox News Legal Department). This thing sips fuel like the fine champagne you can afford to buy with your leftover gas budget.

There is an urban legend that Ford licensed its hybrid technology from Toyota the way that Nissan did for the Altima, but it is false. The truth is that while Ford was developing its own system it realized that it may have inadvertently stepped on some of Toyota’s patents and called the folks in Japan to discuss the matter. I turns out that Toyota was working on a new diesel engine that used some technology similar to Ford’s, so the two companies shook hands and proceeded on their merry ways. Or so I’ve been told.

When one considers how potent the MKZ Hybrid is - not to mention the Ford Escape Hybrid, which also tops its class in efficiency – it’s hard to believe that Ford hasn’t built a car to take on the Toyota Prius as fuel economy king. Ask the executives and they’ll tell you about market demands, battery production capacity and so on. All good excuses, but none of which support my own conspiracy theory that part of the deal with Toyota was that Ford isn’t allowed to make a Prius-fighter. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Don’t believe me? When’s the last time you saw an advertisement for a diesel Toyota?

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2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Base Price: $35,455

Type: five-passenger, four-door sedan

Powerplant: 2.5L inline-4 w/permanent magnet AC synchronous motor

Power (NET): 191 hp

Transmission: Continuously variable automatic

MPG: 41 city/36 hwy

Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.