Auto News: Mr. Green Car: Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and fuel economy

The Lincoln MKZ gives all the style, panache and modern conveniences and features you come to expect in a luxury automobile. And, if you buy the hybrid version, you will have decent fuel economy as well. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

In my mind, the words Lincoln (cars) and “gas hog” go together. But those are thoughts left over from the 1970s and 1980s when Lincoln Town Cars and the various Mark “x” cars were huge behemoths with big, inefficient engines.

While Lincoln, a division of Ford Motor Company, has been around for a very long time, the division has usually represented the luxury consumer where fuel economy is not a consideration. However, in later years, the 1990s and 2000s, Lincolns began appearing with more efficient powertrains and less weight to drag around.

My wife and I rented a Lincoln Town Car (a free upgrade) one October many years ago and drove from Rockford to Cleveland to experience the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Niagara Falls, on through scenic fall colors in Pennsylvania to Annapolis, Md., for a big sailboat show. During that long drive, we found the Town Car did quite well on gas — as it had the very smooth 2.8-liter V-8 engine that yielded about 28 mpg. Lincoln had learned to slim down.

Photo by Allen Penticoff

Now comes a new Lincoln that is not your grandpa’s Town Car. Based on the Ford Fusion platform, the Lincoln MKZ gives all the style, panache and modern conveniences and features you come to expect in a luxury automobile. And, if you buy the hybrid version, you will have decent fuel economy as well.

I recently became intrigued by the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid after seeing some television and print advertising touting its coolness and economy. I searched Lincoln’s website and found that Manley Motors, a Ford/Lincoln dealer in downtown Belvidere, Ill., had two of them. When I called the dealership, I spoke to the sales manager, Doug Olsen, who said I could come over and test drive the car that he was about to take home to be his wife’s car. When I arrived at the second-oldest Ford dealership (since 1906), I was greeted by friendly sales representative Brian Dugan, who let me take Doug’s car for a brief evening test drive (with Brian along).

I think I can cut to the quick and say that the 2012 Lincoln Hybrid lacks for nothing. It has a very comfortable leather interior in a mid-sized car. The instruments are a combination of analog speedometer and digital that are very clear and in full color — like a small computer screen. Some of the digital information is displayed in an analog fashion … that is, gauge style. I continue to like this sort of simple information, as I think our brains process “nearly full or nearly empty,” much faster than some number. Lincoln’s display is very good, but it takes a look instead of a glance to see what is going on — except for the speedometer, which is perfect.

Photo by Allen Penticoff

As with most hybrids, nothing starts when you turn on the key — which for the MKZ is rather conventionally on the steering column. A bow to the older demographic who buy Lincolns, perhaps. While not a “problem,” when I turned the MKZ on and got over its displays and put it in drive, the car was rolling, but the electric power steering was not functioning. We had to start over. I don’t know if I did something wrong, or if it was the car. I’ve had a similar “How do you make this go?” experience in a Prius, too. Must be me.

Once we got rolling, the ride is on the sporty side. Taught. Steering delightful. While we did no hard cornering; I could tell it would love a curvy road. It is not a Town Car ride, isolated from the bumpy road. A ride across railroad tracks showed its mettle with slight disturbance.

I found the pearl-white MKZ to be very stylish. The waterfall grill definitely says “Lincoln.” The basic numbers are that the 2012 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is propelled by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that yields 41 city/36 highway mpg with 191 more than adequate horsepower. Non-hybrids have larger, more powerful — but less efficient — engines. An acceleration test showed it was no slouch. But it did let me know it was a four-cylinder with a bit of engine buzz … a small compromise for such excellent fuel economy: 41 city/36 hwy mpg. All-wheel drive is an available option as well — expect lower mpg.

But I was testing a lame-duck car. The about-to-be-released 2013 Lincoln MKZ has many new features. A larger 8-inch infotainment/navigation display made possible by push-button shifting (à la Edsel). The new MKZ will feature a smaller 2.0 liter, normally aspirated, or 2.0 turbo engine, the hybrid or a V-6. Reports say the hybrid will sell for the same price as the turbo model. The new 2.0 hybrid package will still have 188 hp (that includes the electric motor). Since the Lincoln is about “styl’n” instead of racing, I think the new hybrid option with a remarkable 47 city/44 hwy mpg is worth waiting for. That’s damn good fuel economy in a car full of all the bells and whistles that new automotive technology can provide.

If you’re in the mood to spend in the range of $40,000 for a new car, the Lincoln MKZ (and sister Ford Fusion Hybrid) should be on your short list.

From the Sept. 5-11, 2012, issue

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