Neither of the available powertrains makes the 2011 Lincoln MKZ truly exciting to drive, but the fuel economy and beautiful integration of the hybrid pack gives that model excitement of its own.
The conventional powertrain in the MKZ is a 3.5-liter, 263-horsepower V-6 engine that's coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. It's offered with front-wheel drive or with optional all-wheel drive. The six-cylinder shows up in all sorts of Ford and Lincoln vehicles, and here it's capable of moving the MKZ to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. The six-speed automatic does a good job of extracting power without aggravating the engine too much; a sport-shift mode lets drivers click up and down through the gears via a lever-mounted switch. In recent test drives of three different MKZ sedans, it was clear I was the first person ever to twiddle the manumatic switch. The MKZ sips regular gas and still is rated at 18/27 mpg, fine numbers for the class, though they drop to 17/24 mpg with all-wheel drive.
Ford's electronic power steering system is among the best we've felt. Replicating the feel of good old hydraulic-effort steering is a tough task, but both the MKZ and the MKZ Hybrid lighten up at low speeds, dial in a substantial feel in sporty driving, and takes a more accurate track than most cars with electric steering.
All versions are tuned for quiet, stress-free driving instead of brisk responsiveness, especially the all-wheel-drive versions, which add a few hundred pounds to the curb weight. Lincoln does offer a sport suspension option with a tighter feel and 18-inch wheels, which brings it closer to the pert handling of its cousin, the Ford Fusion.
The MKZ Hybrid is where most shoppers will gravitate. The running gear's virtually unchanged from the Fusion Hybrid: it combines a 155-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder running an Atkinson cycle, electric motors and a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack in back. All told, the MKZ Hybrid has reasonably brisk performance to 60 mph in the 8-second range--a second off the V-6 car's performance, but the Hybrid is torquey around town, thanks to its battery power. Fuel economy of 41/36 mpg, which Ford says bests the Lexus HS 250h by 6 miles per gallon. The exceptional city fuel economy is in part due to the MKZ Hybrid's higher-speed EV mode--it can run on electric power alone up to 47 mph, while the Lexus is EV-only up to only 25 mph.