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2017 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid Select (USA)

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Ford bought the Lincoln Motor Company in 1922, five years after it had been founded by Henry Leland, and ever since, it has offered cars that were far more luxurious and costly than those with the Blue Oval badge on them. During the heyday of the marque, this was a clear rival to General Motor’s Cadillac, with such landmark cars as the V12 models of the 1930s and the Continental series of the 1950s and 1960s. More recently, though, it is as if Ford has not quite known what to do with Lincoln. The steady business of supplying the Lincoln Town Car to the rental fleets and chauffeur driven market was hardly sufficient to sustain this once proud brand, and the large Navigator SUV was soon challenged by the Cadillac Escalade in the small but significant market for massive domestic luxury SUVs. As others have discovered, volume generally only comes with lower-priced products, so it was perhaps no surprise that in 2005, there was a Lincoln version of the new mid-sized Ford Fusion, as well as the Mercury alter ego, making a three car range all based on the same basic body shell with only differences in styling detail and trim levels to tell them apart. The Lincoln model was christened Zephyr, and I recall testing one in early 2006, immediately after the arrival of the first batch of them at Hertz’ Los Angeles Airport facility. It was a very pleasant car, but then so, as I would later find out, was the far cheaper Fusion, so it was perhaps no surprise that sales of the car were not that strong, peaking at around 33,000 a year. A corporate rebranding which saw the model christened the MKZ from 2007 was unlikely to do much to help sales, and nor, frankly, was the facelift that was applied to all three versions of the design in 2010. During the first few years of the twentyfirst century, Ford’s ambitions to grow market share in the profitable premium and luxury sectors had been underpinned by their acquisition a few years earlier of Jaguar, Land-Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin, which had been grouped together to form the Premier Automotive Group, or PAG. The Lincoln-Mercury Division has been incorporated in the PAG, but following the sale of all of those brands, and the closure of Mercury, by 2010, only Lincoln remained to further the Blue Oval’s ambitions to grab a larger slice of the prestige marketplace. New product was the only way to do it, and it was clear that at least visually, these would need to look completely different from the Ford products on which they would inevitably be based. The first of these, the large MKS Sedan, based on the 2009 Taurus did not exactly wow anyone, and the massive estate-like MKT did little other than provide a potential replacement for a lot of those aging chauffeur-driven Town Cars. When Ford revealed the second generation Fusion at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, as a 2013 model, there was a concept Lincoln version on show, suggesting that the new Lincoln was going to look quite unlike the Ford on which it was based. Sure enough, the production car which was premiered a few months later at the New York Show was very similar to the concept, with the rather large grille, and a flowing fastback rear making the car look quite unlike the Fusion. It finally went on sale in mid 2013, and has sold in much the same volume as its predecessors, at around 30,00 units a year, so roughly one MKZ for every 10 Fusion models sold.

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With the exception of a handful of the gargantuan Navigator SUV, Hertz have not had any Lincoln models on fleet for some years now, and I was beginning to think that the only way I was going to get to test an MKZ was to defect to one of the other rental companies. And then, just as I walked up to the large Gold Customer board at LAX one morning, to see what been allocated, I saw an MKZ, in a rather attractive burgundy colour which Lincoln call Ruby Red Tintcoat, still dripping wet from its trip through the car wash, driven past me, and taken to a stall nearby. I followed it so I could investigate and discovered it was classed in Group I, a luxury car the same as the Volvo S80, Chrysler 300 and Buick LaCrosse. At this point, one of the staff from the Gold Counter emerged as she had spotted me, and was on notice from the girls who usually staff the outdoor desk, but who were not working as this was a Saturday, to “look after me”. As the car was not yet on the system, it clearly had not been allocated to anyone else, so it was easy to get it against my reservation.

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The car I received was a 2017 model. These sport a facelift which was first seen at the 2015 Los Angeles Show, with a new nose being the most obvious identification point. Instead of the wide grille with lots of vertical slats that has been used on all Lincoln models in the past 10 years, the MKZ now has the same rectangular-shaped grille that is used on the larger Continental, and which looks like it has been borrowed from a first generation Jaguar XF. Other changes include the substitution of the 3.7 litre V6 with a new 400bhp 3.0 litre turbo V6 unique to the Lincoln, and plenty of trim and equipment updates. As well as the standard model, plus Premiere, Select, Reserve and top level Black Label, there are now three special appearance packages, a tradition started with the Designer Editions in 1976. The MKZ offers the “Vineyard”, “Chalet”, and “Thoroughbred” theme appearance packages. MKZ has always been offered with an optional Hybrid system, and I should have realised that when I saw a badge of “2.0H” on the back that this is what I was getting. All Wheel Drive is an option on the regular petrol cars, but is not offered on the Hybrid, meaning that this was a front wheel drive car, and like all MKZ models, it had an automatic transmission, in this case of the continuously variable type.

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Before driving anywhere, I had not just to adjust things like seat, wheel and mirrors, but to familiarise myself with the driving controls. Ready to go, taking advantage of the keyless starting, my hand went for the centre console, for the gearlever, to put the car in Drive. And there was no gearlever. And nor was there one on the column. Then I spotted a row of buttons on the left of the central section of the dash, to one side of the display screen, marked up in familiar PRNDL. This is a new feature for the 2017 models, and I have to say it worked pretty well. The button to start the car is at the top, and then you just press the appropriate gearlever button you want. Lincoln say that this feature is a revival of an approach used in the 1950s by the Chrysler push button PowerFlite and the Packard Touchbutton Ultramatic. Being a Hybrid, the MKZ starts, completely silently, on the batteries, and you can glide away from your parking position without making any noise, as indeed I did. Only when your speed reaches a few mph does the petrol engine cut in. It does so very smoothly. Indeed, the Hybrid operation of the car was generally impressive. A display to the left of the speedometer shows when the batteries are being charged, which is when you lift your foot of the throttle and under braking, and the state of charge in the batteries. There is no doubting the fact that this technology has a marked benefit on fuel consumption. On the first day that I had the car, I drove 340 miles, and recorded an average of 43.5 mpg US (which is 51.97 mpg Imperial) and the system recorded an incredible 61.5 mpg over the last 35 miles of the test (largely downhill over the Hollywood Hills, it must be admitted!). The petrol engine in this model is a 2 litre turbocharged 4 cylinder engine which combined with the assist from the Hybrid system means that there is 188 bhp available, quite a reduction from the 245 bhp of the non-Hybrid 2 litre car. Even so, this proves to be enough to make the MKZ brisk, though  you’d never call the MKZ Hybrid rapid. That is no real hardship if you think of this as luxury sedan, as sporting it is not, really, despite the use by some of this word in promotional material (but then when I saw the Toyota Corolla being so described, as it was at the LA Auto Show, I am tempted to give up trying to understand advertising altogether!). Overall noise levels are well suppressed, with little interference from the road or wind as well as muted engine note even when the petrol unit is being pushed quite hard. Although for the MKZ luxury is more of a theme than sporting prowess, this is a Ford Motor Company product and so it is actually rather enjoyable to drive. The steering is as well as judged as you will find on just about product that the company produces, with a perfect balance between feel and weighting meaning that the car is as enjoyable on the twisties as it is on the straight bits and with suspension which although soft does not make you pay for this with handling compromises. There is little in the way of body roll, and the car rides well on its standard 245/45 R19 wheels, coping far better with the often poor quality roads of the greater Los Angeles area than most others do. Standard on all MKZ models is Lincoln Drive Control, which allows you to select three settings: Normal, Comfort and Sport for both suspension and steering. Although I did press the button a couple of times, the differences did not seem that obvious in what I will concede was quite limited and rather subjective testing. Needless to say, the brakes are well up to par, with a nice progressive feel to the pedal, something not easy to achieve when it is linked to the regenerative system for charging the batteries. There is an electric handbrake operated by a button on the lower left of the dash. Despite the rather steeply sloped rear window, visibility was good, with a rear parking camera making it easy to judge precisely where the back of the MKZ might be.

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The interior of the MKZ is quite different from that of the Fusion, both in overall design and the materials used. It attempts to look rather more luxurious, and I would say generally succeeds. There is lots of leather in here, and a careful selection of other materials which look good and generally feel pleasant to the touch. There are matt wood inlays in the dash and there is a titanium finish to the centre console, which presents itself flying buttress style so that there is stowage space underneath it (though not easy to access), much like you get in a Volvo. The steering wheel is leather wrapped and was particularly pleasant to hold. The instrument pack itself is more obviously shared with Ford, adopting the current corporate approach of an all digital display, with a central circular speedometer, flanked by two rectangular areas the displays of which are controlled by pressing a series of buttons on each of the spokes of the steering wheel. There are various menus on both. To the left, in addition to the vertically-stacked bar chart fuel gauge is the trip info and the state of charge of the battery, whilst on the right is an Eco Coach which rates your acceleration, braking and cruising in a series of colour-coded bar charts, or a display showing average consumption over recent driving periods. Chunky column stalks are used for indicators and wipers, and the lights are operated by a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. The central part of the dash is dominated by a large 8″ colour touch sensitive screen which has very clear graphics on it. As well as operating the navigation system, and providing a view for the reversing camera, there were plenty of functions and apps available from this screen, including the Sirius Travel Link which contained information on traffic and the latest weather reports and forecasts. Beneath it were a simplified set of controls for the audio unit – volume and other adjustments – and the dual zone climate control. That leaves the centre console between the seats largely clear of clutter, buttons and knobs, and is all the better for this fact.

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10-way seat adjustment for the driver was all electric, with a 2 position memory included in the specification. When switching the ignition off, the seat powered rearwards somewhat, which was not really necessary for me, as even though I had the seat set well forward to cope with my short legs, there was still plenty of clearance to get in and out with no difficulty. The steering column – adjustable for rake and reach – was also electrically adjustable. The seat proved very comfortable, and the leather facings were pleasant to the touch.

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Those in the back will find little to complain about, as long as there are only adults there. Leg room is good with the seat well forward and acceptable with it set well back, as you would rather expect from a car of this overall size, and although there is quite a slope to the rear roofline, there did not seem to be any particular restriction on headroom. There was a glass sunroof in the test car, an optional feature. Previous MKZ models that I have inspected at Shows have had a huge sunroof which opened in an almost theatrical way by sliding back and over the roofline of the car, but in this case, the glass panel, more modestly sized, simply slid back inside the car, as you see more commonly on other vehicles. There is a rear central armrest, with cupholders in the upper surface. It is when you open the boot that you see the sacrifice required of you by the Hybrid system, as there is quite a sizeable area of the forward most part of the luggage area given over to housing the batteries. This means that the boot floor is not flat, as you lose some depth in this area, which is not regular in shape either. The rear-most part of the boot is quite deep, and there is decent length from front to back, but you do lose a good 4 cubic feet (25% of the total) in this version. The rear seat backrests are fixed, with just a ski flap for extra length. There is a bit of space under the floor for odds and ends around the area used for the tyre compressor. There is no spare wheel. Inside the cabin, there is a decently sized glovebox, bins on all four doors, a central cubby under the armrest, more space under the floating central console and there are map pockets in the back of the front seats. Enough for a car full of 4 adults, probably.

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Four trims are available in 2017 model year MKZ cars:  Premiere, Select, Reserve, and Black Label, and when you combine these with the engine choices, then there is quite a range of MKZ cars. Entry level is the 2 litre 4 cylinder car, with a 245 bhp unit, and then there is the new 3.7 litre V6 with 350 bhp for front wheel drive cars and 400 bhp for the all-wheel drive models, and completing the range is the Hybrid like this test car. The entry level MKZ trim is known as the Premiere. This comes with synthetic leather seats, the SYNC 3 infotainment interface, an 8-inch colour display, 11 speakers, Bluetooth, two USB ports, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power-adjustable heated front seats with lumbar support, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a proximity key with remote start, push-button start, rear parking sensors, and a rearview camera. Next up is the MKZ Select and standard features in this version include leather upholstery, two rear-seat USB charging ports, a 110-volt household-style power outlet, wood trim, ambient lighting, and auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors. This was the spec of the test car.  The MKZ Reserve includes perforated leather seats, a voice-activated navigation system, heated and cooled front seats, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and a powered boot lid. Top of the range is the MKZ Black Label which we are supposed to think of being as exclusive as it sounds. Inside, Venetian leather seats and a 20-speaker Revel audio system as well as special order pain colours feature here. Like most Lincoln products, the test car featured a numeric key pad on the door pillar, to permit entry without the key.

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The press have not reported that favourably on the MKZ, though comparing it with the E Class Mercedes, as at least one source seem to be doing when it put the MKZ in 16th out of 16 cars in the segment and the E Class at the top suggests that their view of the segment and mine are not quite the same. If you want a car of this size and luxury appointments in America, the only real choice is the Lexus IS300h, unless you (and let’s be honest not that many Americans would!) consider diesel. I’ve not driven the latest Lexus, but I did sample its predecessor and was somewhat underwhelmed, also my conclusion on testing the GS450h earlier this year, so the MKZ Hybrid could be a (very small) class leader for now. The Hybrid worked well and it did endow the car with excellent economy, so is well worth considering. Take that away and the rest of the MKZ package was fairly convincing, too. Whether I will get to sample one of those – from Hertz or elsewhere – remains unclear, but having at least got behind the wheel of this one, I would say that Lincoln has come a long way from the soggy old Town Car and even the rather uninspiring MKS, and so can look to the future with more confidence. It won’t be scaring the German brands and nor will it be likely to appear in Europe any time soon, I would imagine, but for those who want an all American mid-sized luxury car it has to be a real contender and quite the rival to the Cadillac ATS, another car which has eluded me for years.

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