The Ford Fusion Hybrid delivers the same driving experience and fuel economy, but it doesn't get a THX audio system. For the MKZ Hybrid, this audio system means a 600-watt amp and 14 speakers, plenty to fill the car's small cabin. That system includes two subwoofers and a center channel array at the top of the dashboard.
The system can produce 5.1-channel sound with the right source, a DVD movie or DVD audio. It also uses a new digital signal-processing technology called DTS Neural Surround, designed to transform the stereo audio from an MP3 player into surround sound.
We've praised THX systems in Lincolns before, and found this one equally worthy. Music plays with rich detail, unearthing layers in tracks that remain buried when heard through lesser systems. Highs and bass are very well-balanced, never overwhelming the listening experience yet backed by plenty of power. After parking, we always felt some hesitation in turning off the car, as it would stop the music playback.
Lincoln offers many audio sources to feed this THX system, our favorite being an MP3 player connected to the car with the Sync system. Sync allows for a variety of MP3 players, not just iPods, and includes an amazingly good voice command system to control music playback. We remain impressed how well Sync lets us request music by name.
MP3 player connectivity works through a USB port, but the stereo also supports Bluetooth audio streaming. As is typical with Bluetooth, the interface only offers stop/start control over music playback. Lincoln reserves 10GB of space on the car's hard drive for music storage, and makes it accessible with the same menu structure and voice command as used for a connected MP3 player. Satellite radio is also an audio option, and forms a key conduit for data to the navigation system.
That navigation system has been one of our favorite features in recent Lincoln and Ford vehicles. Hard-drive-based, it works quickly, calculating routes, scrolling the map, and responding to address inputs. The maps are not particularly rich, but street labels are easy to read and it includes both 2D and 3D views. Under route guidance, the system reads out the names of upcoming streets on the turn list.
Data integrated with the navigation system, delivered via satellite radio, includes traffic, gas prices, and movie times. We particularly like that it lets you see per gallon prices at nearby gas stations, select one, and have its location programmed into navigation. For traffic information, the system will create detours around severe problems.
Lincoln also ties in the Bluetooth phone system with some of this location data. For example, you can dial a movie theater from the movie times screen. Sync voice command also controls the phone, letting you make calls by saying the name of a person in paired phone's contact database.
Sync also works as a telematics service, offering an automatic 911 call feature and a maintenance report on the car. A Sync Apps screen shows these services, and includes slots for future apps. Lincoln has already demonstrated Pandora integration using an Android phone, so we expect apps like this to be deployed to the car in the near future.
Lincoln offers a few driver assistance features with the MKZ Hybrid. We had a rearview camera and blind-spot detection on our car, which both worked very well. But it falls short of more advanced options such as adaptive cruise control and automated parallel parking. Rain-sensing windshield wipers and adaptive headlights are nice luxury touches.
With one of the best hybrid systems on the market, it is easy to geek out over efficient driving in the 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. And aside from hyper-miling, it also drives fine as an everyday car, with plenty of boost for accelerating. The suspension stands out less, merely providing a reasonably comfortable ride, without the luxury character we would want in a Lincoln.
The car really excels in cabin tech. The maps could look better, and adaptive cruise control would be nice, but Sync works great for voice command and we love the external data feeds into the navigation system. The THX audio system is more icing on the cake, delivering audiophile quality sound at price much below that of competitors.
For looks, the MKZ Hybrid doesn't really stand out from the pack of midsize sedans. In fact, its angular styling makes it look more stodgy than most. But you can't beat the practicality, with easy access to comfortable front and rear seats. The cabin tech interface also features good design, with intelligently placed buttons and a nice, modern style for onscreen menus.
|Model||2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid|
|Power train||2.5-liter four-cylinder with hybrid electric transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||41 mpg/36 mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||35.3 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard-drive-based with traffic, weather, and other data|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard, with dial by name|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod, Zune, many others|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, internal hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, HD radio, satellite radio|
|Audio system||THX 14-speaker 600-watt system|
|Driver aids||Blind-spot detection, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$41,370|