Pat Devereux29 May 2014

First drive: Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Based on the new Ford Mondeo we get next year, can this Lincoln justify its price hike over a Fusion?

What is it?

This is the 2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. Based on the Ford Fusion, which is largely the new Mondeo we in the UK will get next year. It's therefore interesting to us as it shows what can and can't be done to the new mid-range car from the Blue Oval.

The Fusion has already proved to be a handsome, wieldy car with suitable performance and has been selling in the US as fast as the factories can make them. So the idea of a luxury variant based on the same car might not seem like such a bad idea. In Europe Ford will be offering the luxo version, with quilted leather and service people who remember your name and how you take your coffee, as the Vignale.

In the US though, now that Jag, Land Rover and Aston are long gone, it's all down to Lincoln to fly the luxury Ford flag.

I'm sensing a but...

But the problem is the Fusion is so good, to look and to drive, you'd think there would be very little you can do to it that doesn't start removing some of those values and/or make it unnecessarily expensive. And you'd be right. A Fusion with the same hybrid drivetrain as this MKZ costs around $6,000 less in the US. So the challenge is to convince the punters that the Lincoln is at least $6k better than the comparable Ford.

How do they do that?

As much as the Lincoln brand has disappeared below most people's horizons, that's what Ford is pushing as the main differentiator. As it has to, because there aren't huge mechanical differences to shout about. Other than the styling, mechanical changes between the two cars amount to the Lincoln having three-mode adjustable damping and steering, a push-button gearbox and a more spiffy interior. To find more you have to really stare at the two spec sheets to nail any other real differences. It's not faster, better handling, or anything else we are used to paying more for.

So the Lincoln has no chance then?

Against all logic, that's not the case. Buyers in this class - it sells in the US against the Lexus ES300 - aren't hugely into performance and handling. They aren't even looking at a Fusion so they don't know or care that they could have a car with essentially the same mechanicals for several thousand dollars less. They are into comfort. And this is where the MKZ scores over the Ford.

How does it do that?

In several ways. The glove-leather covered seats are incredibly soft on first touch. The active noise control, also fitted to the Ford hybrid, is more effective here at washing away outside noise. The ride is perceptibly softer and smoother. The CVT gearbox feels lazier. So you feel immediately relaxed and calm and journeys consequently pass without any effort. It's rare to feel more relaxed when you get out of a car than when you got in, but that's true of the Lincoln.

What's it like to really drive?

On a performance basis, there's no other way to say this, it's a slug. You could grow a beard in less time that it takes to get to 60mph and the handling is similarly relaxed. It's not something you would ever, ever take out for a drive. Elsewhere, despite the active noise control, the CVT seems to sit the four-cylinder engine at a point where it booms. And the brakes do most of their biting at the bottom of their travel. But slow down, chill out and relax and none of the above matters much.

Should I buy one?

If you are honest with yourself and really look at the type of driving you do, rather than the type of driving you'd rather be doing, the Lincoln probably would suit you more than you think. It completely eschews the whole European notion of going hard and fast for going smooth and being hugely comfortable instead. It's styling still needs some work to make it look properly premium, but the thinking behind the car is sound.

The numbers
2,000cc, 4cyl, FWD, 188bhp, 129lb-ft, 35mpg, N/a g/km, 0-60mph 9.4secs, 135mph, 1,777kg, from $36,085

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