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New Lincoln hybrid cost at $35,180

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New Lincoln hybrid cost at $35,180

BY BRENT SNAVELY AND TODD SPANGLER

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS

Eager to claim a bigger stake in the luxury car market, Lincoln is about to use an aggressive pricing strategy with an environment-friendly, gas-electric hybrid vehicle, the 2011 Lincoln MKZ.

Next month, the vehicle will appear on lots with a $35,180 sticker -- $795 below the price for a competitor, the 2011 Lexus HS 250h.

Car critics who drove the new MKZ last week published their first impressions today.

Toyota and its Lexus luxury brand dominate the U.S. gasoline-electric hybrid market with 69% sold in the first eight months of 2010. Ford was a distant second at 19.3% with its Escape/Mariner SUVs and Fusion/Milan sedans.

Lower gas prices have helped cut hybrid sales by 11% in the U.S. this year.

Lincoln's first hybrid will face competition next year from the new Lexus CT 200h compact and Infiniti's M-45 hybrid midsize sedan. MKZ buyers won't get a tax credit.

Even at that price, analysts say Ford will make a profit on the MKZ because its body shares a powertrain and many parts with the Fusion, which starts at $28,100.

"The more hybrids they build, the better their economies of scale," said automotive analyst Jim Hall.

Push to reinvigorate the brand intensifies

With the introduction of the new Lincoln MKZ hybrid midsize sedan and redesigned Lincoln MKX crossover, Ford's efforts to reinvigorate its Lincoln lineup have intensified.

Even with gas prices less than $3 per gallon, the addition of the hybrid in October should benefit dealers because it will attract customers who want both a luxury vehicle and a fuel-efficient vehicle, said Michael Stanford, owner of Varsity Lincoln Mercury in Novi.

Also, the 2011 Lincoln MKX, which is on sale now, is a substantial improvement over the 2010 version, Stanford said, and is one of seven new or redesigned vehicles Lincoln plans to launch during the next four years.

Ford, which decided to discontinue its Mercury brand earlier this year, has introduced four Lincoln models during the last five years. But there's still a lot of work to do. Lincoln's sales ranked ninth among all luxury brands through August in the U.S.

"We've really spent a lot of time ... in the last six months on Lincoln," Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in August at the Woodward Dream Cruise. "It is going to be a much more robust brand."

For now, Lincoln plans to emphasize its features, improved quality and fuel efficiency. The MKZ Hybrid is rated at a combined 39 m.p.g. compared with a combined 35 m.p.g. for the Lexus HS 250h.

The MKZ hybrid also will feature Ford's popular SmartGauge, which shows leaves growing as drivers save money on fuel, as well as a new EcoGuide feature that shows white apple blossoms that grow over time.

By the time a driver earns five full flowers, he or she could save nearly 200 gallons of gas, two tons of carbon dioxide and $544.

Ford is pricing the MKZ hybrid at $35,180 -- the same price as its gasoline version.

The idea is to sell luxury to people who might appreciate a $35,000 car that gets better fuel mileage than its closest competitor, has more horsepower, has more luxury standards and actually costs a little less than rival Lexus, which sells the Lexus HS 250 hybrid for $35,975.

"I think it is a smart strategy to price the cars the same," said Jesse Toprak, vice president for industry trends for TrueCar.com in Santa Monica, Calif. "One of the main reasons why hybrids haven't become mass market is because of their pricing."

Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics in Birmingham, said the MKZ sale price shows that Ford wants to boost sales, but the strategy also carries risks.

"I hope they realize that Lexus sales aren't based on pricing," Hall said. "With luxury cars, in some cases lower pricing works against you."

Ford also plans to tout the quality and features of its MKX crossover compared with those of its competitors. This year, Lincoln finished second only to Porsche in the J.D. Power and Associates vehicle dependability study, which measures quality over a three-year period.

The MKX now sports a version of the split-wing or bow-wave grille and LED taillights, two styling touches that are becoming Lincoln's signature look.

A 3.7-liter V6 engine boosts power from 265 to 305 horsepower with no decrease in fuel economy.

New features include radar-based adaptive cruise control and automatic collision warning, blind-spot alert and sensors to warn of oncoming cross traffic when backing out of a parking space.

"It is a completely different car," Stanford said.

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100908/BUSINESS01/9080349/1331/Business01/New-Lincoln-hybrid-39-m.p.g.-for-35180&template=fullarticle

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First Drive: 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

by Zach Bowman (RSS feed) on Sep 8th 2010 at 11:57AM

Shows other luxury hybrids how it's done

On the whole, luxury manufacturers just can't seem to figure out what to do with hybrid drivetrains. Sure, there's some vague notion of improved fuel economy, but for every fuel-sipping Lexus HS250h, there's a 455-horsepower, 26-mpg BMW ActiveHybrid 750i to balance the scales. Part of the problem is that fuel economy and luxury traditionally play as well together as 50 Cent and KC and the Sunshine Band. High-end autos are synonymous with power, weight and cabins large enough to comfortably raise a middle-class family, while their miserly counterparts tend to be tinny contraptions with the driving dynamics of low-rent washing machines.

But that doesn't mean there aren't automakers trying to meld the two. One of the big buzz phrases making its way around automotive circles right now is "The 'And' Car." That is, a vehicle capable of being all things to all people through the miracle of technology. Lincoln believes it's come up with just such a creation in the 2011 MKZ Hybrid – a sedan that bests the fuel economy of the competition by a wide margin and provides all of the luxury amenities buyers demand. The question is, have they pulled it off?

Lincoln's designers have done a smart job crafting the MKZ Hybrid so that the average passer-by would have a hard time telling it shares more than a few bones with the electrified Ford Fusion. Like its non-Atkinson cycle brother, the MKZ Hybrid wears completely different sheetmetal from the A-pillar forward. More subtle fenders, a hood with fewer compound details and, of course, Lincoln's baleen grille on the front fascia are additions that do well to differentiate the MKZ from its more common cousin. Likewise, splashes of chrome along the lower fascia, mirrors and window sills also help to separate the two. We're not crazy about the shiny stuff, especially when it comes to the perpetually-smudged door handles, but this is a Lincoln, after all – chrome is a birthright in these parts.

The rear of the MKZ Hybrid holds up its end of the bargain when it comes to separating itself from the Fusion. Broad, horizontal taillights replace the trapezoidal pieces of the Blue Oval and lend the car a more stately appearance. The tall Lincoln crosshair emblem does seem a little crowded by the vehicle's rear-view camera lens, but that only comes to light if, like us, you've spent more than a minute or two with your eyeballs locked on an MKZ in front of you in D.C. traffic.

Unfortunately, we'd be lying if we said that the Lincoln's interior was anything short of disappointing, especially when it comes to the instrument panel and center stack. While our photo tester was clad in an Executive Package that swapped the vast expanses of cheap-feeling black plastic for wood veneer culled from renewable forests, the base trim serves up surfaces that are far below what we've come to expect from most Ford vehicles, let alone the company's luxury wing.

Without the wood overlay, the vehicle's squared-off center stack is neither attractive nor fitted with climate or entertainment controls that feel worthy of its MSRP. The same could be said for the door panels – a real shame considering that the massive LCD touchscreen mounted mid-dash is downright gorgeous. Likewise, the dual-LCD instrument cluster with its large center-up speedometer carries the kind of tech-centric design we'd love to see elsewhere in the cabin. Unfortunately, it's just not there.

But where the dash falls short, the standard leather seating surfaces absolutely shine. The hides are from some far-flung corner of Scotland where the tanners still use a chromium-free curing process – something that's important when you're selling a car that's supposed to be doing its part to save the planet. The perforated thrones breathe well, are nearly infinitely power adjustable and they're heated and cooled. Even better, they're standard equipment.

The good news is that while the instrument panel may not be the most stunning piece of interior design we've come across, it is well sorted. During our brief stint behind the wheel, we couldn't come up with anything to complain about ergonomically. The steering-wheel mounted controls for cruise and entertainment are easy enough to memorize and the buttons on the center stack, while cheap, are a cinch to navigate. Inside, the MKZ Hybrid is a case of function over form.

Of course, those shopping for a luxury hybrid will be most interested in what's going on under the hood, and to that end, the new Lincoln hybrid is no disappointment. The MKZ makes use of the same 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine found in the Fusion Hybrid, complete with a combined 191 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque. The mill is mated to a CVT gearbox that handles putting power to the front wheels without relying on an abundance of buzzing rpm. Lincoln and the EPA claim the combo is good for 41 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, though we're here to tell you that if you leave the car idling for two hours for a photo shoot, those figures will fall off precipitously. Just sayin'.

Before setting our lenses on the 2011 MKZ Hybrid, we saw around 38.6 mpg in mixed driving – damned impressive for a car with a total of 99 cubic feet of passenger room and the burden of lugging around a nickel-metal hydride battery. In an age when most compacts are struggling to crest the 40 mpg barrier, a mid-sized luxury cruiser that hits the mark is something worthy of wonder. But for us, the best part isn't the fact that it could conceivably save its owner 2,000 gallons of gasoline over 150,000 miles, it's the fact that it drives just like a normal vehicle.

There is no waiting for acceleration or awkward transition between gasoline and electric power. Like the Fusion Hybrid, the MKZ variant can whisk you along on all-electric go-go at speeds up to 47 mph. Were it not for a lack of engine idle at start up, we would have a hard time telling the difference between this MKZ and its non-hybrid counterpart. In short, buyers really don't have to make a sacrifice when it comes to opting for better fuel economy. For the first time in history, you really can have all of the legroom and trunk space of a mid-size luxury bruiser and the fuel economy of a compact in the same package.

Despite having just below 200 horsepower on tap, the MKZ Hybrid is a comfortable driver. We never found it out of breath while jousting with beltway traffic or accelerating for a pass, and on some of the spirited tarmac outside of D.C.-proper, it proved to be a surprisingly well mannered platform. While incredibly comfortable over broken pavement, the MKZ Hybrid doesn't deliver the typical slosh-and-dive indicative of prehistoric American luxury products. Its electronic systems and suspension are all well-matched for a finished product that's very well-rounded.

Surprisingly enough, Lincoln has sought to make the MKZ Hybrid a value story on top of being the most fuel-efficient car in its class. At a starting price of $35,180 (including destination), the MKZ Hybrid will set you back just as much as its V6 counterpart. Given this news, we start to understand some of the shortcuts the company took in the cabin, even if we don't approve of them. We would just as soon see the MSRP climb by a thousand dollars if it came with the kind of world-class interior we know Ford is capable of. If you don't believe us, have a close look at what the Blue Oval is up to in the 2011 Edge.

Fortunately, Lincoln says that we should hold onto our hats. According to the automaker, it's planning a deluge of new and updated models to be rolled out in short order, and we're hoping those plans include a refreshing of the MKZ cabin.

Even with its less-than-inspired innards, the MKZ Hybrid has no problem besting its closest competitor, the Lexus HS250h, in every way. With more room and power, a quieter cabin, a comparable MSRP and significantly better fuel economy, it's simply a better vehicle. Lincoln may not have seamlessly wedded the two worlds of luxury and fuel economy with the 2011 MKZ Hybrid just yet, but it has started down a path that will eventually result in a luxury hybrid that doesn't ask its owner to make any compromises.

link:

http://www.autoblog.com/2010/09/08/2011-lincoln-mkz-hybrid-first-drive-road-test-review/

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