Okay, gas is now solidly in the four-bucks-per-gallon range and will likely stay there for some time. Filling up is a necessity of life for the vast majority of Southern Californians, and the higher price of gas is really going to be noticed in most people’s budgets.
So should you run out and unload your current vehicle for something more fuel efficient? Well, that would be a money loser for sure. But if you’re thinking of a new car anyway, then it makes great sense to look for one with better gas mileage.
Hybrid cars are now mainstream, and just about every auto company is offering one, or will in the near future. The only problem is, for the most part you have to pay more for a hybrid than you would for a conventional version of the same car. Calculators will show you how long it would take to recover the hybrid premium (usually several thousand dollars) in fuel savings.
But one new hybrid lets you do away with the math altogether. The 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is priced exactly the same as the conventional MKZ. This is pretty much a first for a car brand, and makes the choice fairly easy if you’re concerned about fuel efficiency.
Essentially, the MKZ is a twin to the Ford Fusion, so the MKZ Hybrid uses the same power system as the Fusion Hybrid. It works very well, and the new gasoline-electric Lincoln garners an EPA fuel economy estimate of 41 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway.
Keep in mind that this is a pretty good size car, able to easily hold four adults, or five in a pinch. Those kind of mileage numbers are impressive, especially the city rating of 41. That’s because Ford’s hybrid system allows the MKZ to travel at rather high speeds on battery power alone, up to 47 miles per hour, which I was able to confirm during a test drive of the car.
And like the Fusion, the MKZ Hybrid shows you how well you’re doing with an instrument graphic which grows leaves on a vine as you travel. Drive judiciously, and your vine will become very green. You also get to see when you’re about to go from electric mode to gasoline mode via another readout, so you can feather the throttle to help keep that pricey fuel from coming into play.
Aside from the high-tech powertrain, the MKZ Hybrid is a very nice car overall. Check the right option boxes, and you can have all manner of helpful and entertaining features at your beck and call. One of my favorites (and available on other Ford products) is Sirius Travel Link, which brings information right to the in-dash screen such as fuel prices, movie times and even a weather forecast.
The one place the hybrid version lags behind the conventional MKZ is in power and smoothness. While the combination of an electric motor and four cylinder engine works fine in the hybrid, the 263 horsepower V6 that the non-hybrid offers is not only much more powerful, but smoother too.
One other thing you’ll give up when choosing the hybrid is trunk space. Since the battery pack is placed vertically behind the rear seatback, it steals some of the car’s cargo room. Also, with the battery there, the rear seats obviously can’t fold down to stow longer items.
Still, those small quibbles aside, the MKZ Hybrid is a winner. For a base price of $34,605 (the same as the non-hybrid), you can have a nice combination of luxury as well as fuel economy. If you were going to buy something new anyway, this Lincoln is a way to save fuel and travel in style at the same time.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @davekunzcars