Even though I've owned or leased an awful lot of cars since I graduated from college, I don't consider myself a "car guy." While I've changed the oil and spark plugs of my '75 MGB, my interest is strictly behind the wheel – so when Ford's PR people reached out to me to demo two of their new models, I was all ears.
If I'm not a car guy, though, I do admit I'm a car snob. While I've owned two Toyotas and Hondas and a Hyundai, more recently I've been partial to Saabs, Volvos and BMWs. Indeed, it's been several years since I've driven a car like the new Ford Fiesta, a vehicle that costs about a third as much as my 2011 BMW X3. But I promised to give both the Fiesta and the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, the brand's high-end luxury eco-offering, a fair shake. After all, as the owner of a Prius that gets 50 miles per gallon and a scooter that sips 70 mpg, I was more than interested to see what Ford is doing to compete in the hyper-miling crowd.
It turns out that the giant automaker from Detroit has some very interesting tricks up its sleeve. Depending on your budget, you can buy a high-mileage car from Ford that will really impress you in cost – or will blow you away in value.
2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
I've had my eye on Lincoln for a while now. I'm impressed how the brand has reinvented itself, taking cues from its European luxury competition. And, while the MKZ doesn't look that much like a BMW 5 series, it sports modern, aggressive styling. It only gets better behind the wheel.
In a word, the MKZ feels substantial. It gives the illusion of feeling sucked down into the ground, and the suspension is dampened so you're aware of the road but not bothered by its bumps. In that respect, it doesn't feel European at all; the Lincoln feels like a tank.
That is, if your vision of a tank is plush and economical and virtually silent to drive until you floor it.
Starting at $34,645, this is a hybrid that feels nothing at all like my Prius, but still sports an amazing 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway (in my limited test, I averaged 38.1 mpg). In fact, other than a spaceship like array of controls on the dashboard and touch-screen display, you'd never know you were driving a hybrid. This is the kind of hybrid that bridges the gap for people who don't want to be hit over the head with eco-friendliness – and it costs way less than the cars it competes against.
The model I tested had a $3,600 navigation package, bringing its MSRP to almost $38,000, still less than the base Cadillac CTS. While I've never driven the CTS, I have driven the BMW 528i sedan, and that starts at $45,000 has less horsepower and gets much more pedestrian mileage.
The Lincoln MKZ feels luxurious throughout, with high-end touches like heated and cooled seats, power everything and chrome, leather and wood interior everywhere, all part of the standard equipment. This test car had blind-spot detectors, a back-up camera and more. In fact, it's a bit of sensory overload, but as I guy who appreciate techy gadgets on cars, I know I could grow to love it – though ergonomically and aesthetically, it still falls short from the tactile experience on, say, a new Bimmer.
In terms of the ride, it's hard to find anything to pick on. For a hybrid, the MKZ sports an amazing 263 horsepower and 249 pounds of torque. It doesn't blow you away with acceleration, but it's more than adequate – keep in mind, this beast gets phenomenal mileage for a car this big. It's roomy and substantial feeling, though still nimble; I imagine this would be a joy on road trips, too.
To me, the Lincoln aesthetic still feels just the slightest bit stodgy with vaguely retro styling and an oversized grille, but it is a huge step in the right direction.
The MKZ Hybrid is perhaps the nicest American car I've ever driven, and bodes exceptionally well if this is the future of what's coming out of Detroit. If I was in the market for an upscale, fuel-efficient family sedan, I would give this car a very serious look.
2011 Ford Fiesta
I can't say I was blown away by my first glance of the magenta Fiesta, which has a pink tint that I originally declared as mauve. From the front, the little Fiesta looks cool and aggressive, reminiscent of a Saab 9-3. From the back, it's bulbous, stubby even. But over the course of a few days, its look grew on me. Tiny but modern, the Mexican-built Fiesta sports a European vibe, and to my eye, is not ugly. The interior is plastic-y and cheap looking, especially with the cloth seats and the striped patterns that draw attention to its utilitarian weave.
Ergonomically, the interior feels confusing, with a center console to control the radio, Bluetooth and other settings, and it's not immediately intuitive. You can control certain functions from the steering wheel, too, like radio station, but oddly, not volume. More is available by voice control via Ford's standard SYNC tool. Some of the model's standard features include a leather-wrapper steering wheel and USB audio input jack, as well as satellite radio. The heated seats, keyless entry and some upgraded trim tack on another $795.
Performance-wise, the little Fiesta's 120 hp, four-cylinder engine won't leave anyone in the dust, but it feels a little peppier than its specs would suggest. Acceleration is sluggish as expected, but with a manual transition, it's low to the ground and responsive. Yes, it still sounds and feels cheap, but comparing it to the Fiesta that I rented in San Francisco in 1997, that could barely make it up a hill, this model is capable enough – just not especially fun, but not devoid of it, either.
Obviously, the main draws for this car are price and mileage. It's hard to find a new vehicle in 2011 that starts at $15,120, and the Fiesta certainly fits that bill. However, the car I demoed had a sticker of $18,590, which seemed too expensive for what it delivered.
As for mileage, this SEL version advertises 37 mpg on the highway and 28 in the city, which is impressive but not amazing. In the 80 or so miles I put on the car, the fuel gauge only dipped a quarter of the way, which isn't a scientific observation, but a notable one, nonetheless.
I'm clearly not the target demo for this car, but the Fiesta could be a solid choice for someone entering the workforce or looking for a bargain-priced, four-door hatch. Just watch the extras – $15,000 is a certainly a cheap car; $18,000 for almost the same vehicle is a less of a bargain.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.