As my ownership of the Focus Electric came to a close, I was facing the question of whether to continue down the electric vehicle path or go back to a conventional vehicle. There were certainly pros and cons to both approaches, but Ford made the choice quite a bit easier by dangling a big rebate in front of my nose. Money talks, as they say.
My shopping for a replacement for the Focus began a couple of months before the lease ended, with a note in my monthly bill about lease end incentives that were pretty sizeable (at least $1500 if I recall correctly, but it could have been more). The only caveat was that these rebates weren’t available on any of Ford’s plug-in electric products, just the regular cars and trucks. Within that list we quickly narrowed our focus (pun intended) to the Escape, the Lincoln MKC, and the Fusion.
We went to the dealer armed with stock numbers of particular vehicles we were interested in and some knowledge of the rebates we were eligible for. My request for the salesman was simple – take these stock numbers, calculate lease payments for each (since cars with the same price would probably have different lease payments due to different incentives and residual values), and we’d test drive only the cars whose payments we liked best. Seems simple, right? Especially since I already had the stock numbers. Of course, nothing is that simple – the salesperson essentially refused to calculate any lease payments until we got serious about buying one of the cars. It’s the old dealer trick – get ‘em into the car, they fall in love, and we can sell it to them no matter how high the payment went, right? You’d think these tricks would have fallen off the map by now…
Since he wasn’t budging, off we went to wander the dealer lot to find the cars whose stock numbers I’d pulled. The dealer’s method for organizing stock wasn’t particularly sophisticated, so the salesman had to pull the keys and then walk around the lot pressing the lock button on the remote and wait for the honk of the horn. To make matters worse, they were repaving some of the lot so there were cars at multiple lots in the area, so we had to drive several miles to find some of them. We were able to find the Escape so we drove that first. It was…fine, I guess, but I wasn’t a big fan of it (noisy and a bit underpowered with the 1.6 liter turbo – this would be the one that tended to catch on fire, as I recall). We drove the MKC which was essentially the Escape in a fancy suit, and that was also…fine – nicer than the Escape, especially with the bigger 2-liter engine. We didn’t get to drive the Fusion as the ones we wanted were parked in and nobody could find the keys to move the cars in front.
This is when the salesman pointed out that the MKZ (a Fusion in a fancy suit) had some pretty good incentives, so we drove that car. I hadn’t really considered it because the MSRPs were pretty high, but $5500 in rebates brings that number down pretty quick. We liked the way the car looked and the 240-hp Ecoboost 2.0 liter engine definitely produced more than adequate acceleration. Rebates brought lease payments down to a reasonable level, especially in the “base” model we were choosing (no panoramic sunroof, no donk-like rims, no Bridge of Weir leather, etc., etc.). Another plus was that they had a base model in stock in a color I was particularly interested in called “Bronze Fire”. This was a three-coat color that appeared maroon in the shade but was an intense bronze/copper color in sunlight.
Despite my having bought dozens of cars over the past quarter-century or so, it still amazes me how these transactions take forever to complete. If I recall correctly, the whole process took 5 or so hours from start to finish, including wandering the parking lot like Billy in Family Circus, driving multiple cars, deciding on the MKZ, finding that car at a lot 3 miles away, getting the car, doing the paperwork, etc., etc., etc. Maybe this is why I’m not running back to the dealership every 18 months like I used to – getting too old and impatient to sit around for multiple hours waiting for something that should take 45 minutes.
Anyway, we did take the Bronze Fire MKZ home and we were generally glad we did. The Ecoboost engine and 6-speed automatic could light up the front tires pretty effectively, although when we did that the fuel economy wasn’t particularly stellar. I’ve heard people say that Ecoboost engines give you either “Eco” or “boost” but not both – our experience was similar, as I got around 24.5 mpg overall during the 3 years we owned the car. I didn’t think that was particularly stellar, especially given the engine size. Fun to drive, but if you were expecting high fuel economy then you should keep your foot out of the turbo. It was certainly effective at covering miles on the highway without any fuss at whatever speed you liked. It was a long way from my Town Car for acceleration and handling!
To me, the styling was much more interesting than the Fusion. I particularly liked the “no buttons” look of the infotainment center stack that was almost concept-car like to me (but attracted fingerprints like there was no tomorrow). The volume control and fan controls were touch sensitive sliders that were definitely “form over function” – good looking but a pain to use. Steering wheel volume controls and automatic climate control meant I didn’t need to use them that much. Cupholders were hidden by damped covers, which gave the interior a cleaner look. People made a big deal out of the pushbutton transmission selector – probably most of them had never seen mid-fifties Chrysler pushbuttons, I guess. The instruments appeared to be analog gauges but were actually color screen simulations that were easy to read. The exterior styling was also eye-catching, especially with the special paint color and the all-LED lighting (including LED headlights that steered with the front wheels like the Tucker cyclops light). The exhaust appeared to be two wide openings in the bumper (a nice visual touch) – just don’t look too close, or you’ll see that this is actually just two holes in the bumper with regular exhaust tops poking out.
Of course, there were a few challenges, but nothing that would be anything more than an annoyance. The instrument cluster included a center screen that showed either phone, navigation, or radio information. I kept the screen on the radio data so I could quickly see what satellite radio channel I was on, as well as the artist and song title. This being the much maligned My Ford/Lincoln Touch system (which I referred to as My Ford Bad Touch), it picked up an interesting quirk much as the Focus had. If I shut off the car for a brief period of time (5 minutes or less) for things like stopping at the post office or getting gas, when I restarted the car the center display would have the satellite radio channel but no song or artist. I found out (purely at random) that I could bring the display back if I switched briefly to FM and back to satellite. No idea why that worked, but it did. The car’s smart key system used some touch sensitive areas on the door handles to lock the doors – a real annoyance when you’re washing the car with the key in your pocket and the doors lock every time the stream of water hits the handle. I took to putting the key inside the house after putting the car where I wanted it.
The ownership experience was pretty good too – for a time, Lincoln was offering a service where they would come out to your home or office to pick up your car for service, leave you a car if you needed it, and then bring back your car when it was done. Since the dealer was only a couple of miles from my office, it was more of a novelty than anything else (getting a shuttle from the dealer only took a few minutes), so I wasn’t completely disappointed when the service was discontinued. Since the car was otherwise reliable, I didn’t have to use these dealer services all that much anyway.
All in all, this was a good car purchase. The car performed well, handled great, was pretty well assembled, and attracted attention from people for its styling and unique color. I only traded this car in within the last two months, in fact, having run it almost to the end of its lease. (I missed out on the “steering wheel might fall off” recall by a few weeks, it seems.) Its replacement is a story of excitement, disappointment, and eventual marital harmony. A story for a few weeks from now…