2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

In the green-car world, the leaf is the king of all icons.

The 2010 Honda Insight fertilized the idea when it bowed in 2008; it still promotes greener driving with electronically rendered displays of plants that add leaves as the car's computers sense a light, planet-conscious foot on the gas pedal.

The king of the leaves? The 2011 Nissan LEAF, of course, which puts the iconography right up there in the name--like southern churches that advertise their theology on their roadside signs.

Ford plays the leaf game in its Fusion Hybrid, by displaying a growing number of leaves in its SmartGauge cluster as it helps train drivers to drive more miserly. The visual cue shows up on the right side of the LCD instrument display.

The 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid says it with flowers. In the MKZ Hybrid cluster, a subtle tweak to the software turns the leaves of the Fusion Hybrid into buds that bloom as the driver's green skills grow.

Why flowers? Is it simply an appeal to female buyers? Jason Johnson, Ford's user interface engineer, says the company's made an emotional connection with its own hybrid vehicles, and that they're appealing to eco-aware buyers with small cues and frills like the flowers.

"A hybrid buyer...is more emotionally engaged, in being a more responsible citizen," he says.

The difference also gives Lincoln's hybrid sedan a bit of distinction from the closely related Fusion, he adds.

Or it could be simpler yet, he says.

"Maybe Lincoln customers like flowers."

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid