Mountain Wheels: Feature-heavy Lincoln MKZ Hybrid goes back to the future |

Mountain Wheels: Feature-heavy Lincoln MKZ Hybrid goes back to the future

2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid: The 2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid delivers more miles per gallon than any luxury vehicle in America: 45 mpg city, 45 mpg highway and 45 mpg combined.
Wieck | Lincoln

2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

MSRP: $36,190; as tested, $43,420

Powertrain: 188 net HP from 2.0-liter four-cylinder/battery/electric motor combo; CVT transmission

EPA mpg figures: 38 combined: 38 city, 37 highway

As you’ve seen and heard, there are major pushes underway to generate some fresh opinions of the nearly 100-year-old Lincoln Motor Co. — not the least of which is getting Matthew McConaughey involved in the marketing.

And while you may not have noticed Ford’s premium brand expanding its offerings and providing a futuristic feel to those products, the hybrid version of the Lincoln MKZ is about as Car of Tomorrow as you’re going to see — in a mostly good way.

MKZ, which shares its platform and underpinnings with the successful Ford Fusion, is already a glossy, chrome-edged and elegantly angled midsize luxury machine. In its Lincolnization, it gets sharper looks (including a long, almost liftback-styled trunk and spoiler, plus an impressive solid light bar across the entire tail) and a very sophisticated touch-sensitive stack of controls, including an innovative (and somewhat non-intuitive) set of pushbutton transmission controls.

But underneath all the leather and chrome, the MKZ Hybrid’s Atkinson-cycle engine, battery pack and electric traction motor indeed push the automobile in a very different direction — and change up the driving experience. Lincoln also likes to mention that the hybrid version of the MKZ does not come with a major markup above the standard 2.0-liter EcoBoost-powered model.

First things first: In June, Ford announced that it messed up its fuel economy ratings for several of its hybrid and plug-in vehicles, due to faulty testing. As a result, the MKZ Hybrid’s figures dropped from a particularly rosy 45 mpg for both city and highway driving to a more realistic 38 city and 37 highway.

My extended highway travels in the admittedly smooth and comfortable MKZ proved those numbers to be true, though you can get figures in excess of 45 mpg if you’re doing a lot of travels simply using the car’s 35 kW battery power reserves and the 88 kW electric motor. All-electric range is limited but regenerative braking does help recharge the battery as you go, and the extra electric juice helps on takeoffs.

Get into a flat acceleration groove on the highway and the electric motor can do most of the work itself, up to 85 mph, versus the 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine. All systems integrated, you’ll get 188 horsepower, which is enough to merge onto the freeway but occasionally strikes you as feeling a little underpowered for the car’s size and 3,828-pound curb weight, and maybe a little tinny of tone when under full throttle.

Should throaty raw power be your objective, I’d steer you instead to the special 3.7-liter V6 available on the regular MKZ, which offers 300 HP and highway mileage in the 26-28 mpg range, as well as optional all-wheel drive.

MKZ’s ride is, in the meantime, massaged by Lincoln Drive Control, which optimizes the steering, suspension and sound-deadening qualities to pleasant if not exactly Town Car-meets-modified-Fusion level of comfort, plus agility.

The aesthetics are certainly pleasant, from the double chrome grille and low-profile LED headlamps to the chrome-bottomed side mirrors. A raked line on the cabin’s edge stretches all the way along the body line; and then there’s that tail, which blends a serious futuristic vibe with the old-school lighting you’ll find on retro competitors like the Dodge Challenger.

Inside, there’s a nice, cockpit-styled sweep of design details flowing from the doors into the dash, and right down the middle that flat-planed center stack blends into a center console with a missile silo-styled lid over the cupholders and a leather-topped storage box (with media inputs) at your right elbow.

When you shut the power off, all of the center console controls disappear — except for two chrome sliders — power it up and you have a range of touch-sensitive radio and AC controls, plus a navigation touchscreen that’s angled just enough to be uncomfortably prone to glare (as well as incredibly susceptible to greasy fingerprints). The vertical strip of pushbutton controls for the transmission definitely takes some time to get used to, though it does save space.

Seating is plush and leathery, and rear passengers will enjoy moderately ample footroom (curved seatbacks help with that), plus the protection of inflatable seatbelts.

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