Lincoln may have been the first luxury automaker to bring a hybrid to market, but certain benefits come with taking a little more time. looks to capitalize on this position by bringing to market the hybrid version of the midsize MKZ sedan.
The uses Ford's fuel-efficient 2.5-liter Duratec inline-4 (utilizing the Atkinson cycle) in parallel with an AC synchronous motor (powered by a sealed 275V NiMH battery) to propel this front-wheel driver with a combined gas/electric output of 191 hp. While that number doesn't exactly scream "high performance," the car has sufficient power. More important, you can achieve an astounding EPA-estimated 41 mpg city and 36 mpg highway (The , by comparison, makes 187 hp and gets 35/34, city/hwy). On our drive route through the scenic confusion of Washington D.C.'s National Mall, one pair of particularly eco-intensive journalists managed to achieve over 60 mpg—though no one could actually verify they didn't get out and push at some point.
The MKZ, which shares a great deal of its underpinnings (including the hybrid powertrain) with Ford's laudable , employs its hybrid power more for added efficiency than as a foot-activated push-to-pass switch. And yet despite this unsporting approach, this remains one of my favorite hybrid drivetrain/user-interface experiences to date.
Why? For one, the MKZ will allow you to operate in electric-only mode at speeds up to 47 mph. Although I'm not entirely fond of the motorboating CVT at full throttle, under less impetuous driving it provides surprisingly easy access to this mode and there's a certain level of satisfaction that comes with silent motoring. The MKZ's gauge cluster, also known as SmartGauge, is an evolution of the Ford version that allows you to customize the amount of real-time information you take in at any given second. There are four levels—Inform, Enlighten, Engage, Empower—the last adding entertaining plant graphics in the far right corner (now with apple blossom-inspired flowers!) that germinate with respect to how you drive. The more efficient you are, the more vibrant your instrument panel remains. It serves as inspiration for habit training—like taking care of that beloved virtual keychain pet—but with positive real world significance.
The cabin of the MKZ is fortified with better sound-deadening treatment, and standard creature comforts include 10-way power adjustable heated and cooled front seats and wood-accented leather surrounds, which enrich the drive experience. Other pluses include the voice-activated communication and entertainment system known as Lincoln (Ford) Sync, which integrates Bluetooth phone connectivity along with Traffic, Direction and Information (TDI) Services (all free of charge for the time being). At $3595 the Navigation options seems expensive, but it comes with a 10-GB internal music jukebox, DVD/CD/MP3 with HD Radio, Blind Spot Information System with cross-traffic alert, a rearview camera and a magnificent THX II Certified Audio System with 5.1 Surround Sound (which can decode and augment nearly any soundtrack from the source of your choosing.)