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Review: 2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

The Lincoln Motor Company has largely pinned its hopes for a luxury renaissance on the MKZ - can the sedan deliver?

It's been a tough row to hoe for the Lincoln MKZ. The tip of the arrow in the resurgence of Lincoln as a luxury brand, the model has faced tough questions as to whether it has the ability to sack up and carry the brand until a player to be named later comes along.

While Lincoln keeps pushing the l-word on prospective buyers, we take a hard look at the hybrid version of what we still regard as a very good car.

What is it?

The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is a midsize sedan that is powered exclusively by a 2.0-liter Atkinson-style four-cylinder. It is combined with an auxiliary electrical power generator motor on board to form a hybrid power system that works in conjunction with regenerative braking to help replenish the batteries located in the trunk. By itself, the gas 2.0-liter engine makes 141 horsepower. Joined with a permanent magnet AC Synchronous motor that generates 88-kilowatts, the entire system nets 188-horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 129 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.

The hybrid powertrain sends the results of its work to the front wheels of the MKZ through a "Powersplit electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT).

For tradition buyers who find a hybrid system to be a bit much (they really aren't), Lincoln also offers a 2.0-liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine making 240-horsepower and a 3.7-liter V6 with 300 horsepower. While the hybrid version is available exclusively as a front drive model, the 2.0-liter turbo and 3.7-liter are also available in AWD versions.

Our tester included the Preferred Equipment Group ($5,375), which featured a rear-view video camera, reverse sensing system, an audio system featuring a THX surround sound audio system with navigation, and cross-traffic alert. The MyLincoln Touch infotainment system works in conjunction with the Sync system, and its eight-inch display and voice controls, which were well-sorted, taking commands without a hitch.

It was also ordered with ala carte options including a power moonroof, the technology group package and its active park assist, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control.

Built at the Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly plant in Mexico, the Lincoln MKZ shares a platform with its corporate cousin, the Ford Fusion.

What's it up against?

In a parallel universe, Lincoln would have this MKZ slot right up against competitors from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. Instead, we would place the Lincoln in the gate next to the Hyundai Genesis Sedan and, in hybrid form, the Lexus ES 300h.

How does it look?

Appearing all the while like a delicate, more refined version of the Fusion, the MKZ is the more stylish and better looking of the two. Starting with its stylized, scowling wing-inspired grille and LED running lights, its imposing presence sets the tone for a flowing design that sweeps into a high-shouldered rear quarter.

A fastback roof helps to keep the four-door coupe appearance intact. It continues rearward and is accented by a full-width lightbar for the brake and running lights. If the MKZ had a downside, it would be in the appearance of the wheels and tires, which seem puny relative to the majestic position Lincoln is placing on the model. To our eyes the proportions are off and beg for larger wheel openings as well.

And on the inside?

The interior of this car is its biggest letdown, with plastic and metal-look panels taking the place of the woods and real metals that would normally be found in luxury cars these days. More contemporary than luxurious, it's somewhat of a tough place to be.

Our tester was equipped with stylishly-shaped but questionably colored brown leather power seats that offered good bolster and proper ergonomic design for long stints of cross-country jaunts.

The driver's instrument pod is comprised of a central speedometer with configurable TFT panels on either side. In our tester, the left gauge featured an eco-dial while the right wing featured Ford/Lincoln's efficiency leaves, which grow in abundance on the branches of a tree to reward responsible driving, and conversely blow away as the driver's style becomes more aggressive. To the right of the IP are P, R, N, and D buttons, which take the place of a shift lever to free up space on the center console for…plastic.

The MyLincoln Touch infotainment system with Sync featured the knobless design that seems to be permeating the industry in certain segments. It offered a relatively easy user interface for us, despite the fact that not every customer (or critic) has warmed to its design. Innovative noise cancellation sets the cabin up like a giant pair of Bose headphones. The net result was a quiet ride that made for a pretty silent cabin.

The trunk space takes a diminished cargo load, which is to be expected in these battery-totting hybrids. The interesting part is that the space left after batteries looks suspiciously like the shape of a PGA-approved pro touring golf bag.

But does it go?

The MKZ's hybrid two-liter Atkinson cycle engine features design techniques that are a result of a technology swap between Ford and Toyota. Under heavy acceleration the MKZ sounded like a "Hot-Rod Lincoln” wanna-be, which causes it to be noisy while at full roar. It's the one point where the noise cancellation system is the least effective and residual sound does make its way into the cabin. Zero-to-60 mph came in at the mid eight-second range (8.5-seconds). Otherwise we were quickly able to overlook that issue due to the car's great mileage. We found the CVT performed flawlessly, if a little blandly, but it's there in the name of fuel economy.

Our MKZ Hybrid was quiet on the highway, and well modulated with great steering. While not exactly the most energetic off the line, it still manages to see 35 mpg during steady state driving at 80 mph. Drop down to 70 mph, and we easily achieved 45 mpg. Steering from the lane-keep assist system tended to annoy us, deciding whether we really wanted to move over a lane to the left or right. We understand that's the purpose of this option but we found it rather intrusive, trying to fight with us, even where there were no road stripes on the ground. It was only when we disabled it, that we really felt in control.

We did not have the 20-inch high-performance summer tires that arrived on the pre-production prototype model we drove last year. But despite the lack of that meaty rubber, the handling was still plenty stout in its front wheel-drivetrain configuration. Anymore and we think most would consider it too firm a ride.

Leftlane's bottom line:

After a week in the MKZ Hybrid, we found the sedan delivers great mileage, especially when you consider its size. If luxury is the main factor driving your purchase decision, look around at all the players. And at the end of the day, buy with your wallet, and at your technological comfort level.

2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid base price, $36,190. As tested, $46,800.

Preferred Equipment Group, $5,375; White Platinum Tri-Coat paint, $695; Power Moonroof, $1,200; Technology package, $2,250; Rear inflatable seat belts, $195; Destination fee, $895.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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