Motoring: MKZ Hybrid brings thrift to luxury segment

The new MKZ, with its swoopy lines, LED exterior lighting and split wing grille turned plenty of heads at auto shows I've been to.

The redesigned Lincoln MKZ is a head-turner with its sweeping roofline

When Lincoln reinvented the MKZ midsize sedan in 2013, the company nailed it on at least two counts.

Number one, they deep-sixed its stodgy “grandpa car” look and turned to their dedicated studio for a makeover both inside and out. The new design philosophy, according to their marketing bumph, “stands apart but doesn’t stand out.”

Here I beg to differ. The new MKZ, with its swoopy lines, modern LED exterior lighting and split wing grille inspired by the 1938 Zephyr, turned plenty of heads at any auto show I attended.  Which puts me in mind of the Cadillac CTS, not in looks, but as a game-changer for the brand.

Number two: They priced their hybrid right.

Auto journalism has its share of curmudgeons, and depending on the writer, many scoff at hybrid price premiums that can take from a few years to decades to pay off.

With the MKZ, there’s no added cost for the hybrid model—it shares the same starting MSRP as its “base” gas-powered sibling.

Sure, there’s a tradeoff in power (the entry Premiere comes with a 240-hp turbo four rather than a milder non-turbo four with electric motor), but they are similarly well equipped.

The team from Ford/Lincoln recently invited a group of Canadian journalists to test their battery-assisted MKZ. I’ll admit the idea of a premium sedan without abundant power may seem unusual—especially when some automakers, like BMW, mate a killer engine with electric motor to deliver even more clout when you tire of being green.

But the MKZ isn’t benchmarked against the 335 hp ActivHybrid3. A better comparison would be the Lexus ES 300h, the hybrid version of its popular ES sedan.

Like Lincoln, Lexus swaps the V6 (there’s no four-pot turbo) for a 2.5-litre gas engine plus electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The net for this powertrain is 200 hp.

The MKZ, on the other hand, employs even smaller displacement through a 2.0-litre Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder and electric motor combo that produces 188 net hp.

Unlike the Lexus, it uses smaller, lighter lithium-ion batteries and is 17 per cent more efficient than the previous MKZ hybrid. It can now travel up to 100 km/h in EV (electric only) mode.

Our group spent the morning touring the small towns and backroads in and around Collingwood. The goal was not to test the MKZ Hybrid’s driving dynamics up, down and alongside the Blue Mountain, we were tasked with finding out which of us could squeeze the best fuel economy from this apparently penny-pinching powertrain.

I say apparently, because the posted Transport Canada rating of 4.2 litres/100 km (combined city/hwy) seemed far-fetched for a car this size—even a hybrid.

But for the sake of this challenge, I curbed any leadfoot tendencies (and the urge to push our litres/100 km well into the double digits—just for a laugh) in favour of trying to win the title of Lincoln’s hypermiling champ.

I had little time to explore the MKZ interior, but a couple of features stood out. Firstly, I was smitten with the new “floating bridge” centre console, not just because it looks cool, but also for its additional storage below.

Secondly, I liked the pushbutton transmission. The traditional mechanical shift lever has been replaced by individual buttons for Park, Neutral, Reverse, Drive and Sport. It makes sense, if you’re not manually choosing your gears, and frees up the real estate for MKZ’s stylish console.

Back to the task at hand, which was trying to squeeze maximum fuel economy from this 1,746 kg (3,849 lb) mid-size luxury sedan.

Central to our success would be the Atkinson-cycle engine, which is efficient, but on its own only produces 141 hp and 129 lb/ft of torque. That won’t get your heart racing, but fortunately the accompanying electric motor, with its instantaneous torque, helps offset the power shortage.

To keep it charged, because this is not a plug-in hybrid, the MKZ’s regenerative braking system captures up to 90 percent of energy normally lost during braking, with the system itself helping slow the vehicle.

This hybrid system routes power seamlessly to the front wheels using the gas engine, electric motor or a combination of both, depending on terrain and driving style.

Drive uphill or lean heavily on the pedal, and both gas and electric come into play.

Step lightly and with even pressure and—depending on battery charge—you can run on electrons-only for a surprising distance. Especially if you employ gentle, steady braking and strategically use downhill coasting to keep the battery topped up.

It became a bit of a game along the way, with the braking coach providing my efficiency score, the display letting me know exactly where power was coming from and when I’m recharging, and the battery monitor keeping tabs on the reserve available for EV driving.

By the end of our test, I was surprised to learn that nearly half our driving was electric-only, and although we never hit the lab-tested 4.2L/100 km combined, we did score a respectable 5.1L/100 km.

Unfortunately that wasn’t good enough to win the prize, as the top team achieved remarkable 4.9 litres.

The MKZ Hybrid starts at $38,350 for base, $39,345 for Select trim, $41,700 for Reserve and $45,650 for Preferred, and provides a rich list of available content that includes blind spot information with cross-traffic alert, heated steering wheel, cooled front seats, heated rear seats, navigation, parking sensors, power trunk and more.

And there are stand-alone packages that can add adaptive (radar) cruise control, active park assist, lane keeping system and other driver tech.

Lincoln has put much thought into this vehicle, not only on design and price (it starts $5,550 below the Lexus ES 300h), but in terms of entering a market segment that is expected to grow by 23 percent.

The Hybrid is no sports sedan, but does enough in terms of driving dynamics to satisfy plenty of buyers. Where it really shines is in its elegant design and build quality that should please any entry luxury buyer, and in its fuel economy that proves Lincoln is truly serious about green motoring.

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 2013

Body Style: premium mid-size sedan

Drive Method: front-engine, front wheel drive

Engine: 2.0-litre Atkinson cycle inline four-cylinder with electric motor (combined 188 hp)

Transmission: electronically-controlled, continuously variable transmission

Ev Mode Top Speed: 100 km/h

Cargo: 314 litres (436 litres in non-hybrid)

Fuel Economy: 4.2 litres/100km (city/hwy/comb); 5.1 litres/100 km (combined, as tested)

Price: base $38,350; Select $39,345; Reserve $41,700; Preferred $45,650

Website: www.lincolncanada.com

 

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