Lincoln MKZ hybrid achieves balance of features, price

Call me Goldilocks. Keep your hands to yourself, sailor. This ain't Fleet Week. It's the week I drove the 2013 Lincoln MKZ hybrid luxury sedan.

The MKZ hybrid's fuel economy, technology, features and price are just right. It's the car to beat for drivers aiming to minimize their carbon footprint and maximize comfort behind the wheel. The hybrid delivers a clear advantage in technology and efficiency.

Lincoln MKZ hybrid prices start at $35,925. That's also the base price for a gasoline-powered MKZ, which offers more power, but uses more fuel.

The MKZ hybrid has a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine, continuously variable automatic transmission, electric motor and lithium-ion battery. The system produces a modest 188 horsepower.

I tested a well-equipped MKZ hybrid with leather upholstery, adaptive cruise control, navigation, voice recognition, Bluetooth compatibility, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, backup video and more. It stickered at $41,520. Prices exclude destination charges. Competing models can't match the MKZ's features and price.

The MKZ hybrid's key competitors are luxury hybrids such as the Acura ILX, BMW Activehybrid 5, Infiniti M35h, Lexus ES 300h and Mercedes-Benz E 400.

The Buick Regal and LaCrosse whose base models have a less-powerful, less-expensive hybrid system and BMW 328d and Mercedes E250 Bluetec diesels also combine luxury with frugal fuel use.

The MKZ beats them all on that count, with an EPA rating of 45 mpg in city driving, 45 on the highway and 45 in combined driving.

While Ford shamelessly exploited a loophole in the EPA test procedure to claim figures few, if any, drivers could match for the C-Max hybrid, there's been no suggestion the MKZ hybrid's fuel economy rating is inflated.

The hybrid system functioned beautifully in my test. The engine shut off imperceptibly when it wasn't needed at stoplights, off-throttle on the highway and at speeds up to about 50 mph. The hybrid system has enough power to propel the car short distances in battery mode.

The engine seamlessly resumes operation when the MKZ needs more power. The brakes send energy back to the battery. A readout on the dash shows how much energy was reclaimed at every stop.

Another display features green leaves that wither or grow depending on the driver's fuel efficiency. It's a gimmick, but an effective one. I felt a sense of accomplishment whenever I saw the eco-leaves flourishing.

The MKZ's 188 horsepower is adequate for everyday driving. The car handles well, remaining composed on curving country roads. The cabin is quiet on the highway, but the engine generates a low-frequency groan when accelerating hard.

The styling reflects Lincoln's new direction. The grille looks like a bird's wings spread in flight. The body is low, sleek and wide. Look for elements of this design to show up on future Lincolns.

The interior is roomy and modern, with flowing shapes, leather, wood and other appealing materials.

The controls feature Sync voice recognition and the MyLincoln Touch screen, which eliminates buttons and dials for controlling volume, tuning, temperature, fan speed and more. Sync remains one of the auto industry's better systems, but the other controls are finicky and difficult to use. I'll be happy when Lincoln goes back to buttons and dials for some features.

There's plenty of passenger room, but the battery eats up a lot of trunk space. The midsize MKZ hybrid's 11.1 cubic feet of luggage space is less than many compact and subcompact cars offer. It's competitive with other luxury hybrids, though.

Diesels don't surrender luggage room to a battery pack, and they generate outstanding torque for good performance. They may be the best all-around combination of luxury, performance and fuel economy, but they can't equal the hybrids in sheer fuel economy.

By that measure, the 2013 Lincoln MKZ hybrid is just right.

2013 LINCOLN MKZ HYBRID