2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid road test

The MKZ has moved upscale with rich leathers, genuine wood trim and a hand-tooled presence.

The MKZ has moved upscale with rich leathers, genuine wood trim and a hand-tooled presence.

Lincoln is in a growth year. Renamed the Lincoln Motor Co., the brand is introducing the new direction with a completely remodeled and refined MKZ sedan.

For those who believe beauty is skin deep, just open the doors to this jet-setting car. It’s as if a flagship Audi was modeled for fit and finish. The doors close with a machined tightness and the wraparound lines of the cockpit align with precision.

This car has a head-turning style that is American drawn. It was carved from fresh clay at the Lincoln Design Center in Dearborn, Mich. The new midsize is its own power statement and does not borrow, copy or steal design cues from others.

This car has made an exponential advance upscale since the 2012 model. While it is a corporate partner with the Ford Fusion and European Mondeo, the MKZ has a hand-tooled imprint. There really doesn’t appear to be much fusion with the Blue Oval on the elements that are seen, felt or touched.

The car and brand are on a trajectory toward contemporary luxury that is more elegant than unpretentious. And its expression of luxury is more fulfilling than that of some established brands.

It is as if a flagship Audi was benchmarked for interior quality.

It is as if a flagship Audi was benchmarked for interior quality.

The MKZ is a versatile platform, sold in front- or all-wheel drive with three engine choices, including a dual-mode hybrid.

Starting prices range from $36,820 (including the hybrid) to $39,940. The Hybrid test car was $45,795 with options, including the Hybrid Preferred package, $5,330. Its upgrades include a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, premium floor mats, 110-volt power plug, 14-speaker THX II audio upgrade and 19-inch alloy wheels. And it requires the sunroof, $1,200.

The Technology package, $2,250, has highlights of adaptive cruise control, active park assist and lane-keeping assist. Collision warning and Brake Support are part of the adaptive cruise and watch the road ahead for stopped or slowing vehicles and will sound an alert and flash a warning light if necessary. Lane Keeping Assist will vibrate the wheel if the car strays from the lane and even turn the wheel to stay between the lines.

The 300-hp V-6 (not available for the Fusion) and 2.0-liter, 240-hp turbocharged four cylinder are paired with six-speed automatic transmissions with paddle shifters and a Sport mode.

The Hybrid uses a 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle four cylinder and 35kw lithium-ion battery for a total system power of 188 horsepower. Drivability is calm but confident with good power for merging and passing. The 2.0-liter engine is downsized from last year’s 2.5-liter with about the same total horsepower, 188 versus 191. And fuel economy is up by 4 to 9 mpg city/highway.

The operation of this hybrid system is so stealth that I forget I’m driving an electrified car. In an afternoon drive of 100 miles, the computer indicted an average of 32.4 mpg, and I was not trying to conserve. The EPA ratings of 45/45 city/highway compare to 22/33 for the front-drive four-cylinder model and 19/28 for the V-6.

The local dealer said he can coach any MKZ Hybrid driver to get mileage from the mid-30s to 49.7 mpg, as he does in his daily-driver MKZ-H.”

The lithium-ion battery pack allows driving speeds of 62 mph, which takes a little practice to engage. Hybrid elements include auto start-stop and regenerative braking.

There is a comfortable ride on the highway and clean, taut cornering when desired. Braking is strong and straight, particularly in emergency stops. Sightlines over the shoulder are not compromised by styling and the 38-foot turning circle is not restrictive.

The back seat has a generous 37 inches of legroom and good footroom for adult comfort.

The back seat has a generous 37 inches of legroom and good footroom for adult comfort.

The interior is rich and accommodating. The aluminum trim ($195) has a contemporary appeal and enhances the long rake of the cabin. The center console multitasks with pass-through dual level storage, which also adds an air of openness. But the angle of the console that sweeps up to the dashboard can pick up glare on sunny days that washes out the 8-inch touchscreen. The touch-sensitive controls, part of the LincolnMyTouch system, have been refined and are responsive for changing the various controls such as fan and audio volume.

A dramatic panorama glass roof ($2,995) is 4.1 feet long by 3.7 feet wide. The roof retracts to a sunroof position and has a full length sunshade that can be powered back to enjoy the big view.

Voice controls also are simple enough now to easily set a navigation destination and pull up alternative music sources.

The back seat has a generous 37 inches of legroom and good footroom for adult comfort. Rear-seat belt air bags are $195.

A repackaging of the battery pack allows more trunk space than before. At 11.1 cubic feet the space seems large enough for plenty of luggage. Plus the seatbacks now fold to stretch space.

Lincoln met the devil as it scrutinized the details going into this car and the corporate rebirth. And Lincoln won. MKZ styling will drive interest in the brand, but the details give it substance.

About Mark Maynard

Mark Maynard has been the automotive editor at the San Diego Union-Tribune since 1992.

He drives nearly 200 vehicles a year for review, has attended several high-performance driving schools and a few off-road driving courses.

He attends many new-vehicle press introductions and schmoozes with auto-industry execs.

Mark Maynard