Editor's note: Ford revised its EPA fuel economy numbers for the 2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. The new numbers show 38 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. This review has been updated to reflect the new numbers and CNET's comparison with observed fuel economy.
When I saw the THX badge in the 2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, I knew I was in for an audio treat. That thought was confirmed as the sweet notes of an acoustic guitar joined the scratchy fuzz of an electric guitar on Pink Floyd's "Wish you were here," came pouring from the 14 speakers of the 700-watt audio system.
The clarity and depth from this THX system was superb, and its ability to bring out layers in music made me want to play all my favorite tracks in the MKZ Hybrid.
Unfortunately, this stereo may be the only reason to favor the MKZ Hybrid over the Ford Fusion Hybrid. The era of brand-engineering, the cynical ploy of slapping different badges on the same cars, is largely over, but MKZ Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid still bear more than a passing resemblance.
Especially when it comes to drivetrain, driver-assistance electronics, and the majority of infotainment features, these cars are, at least, fraternal twins.
Lincoln made a game attempt to individualize the MKZ Hybrid from its Ford-badged stablemate. This mid-size sedan, the current entry point for the Lincoln brand, sports an imposing grille emulating a majestic set of wings. That's different than the Fusion, but the wide sailplane, giving the rear cabin a hatchback look, decidedly isn't.
The MKZ Hybrid upheld its premium status and Lincoln's reputation with tasteful cabin appointments, including power adjustment for steering wheel and front seats. And though the model I reviewed came in the top trim, Preferred, the coachwork remains at the lower trim levels.
Lincoln sets the MKZ Hybrid further apart with a couple of unique controls in the cabin. Many people might prefer a dial over the touch-slider volume control, but I found it easy to get used to the slider control. It was accurate and made for a high-tech touch in the cabin.
With more historical precedent, a row of buttons down the side of the center stack served as the familiar PRNDL drive selector. That arrangement also took some getting used to, and more than once I turned on the windshield wiper when I wanted to put the car in Drive.
Pushing the Start button initiated the typical silent start of a hybrid. The instrument cluster, an analog speedometer surrounded by two LCDs, lit up. The MyFord Touch interface on this navigation-equipped model booted up on the center screen, but the engine remained off.
The instrument cluster, identical to that of the Fusion Hybrid, let me call up a variety of information about the MKZ Hybrid's energy performance on the left screen, while the right let me view audio, navigation, and phone information. Four-way switches on the steering wheel let me easily choose what I wanted to see while keeping my eyes forward.
With a light touch on the accelerator, the MKZ Hybrid glided forward, its 88-kilowatt electric motor the sole source of power driving the front wheels. Under electric power, the car felt like old-Lincoln luxury, but that impression was ruined as soon as the engine kicked in. The rough grind of the 2-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine made a sour undertone in the driving feel. As in many full hybrids, the power of the engine and electric motor combine through an electronic continuously variable transmission. The car's power controls determine when to rely on just the electric motor, and when the car needs both motive sources.
The engine also came on to help recharge the MKZ Hybrid's 1.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. One thing I love about hybrids is how regenerative braking recharged that battery pack while underway. Under optimum stopping conditions, when I could anticipate the distance needed to come to a stop, the car rewarded me with a report of how much energy I recovered on the left-side instrument cluster screen.
Lincoln rates the total system output of gasoline engine and electric motor at 188 horsepower, short of the 200 horsepower made by the Toyota Camry Hybrid. When I pinned the accelerator to the floor, the MKZ Hybrid paused a moment to think, then took off with moderate thrust. Although it didn't give me a sense of commanding the road, I could pull off a passing maneuver with adequate preparation.
I was more impressed as, driving down the freeway, I noticed the MKZ Hybrid running on electric power only at 65 mph. It kept the engine off when the road remained flat and it had enough juice stored, but tipping in the accelerator a bit to battle a rise or headwind meant some actual fuel sipping.