2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid review: THX makes Lincoln Hybrid a music lover's car

Lincoln's EPA testing of the MKZ Hybrid returned a 38 mpg rating for both city and highway. Taking an economical approach behind the wheel, I got a smidgen over 40 mpg as my average, exceedingly good for a mid-size sedan. With more lead-footed driving in the city, I saw the trip computer average drop toward 36 mpg.

2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
With an excellent stereo and fuel economy, the MKZ Hybrid makes a good road-tripper. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Ride quality was good, but not up to the levels I've felt in cars from Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. The suspension competently kept the MKZ Hybrid from bouncing all over the road, but I could feel the rough spots from the driver seat. As a step up from the Fusion Hybrid, Lincoln gives the MKZ Hybrid an adaptive suspension with settings for Normal, Eco, and Sport. The latter setting is completely unnecessary as the car's drivetrain does not support enthusiastic driving.

In Ford vehicles, I've noted excellent tuning on the electric power0-steering systems, and that engineering expertise translated to the MKZ Hybrid. The wheel always retained a bit of heft, but I could turn it with one hand while stopped. On the freeway, I found a slight bit of play which kept the car from feeling twitchy.

I appreciated adaptive cruise control, standard at the Preferred trim, for long trips down the highway. The system did an excellent job coping with another car cutting in front of me, slowing down gradually and maintaining distance well. Not included on this MKZ Hybrid was the optional lane-keeping assist, which actually steers the wheel to help keep the car in its lane. I had previously used lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control in the Fusion Hybrid, and found it a very near experience to autonomous driving.

The MKZ Hybrid Preferred included automated parking, a system I used repeatedly in San Francisco for parallel parking. When I turned on the system and drove down the street, the car let me know when it found a place it could fit. Hitting the reverse button, it handled the steering while I kept a foot on the brake. Not just a great novelty, it worked well every time I used it, never once having to pull out again to readjust the steering angle.

2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
The MKZ Hybrid can seach for and maneuver into a parking space. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

MyLincoln Touch?

The cabin tech system in the MKZ Hybrid, including navigation, stereo, and phone system, comes straight out of Ford, using the same MyFord Touch interface. The touchscreen LCD on the center stack divides these functions into quadrants, with climate control making up the fourth. Touch response was okay, although I had to firmly press onscreen buttons to get a result.

Navigation, which runs from an SD card, includes maps in plan and perspective view. Lincoln's rendering engine is a bit slow, though, as I could see the map filling the screen tile-by-tile when I started the car. And though the navigation system integrates traffic, and dynamically routes around traffic jams, it isn't very aggressive. The system sent me into a batch of under-20 mph traffic on a freeway, when it could have routed me onto surface streets or an alternate freeway nearby.

2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
The navigation system offers the usual features, but was slow to render its maps. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

I was pleased to find a fairly comprehensive points-of-interest database in the navigation system, but lacking was online destination search. Lincoln needs this connected feature, as it is rapidly being adopted by other automakers. Connected data such as weather and fuel prices come to the car through satellite radio.

Voice command, another carryover from Ford, worked very well in the MKZ Hybrid. When entering an address, I could say the entire string in one pass, and the car parsed city and street name. And one thing that has long been a high point in Ford and Lincoln vehicles, I could request music by name from any mass storage or iOS device connected to the car's USB port. That was fun when I wanted to hear how the THX system handled a bunch of different tracks.

The stereo handled Bluetooth streaming from my phone, but lacked much in the way of controls or information. The main LCD showed the song title and gave me skip control, but the car lacks the full music library capability for Bluetooth-paired devices I recently saw in the Infiniti Q50S Hybrid.

Premium, not luxury

The Lincoln badge has the history and pedigree to rival Cadillac, but Ford hasn't put up the investment to build a set of world class rear-wheel-drive luxury cars. As such, the 2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is a pretty good representative of the current mid-tier premium position of the brand.

To the MKZ Hybrid's credit, the Fusion Hybrid on which it is based is an excellent car. The MKZ Hybrid adds a bit of premium interior content, different styling, and a stellar audio system, but doesn't reach much further beyond the Fusion Hybrid's level when it comes to innovation.

The hybrid drivetrain achieves excellent fuel economy for a mid-size sedan. The MKZ Hybrid's drivability is good for a suburban cruiser, but the adaptive suspension doesn't lead to a luxury ride feel, and it is certainly no sleeper performance car.

Most of the advanced cabin electronics, from infotainment to driver assistance, are shared with the Fusion Hybrid. The one hook for the MKZ Hybrid in this area is the THX audio system. Those looking for an excellent listening experience in a premium mid-size sedan will do well with this one.

One interesting note, Lincoln offers the standard MKZ at the same price as the MKZ Hybrid. The trade-off is substantially more power in the former, but a 10 to 20 mpg loss in fuel economy.

chart

2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid Preferred Tech Specs

Model 2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
Trim Preferred
Powertrain Hybrid gasoline-electric with 2-liter four-cylinder engine and 88 kilowatt electric motor; electronic continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy 38 mpg city/37 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 40.1 mpg
Navigation Optional flash memory-based with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard, with contact list integration
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio
Audio system THX 14-speaker 700-watt system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, automatic parking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitor, rearview camera
Base price $35,190
Price as tested $44,910



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