A Marriage of Economy and Serenity

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TESTED 2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

WHAT IS IT? A Lincoln-branded upscale hybrid sedan with its Ford roots showing.

HOW MUCH? $36,820 base, $42,415 as tested. The price is the same as an equivalent nonhybrid MKZ.

WHAT MAKES IT RUN? A 141-horsepower 2-liter 4-cylinder, with an 88-kilowatt electric motor and a 1.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery for 188 net horsepower; continuously variable transmission.

IS IT THIRSTY? The E.P.A. rating is 45 m.p.g. all around -- in the city, on the highway and combined.

ALTERNATIVES Lexus ES 300h, Ford Fusion Hybrid.

Part of the fun of a hybrid car is listening for the gasoline engine to start and analyzing how smoothly it makes the transition from electric to gas. Unless you floor the accelerator, the MKZ Hybrid is so quiet it's hard to tell what's moving you forward.

With active noise control, which sends sound-canceling frequencies through the infotainment system, the car errs on the side of isolation: if engagement with the road is your goal, this isn't your ride. Rather, the appeal is the combination of an impressive mileage rating and an understated wood-and-leather ambience.

Ford calls the MKZ Hybrid "America's most fuel-efficient luxury sedan." Consumers are showing an active interest in upscale gas sippers, a category that never existed in the past.

This is the second iteration of the MKZ Hybrid, which shares a powertrain with the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Both cars were extensively reworked for 2013, with striking -- but quite different -- new designs. The MKZ's extroverted styling is one of the best things about it. The winged grille treatment recalls a subtler form on the streamlined Stout Scarab of the 1930s.

The lithium-ion battery replaces the nickel-metal-hydride pack in the first version of the MKZ Hybrid. The push-button shifter would have been more daunting if I didn't own a 1963 Dodge Dart convertible, which offers an early space age version of this amenity.

In 277 miles of mostly in-town driving, I achieved an underwhelming 33.6 m.p.g. -- far below the E.P.A. rating. The car does have some displays aimed at encouraging economical motoring.

In July, Ford announced software updates for its hybrids, including changes to the air-conditioner and electric fan, and the ability to cruise to 85 m.p.h. in electric mode, instead of 62. The upgrades, which do not affect the 2013 E.P.A. ratings but should help drivers attain better real-world numbers, will be made to Fusion, MKZ and C-Max hybrids at dealerships.

The front-drive MKZ Hybrid -- all-wheel drive is reserved for conventional powertrains -- provides neither an exciting driving experience nor a disappointing one. The car won't impress drivers who obsess over performance, but the quiet ride and comfortable seats are a boon for long-distance travel. Rear legroom could be better, but the trunk is quite roomy despite a slight intrusion of the battery pack.

This is a car for tech lovers, but they're not likely to applaud all of its features. The challenges posed by Ford's infotainment systems are well documented by now, and I had some issues with this car's version, called MyLincoln Touch. Flat-panel controls, with a gimmicky virtual slider in place of a volume knob, were hard to use.

Nor did the Sync voice commands play nice. When I asked for the Beatles, the audio system played the group Beach House. A request to play the next song was interpreted as a request for Doug Sahm, the Tex-Mex musician.

One big question for potential buyers is whether to buy a Fusion Hybrid instead of this Lincoln. The Ford starts at $27,995, so there's a price gap of nearly $9,000. Of course, the MKZ comes loaded with features like heated leather seats that cost extra on the Fusion. Still, my Lincoln test car came with $5,595 in options.

You could choose a standard MKZ for the same price as the hybrid, but you'd be opting for a combined 26 m.p.g. with the 4-cylinder model, or 22 m.p.g. with the V-6.

For some shoppers, the distinctive styling is a plus, and the car has some exclusivity: you won't see hordes of them coming and going. But if you can live without that and the fancier interior, the Ford may appeal. The Fusion Hybrid is 200 pounds lighter and has a slightly better E.P.A. rating: 47 m.p.g. all around. But the numbers can change: Ford said on Thursday it would drop the 2013 C-Max Hybrid's combined rating to 43 m.p.g., from 47.

JIM MOTAVALLI

autonews

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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