Production of the new Lincoln MKZ premium sedan, which arrived earlier this year as a 2013 model, has ramped up for the 2014 model so dealers are now able to meet the growing consumer demand for the vehicle.Even the hybrid version, which had been hardest to find, is now more readily available, dealers report. For 2014, Lincoln says it’s increasing the mix of hybrid versus gasoline-only MKZ production to 40 percent, up from 20 percent, because of its increasing popularity.Starting price for the 2014 MKZ is $36,190 (plus $895 freight) for either the base front-wheel-drive 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo gasoline-only model, which we tested for this report, or for the gasoline-electric hybrid version.Other gas models for 2014 are the 3.7-liter V-6 front drive ($37,420); 2.0-liter EcoBoost all-wheel drive ($38,080); and the 3.7-liter all-wheel drive ($39,310). This is Lincoln’s entry-level model, representing the first of a planned five new models as Ford Motor Co. revitalizes its luxury line.Besides the MKZ, which is aimed at a younger consumer, other new Lincoln models on the way include the MKC compact crossover, scheduled to arrive early next year; the redesigned MKX midsize crossover that will show up in fall 2014; the updated Navigator family-size SUV, also set for a 2014 debut; and the restyled flagship MKS full-size sedan, planned for 2015.With the 2013 redesign, the MKZ entered its second-generation. The exterior styling is bold, muscular and youthful, and the new interior is both compelling and functional.Even better, especially considering the younger consumers this car is intended for, there is an array of new technology that brings the MKZ into the forefront of the premium-sedan class. It even has an available self-parking system.Fuel economy is one of the MKZ’s strongest points, and not just because there’s a hybrid model available. Our tester’s surprisingly peppy 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo inline four-cylinder engine gives the car EPA ratings of 22 mpg city/33 highway with the standard front-wheel drive, or 22/31 with the optional all-wheel drive.This engine produces 240 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque, and with it, the MKZ feels even more powerful than many competing V-6 cars. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the engine delivers its power smoothly, with no noticeable turbo lag. The hybrid version is EPA rated at 45 mpg in both city and highway driving. Under the hood is a normally aspirated 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle inline four-cylinder engine, combined with an 88-kilowatt electric motor and a continuously variable automatic transmission. The hybrid’s electric motor is powered by a lithium-ion battery that recharges while the gasoline engine is running -- or while the vehicle is coasting or braking. There is a total of 188 horsepower with engine and motor combined; the engine itself is rated at 141 horsepower and 129 foot-pounds of torque. The electric motor provides a surprising burst of additional power on startup or when overtaking or passing.The other MKZ gasoline engine is a normally aspirated 3.7-liter V-6 engine, which has 300 horsepower and 277 foot-pounds of torque. Connected to a six-speed automatic gearbox, it’s rated at 19 mpg city/28 highway with front-wheel drive, and 18/26 with the optional all-wheel drive.The redesigned MKZ was the first model created by a dedicated team in the new Lincoln Design Studio.One of the features consumers seem to like the best is the optional panoramic retractable glass roof ($2,995), which was included on my test vehicle. It opens wide over the entire passenger compartment, almost turning the car into a convertible.It also has technology that automatically closes it part-way at highway speed to reduce drag and minimize wind intrusion into the cabin. It has a power-retractable sunshade, as well.All models come with Lincoln Drive Control, which the automaker defines as “an intelligent system that delivers a refined ride and engaging driving dynamics.” It’s designed to integrate the functions of the engine, transmission, body and chassis “to deliver totally new Lincoln driving quality,” the company said.The automatic transmission shifter has been moved to the dash just to the left of the center instrument stack and navigation/audio screen, and it’s a pushbutton design, rather than a lever. That frees up the center console for cupholders and storage. Shelves under the center console provide extra interior storage, perfect to keep portable electronics and other personal items organized while driving.Everyone will enjoy the MKZ’s quiet ride, which is made possible by extra insulation, better engine mounts, and the standard Active Noise Control. The interior is elegant but not ostentatious. It features wood trim, a curving dash, leather seats and LCD dash instrumentation.MyLincoln Touch, the signature audio/infotainment/climate-control system, is standard, and includes Microsoft SYNC. Most functions can be operated by simple voice commands, including tuning the radio and setting the climate controls.Separate audio controls are provided in the bottom right side of the steering wheel, but raising or lowering the radio volume is also possible by merely sliding a finger along a small bar just under the nav/audio screen.Besides using the MyLincoln Touch system, there also are simple control buttons for the climate-control system in the center stack just under the nav/audio screen. Safety features abound on the MKZ, which comes with eight standard air bags. The class-exclusive inflatable outboard rear safety belts are available for an extra $195, a great feature with children traveling in the back seat. These were included on our test vehicle. There are also child safety-seat hookups in all three rear seating positions.The standard 11-speaker audiophile system delivers top-quality sound. But the tester came with the optional THX Premium Audio System ($995).Our vehicle also had the Reserve Equipment Group package ($3,195), which brought a rearview camera, reverse sensing system, navigation, blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert (great for backing out of a driveway or parking spot), and a single-disc CD player.The THX system has 700 watts, 14 channels and 14 speakers, and was designed specifically for the MKZ’s interior. It provides the same kind of THX sound you hear in a theater – nothing short of awesome.Driver and front passenger both ride in comfort in the bucket seats, which provide good thigh support.The back seat can accommodate three, but is most comfortable for two. When the middle position isn’t needed, the pull-down center armrest provides two cupholders and a storage compartment with padded lid that doubles as the armrest.There are pockets in all four doors that include an indentation to hold a drink bottle, although not a tall one.Plenty of cargo space is provided in the trunk, and the trunk lid has a power opener/closer operated from the key fob.The car also has keyless entry and pushbutton start, and there is a keypad on the right side of the outside driver’s door to unlock it, as well. Available technologies include a lane-departure warning and intervention system, radar-based adaptive cruise control and collision warning with automatic braking, and one of my favorites, active park assist, which can steer the vehicle smoothly into a parallel parking spot.Although not included on my test vehicle, the self-parking, lane-departure and adaptive cruise systems are available in a Technology Package for $2,250.Other extras on my test car included 19-inch polished-alloy wheels ($750), the inflatable rear seatbelts, and an interior aluminum trim package ($195).Exterior paint on the tester was a stunning White Platinum Metallic Tri-Coat, which cost an additional $695.Total sticker price of my 2014 MKZ 2.0 EcoBoost front-drive model was $46,105, including freight and $9,020 in options.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com.