Lincoln’s redesigned MKZ premium midsize sedan was introduced last year with a surprising bonus: A gasoline-electric hybrid version priced exactly the same as the entry-level gas-only model.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, or for the hybrid version, our test vehicle.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 this spring; the redesigned MKX midsize crossover that will show up in the fall; the updated Navigator family-size SUV, also set for later this year; and the restyled flagship MKS full-size sedan, planned for 2015.Ford reports robust sales of the redesigned MKZ, giving a much-needed boost to both the image and the bottom line of its storied luxury brand. This car is so well done that it points to a bright future for Lincoln.This second generation of the MKZ is a good example of what Lincoln can do when its designers and engineers are given the freedom to create a car without having to cut corners or make compromises.Its exterior styling is refreshing and compelling, but the changes don’t stop there. The redesigned interior is elegant and functional, and it includes an impressive array of new technology. All of this combines to bring the MKZ into the forefront of the premium-sedan class.Fuel economy is one of the MKZ’s greatest attributes, not only with the hybrid, but also the two gasoline-only versions.The hybrid version has EPA ratings of an impressive 45 mpg city/45 highway. But even the base gasoline model with the peppy 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo inline four-cylinder engine gives the MKZ a segment-leading 22 mpg city/33 highway with the standard front-wheel drive, or 22/31 with the optional all-wheel drive.That engine has an impressive 240 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque, and with it, the MKZ feels even more powerful than many V-6 powered cars. With a six-speed automatic transmission, this engine delivers its power smoothly, with no noticeable turbo lag -- but 20 percent better fuel economy than the previous generation it replaced. But the hybrid might just be the biggest surprise, offering its own credible imitation of V-6 power through the use of a four-cylinder engine combined with an electric motor.Consumers have gotten the message, too. They’re clamoring for the hybrid model and more often choosing it than the gasoline-only models, dealers report.Under the hood is a normally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle inline four-cylinder engine, combined with an 88-kilowatt electric motor and a continuously variable automatic transmission.Our test vehicle offered excellent power, with the extra torque provided by the electric motor giving enough of a boost to the four-cylinder engine to make it feel like a V-6. We gave it a good workout on twisty, hilly roads, as well as on the open highway, and found the hybrid drivetrain to be smooth, efficient and powerful. 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. It has a total of 188 horsepower with engine and motor combined; the engine itself is rated at 141 horsepower and 129 foot-pounds of torque.Its torque rating is misleading, though, because the electric motor provides lots of additional power on startup and when overtaking or passing.Lincoln also offers a normally aspirated 3.7-liter V-6 engine in the MKZ for people who want a conventional six-cylinder. It’s rated at 300 horsepower and 277 foot-pounds of torque. The V-6 adds $1,230 to the price of either the base or AWD four-cylinder.Connected to a six-speed automatic gearbox, the V-6 is EPA rated at 19 mpg city/28 highway with front-wheel drive, and 18/26 with the optional all-wheel drive.The new MKZ was the first model created by a dedicated team in the new Lincoln Design Studio. Its sweeping exterior design gives it a truly modern look.One of the coolest options is a retractable panoramic glass roof ($2,995), included on our hybrid test vehicle. It opens so wide over the entire passenger compartment that it almost turns 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.For those who don’t want the panoramic roof, there is a nice power moon roof available for $1,200. All models come with Lincoln Drive Control, “an intelligent system that delivers a refined ride and engaging driving dynamics,” the automaker says. It’s designed to integrate the functions of the engine, transmission, body and chassis.Lincoln has moved the automatic transmission shifter to the dash just to the left of the center instrument stack and navigation/audio screen, and it’s a pushbutton setup, 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.The cabin of the MKZ is remarkably quiet, even at highway speeds and on bumpy secondary roads, thanks to the standard Active Noise Control. The interior is also quite elegant, with wood trim, a curving dash, leather seats, and full LCD dash instrumentation.Also included is the MyLincoln Touch audio/infotainment/climate-control system with 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 of the steering wheel, but you can also raise or lower the radio volume by merely sliding your finger along a small bar just under the nav/audio screen.There are also simple, easy-to-use 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. Class-exclusive inflatable rear safety belts are available ($195), not included on our car, designed for children traveling in the back seat. There are also child safety-seat hookups in all three rear seating positions.The standard 11-speaker audiophile system provides top-quality sound. Available is a THX Premium Audio System ($995), included on the tester. The THX system also is part of the Preferred Equipment Group Package ($5,375), which also brings 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), heated rear seats, and floor/trunk mats. This package was not on our tester.But we did have the Reserve Equipment Group ($3,195) which added the rearview camera, reverse-sensing, navigation, single CD player, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.The THX audio system, with 700 watts, 14 channels and 14 speakers, 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.MKZ’s dual front bucket seats are quite comfortable, with good thigh support. The rear seat can accommodate three, but is most comfy for two. There is a pull-down center armrest in the rear that has two cupholders and a storage compartment with padded lid that doubles as the armrest.Rear knee room is a bit limited with the front seats all the way back on their tracks, but this is typical for the midsize sedan class. All four doors have pockets that include an indentation to hold a drink bottle, although not a tall one.The trunk is quite roomy, 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 new 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.Also available, but not included on our hybrid test vehicle are the self-parking, lane-departure and adaptive cruise systems in a Technology Package for $2,250.The exterior paint on the test vehicle was a very attractive Tuxedo Black Metallic, at no extra charge, along with a the charcoal perforated leather interior. We also had Brown Swirl Walnut wood interior trim, also at no extra cost.Available is a power rear sunshade ($275).With freight and $4,190 in options, the total sticker price of our 2014 MKZ Hybrid was $41,275.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com.