2015 Lincoln MKZ

The Lincoln MKZ stands out from other entry-luxury sedans with sleek, distinctive styling and an optional 38-mpg hybrid powertrain. It also delivers a cushy ride without floaty, Town Car-like handling, but disappointing interior materials and a questionable value proposition let down an otherwise attractive package.

As with the previous MKZ, the latest model shares a platform and numerous other components with Ford's Fusion midsize sedan, but unique styling inside and out gives the Lincoln a more upscale identity.

The sedan's elegant look starts with a streamlined "four-door-coupe" roofline and develops with details like a refined rendition of Lincoln's signature waterfall grille and full-length LED taillights. The cabin boasts a futuristic dashboard with push-button transmission controls, a 10.1-inch reconfigurable LCD instrument cluster that replaces traditional gauges, and an enormous optional 15.2-square foot glass sunroof.

The MKZ comes standard with SYNC, a Bluetooth-based connectivity system that allows smartphone users to place calls and stream music by using voice commands or steering wheel-mounted buttons. It can also read incoming texts aloud to help the driver keep his or her eyes on the road, and allows the use of Ford-approved apps like The Wall Street Journal news and Pandora radio.

Also standard is MyLincoln Touch, an infotainment system that builds on SYNC by letting users control everything from navigation to climate control to the sound system with voice commands. MyLicoln Touch also replaces conventional sound system knobs and buttons with a center-mounted eight-inch touchscreen and touch-sensitive controls in the center stack. Many consumers report that the system is a "love it or hate it" item, so those interested in the MKZ are advised to try before they buy.

The MKZ clearly has plenty of tech inside, and there's also ample space for passengers in both the front and rear seats. However, materials are disappointing for a car with luxury aspirations, with downmarket plastics and cheap-looking trim marring the classy design.

Power and Fuel Economy
The MKZ first Lincoln ever available from the factory with a non-hybrid four-cylinder engine - a 2.0-liter EcoBoost unit that puts out 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. The upgrade engine is a 3.7-liter V6 with 300-horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. Both engines come standard with a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel-drive, while all-wheel-drive is available as an option.

In FWD form, the MKZ returns 22/33 city/highway mpg with the turbo four and 19/28 with the 3.7-liter V6. Opt for AWD and those figures fall to 22/31 mpg and 18/26 mpg.

The MKZ can also be specified with a hybrid powertrain with an Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor that sends power to the front wheels via a CVT. A 70-kilowatt electric motor provides extra output and can propel the car on its own for short distances at speeds of up to 62 mph hour, provided that the driver has an extremely light right foot.

Total system output is 188 horsepower, and fuel economy checks in at 38/37/38 city/highway/combined mpg.

The MKZ Hybrid is fitted with a "SmartGauge with EcoGuide" system that features a number of graphics and readouts to help drivers achieve maximum fuel efficiency. For example, a brake coach function teaches how to capture as much battery-recharging energy through the regenerative brakes as possible, while a different graphic rewards efficient driving with white flowers (inspired by apple blossoms) that accumulate over the course of a journey.

Sophisticated Suspension
Helping the MKZ to ride and handle like a premium car despite its mainstream roots is Lincoln's three-mode Drive Control technology, which comes standard and custom tailors the MKZ's continuously controlled damping suspension and electric power steering. A Sport mode firms up the ride and tightens the steering, while a Comfort mode does just the opposite. In the middle is a Normal mode for typical driving situations.

Standard and Optional Features
The MKZ is available in four "equipment groups" (that's Lincoln-speak for trim levels), all which can be specified with any of the sedan's three available powertrains.

The entry-level Premier equipment group includes leather upholstery, heated and power-adjustable front seats, genuine wood trim, adaptive LED headlights, LED taillights, an 11-speaker AM/FM/CD/SiriusXM sound system with AUX and USB inputs, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, SYNC, MyLincoln Touch, and 18-inch painted aluminum wheels.

The Select equipment group adds a rear view camera, rear parking sensors, wood steering wheel trim, ambient interior lighting, HD radio, accent lights for the headlights and an electrochromic exterior driver-side mirror.

The Reserve equipment group brings a navigation system with voice recognition, perforated leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, a blind spot information system with cross traffic alert, a power-closing trunk and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel.

Finally, the range-topping Preferred equipment group ups the luxury quotient with a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a 14-speaker, 700-watt THX premium audio system, premium floor mats, a 110V powerpoint, 19-inch wheels and the buyer's choice of single panel moonroof or retractable panoramic roof.

An optional Technology Packing includes Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise control and Park Assist, which can actually automatically parallel park the car - the system steers the car into the spot, while the driver simply controls the gas and brakes.

The Summer Tire Handling Package brings 19-inch polished aluminum wheels shod with high-performance summer tires and a sport-tuned suspension.

Notably, many of the features on the higher trim levels can be had as individual options throughout the rest of the MKZ range.

Occupant Safety
All MKZ models come standard with dual front, front side, front knee and full-length side-curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

As enumerated above, optional safety features include Lane Keeping Assist and blind sport warning with cross traffic alert.

Key Competitors
When it comes to entry-level luxury sedans, some are compact and rear-drive, while others are midsize and front-drive. The Lincoln MKZ is the former, and as such it competes against the Lexus ES 350, the Acura TLX, the Volvo S60 and the Volkswagen CC.

The MKZ Hybrid's primary rival is the Lexus ES 300h, although the Buick Regal with the mild-hybrid eAssist powertrain represents a cheaper (albeit far less efficient) alternative.