Lincoln MKZ hybrid carThe phrase “luxury hybrid” invokes the same feeling as a diet menu at Peter Luger’s, or a fat-free cheesecake from Junior’s . How can you have responsible excess? Half the fun of driving a fine automobile is the willful ignorance of NOT watching the clock, the odometer or the fuel gauge.  But what if you actually care about the planet you leave to your kids, but don’t want to compromise your style?

Thanks to companies like Lincoln the environmentally conscious are no longer relegated to heavily marketed clown cars or milk toast four-doors repainted in a  shade of “green.” Sedans like the MKZ Hybrid offer all of the fit and finish of a luxury car without raising your anxiety at the pump.

Several years ago I was invited down to Atlanta by Ford to test drive several of their new offerings, including the Taurus Show, The Flex and the Fusion Hybrid. The MKZ is built on the same platform as the Fusion I drove, but is in every way its own car.

The first thing you notice about the MKZ Hybrid is how quiet it is when you start it. I’ve spent many winter mornings warming up my car, listening to the thirsty girgle of my engine as the oil makes its way around the gears. But in the MKZ Hybrid it’s just the silent, electric hum of the battery-operated motor.  The Nickel Metal Hydride battery helps you get up to 47 miles per hour before needing to use gas, a major plus for city driving.

But this isn’t your remote controlled car that you recharge in the wall. Using a regenerative braking system, the battery is charged  every time you step on the brakes. This brings new meaning to the phrase “Stop-and-go traffic.”  Lincoln even makes measuring your fuel economy fun by incorporating a game on the dashboard called the “EcoGuide.” To the right of the console there is your very own version of Farmville, a plant that grows or dies depending on how energy efficient your driving is. If you’re heavy on the gas the leaves fall off.   But if you know when to let up and use the electric motor more you get a fully blooming tree.  The more leaves you have the more money you are saving on gas.

But if literally watching the grass grow is not your idea of fun, there is plenty to engage you on the MKZ’s console. The audiophile in me was quite taken with the Microsoft Sync. After years of playing my iPod through tape deck adapters and then auxiliary cables I was happy to have a wireless solution for  playing music. After taking a few minutes to pair my phone to Sync, I was able to control my music and send hands-free texts. This feature is available on most Ford models but it definitely made me feel like I was flying a spaceship instead of a car.

The in dash navigator was easy to maneuver and I was able to add destinations with ease. I was also impressed with the reverse camera. I hate parallel parking and I have scratched my own cars against these little black fences they place around trees in NY. But with the video and sensors guiding my movements my anxiety was all but gone.

As for comfort, my 6′ 1″ frame slid nicely into the heated and cooled leather seats. The leather and wood trim was accented with customized lighting. I kept it on the default blue. I found it calming and have never been fond of the mobile disco thing.

What about driving? As a former owner of a Lincoln LS V8 I had a point of reference for how the MKZ handled on the road and I didn’t feel cheated at all. The acceleration was good and the ride was smooth for a car of its size. Despite the omnipresence of the dashboard I didn’t feel like I was driving a “hybrid.”

And I guess that is the point. When I got back home I sat my 9 year-old son in the passenger seat to show him the interior and I explained that this technology would most likely be in the car he learned to drive on. The idea that the car ran on electricity and gas wasn’t something that would be the exception, it would be the rule.  And with a starting MSRP of around $35,000 you can have your cake and drive it too.

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