Byline: Ann M. Job For The Associated Press
Luxury car buyers don't have to pay a premium to get a hybrid anymore.
The first gasoline-electric-powered hybrid at Lincoln dealerships, the 2011 MKZ Hybrid, has the same sticker price as the gasoline-only, 2011 MKZ -- $35,180. But it's the hybrid version of MKZ that can deliver more miles from every gallon of gas. Virtual flowers and leaves "grow" on a colorful display in the instrument cluster as feedback for fuel-efficient driving.
The newest MKZ, which is a sibling of the Ford Fusion Hybrid, also ranks as the most fuel-efficient luxury sedan in America, even topping longtime hybrid seller Lexus. The federal government fuel efficiency rating for the MKZ Hybrid is 41 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 mpg on the highway, compared with the 35/34-mpg rating given to the 2011 Lexus 250h.
Hybrid cars can have higher city mileage ratings because city driving provides more opportunities for the gasoline engine to be supplemented by the onboard electric motor, thereby reducing fuel demand.
The test MKZ Hybrid didn't look noticeably different from non-hybrid MKZ sedans. The front end is showy with a prominent chrome-colored grille, and the car won't be confused with any other non-Lincoln sedan. I found the nearly 16-foot-long, mid-size sedan to be neatly proportioned -- not too big and not too small -- so parking and driving was easy.
Inside, the display in the instrument cluster is dazzling and colorful. The displays would slide horizontally across the open cluster area and position themselves in a way that reminded me of the opening credits of a movie. There's information galore there in front of the driver in the MKZ Hybrid, but it was the speedometer and the virtual plant that kept me most preoccupied.
Though the MKZ, like the Lexus 250h, only uses a four-cylinder engine to mate to the onboard electric motor, the instant-on torque from the electric motor in the MKZ gave a zestful "oomph" when I would start up, providing good propulsion. And when the internal combustion engine joined in as speed picked up, the transition was seamless in the test car. There was no roughness or hesitancy as I had experienced in some other, early hybrid systems.
Combined horsepower in the MKZ Hybrid with the 2.5-liter, double overhead cam Duratec engine and electric motor is 191. Peak torque from the engine is 136 …