2010 Lincoln MKZ

The attention that Lincoln paid to refining the aging Lincoln MKZ (née Zephyr) platform was immediately evident when I wheeled our silver test car out of the parking structure. There's a newfound sense of solidity and refinement to the car that should be apparent to anyone who's ever driven the previous models. To be sure, the MKZ is not yet on par with the Lexus ES350 or the Acura TL, but it is much closer to a luxury-car experience than before.

The 3.5-liter V-6 returns with the same horsepower and torque as before, but it goes about its business more quietly due to a bunch more sound-deadening materials around the engine compartment and some other quiet-tuning efforts on the part of the engineers. Again, it's not as silky, unworldly quiet as the Lexus V-6, but it's pretty good. I was more impressed by the leather seats, which are quite richly detailed. Our test car had steel gray leather with wide, cream-colored piping, and it was very, very nice - a welcome change from the overly plasticized, overly homogenous leather treatments we see everywhere these days.

Elsewhere in the cabin, the instrument panel is pretty nicely turned out, with some aluminum or aluminumlike trim and FoMoCo's superb new navigation and audio system interface. Part of the pricey ($5595) Ultimate Package, the screen is intuitive, crystal clear, and bright. The THX audio system is also quite impressive.

I like the application of the new Lincoln family design here, also, with the split-waterfall grille. I think once the Lincoln MKT is on the roads and we see three or four similarly styled Lincolns out there, the whole family lineage will start to gel in the American mind.

All this praise aside, there's still no disguising the fact that the MKZ is a warmed-over version of the Zephyr, which was itself a warmed-over version of a Mazda 6 chassis. These are not exactly the bones of a pedigreed entry-luxury sedan. But the MKZ ought to keep enough buyers in the Lincoln fold to provide some trade-up opportunities to the MKT crossover and the MKS sedan until such time - clearly, well into the next decade - when Lincoln might reemerge as a truly viable competitor not only to Cadillac but also the usual European suspects.

Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor

The MKZ is a very nice car, but it has a hard time standing up to its competition, whether American (Cadillac CTS), Japanese (Lexus ES, Acura TL, Infiniti G37), or German (Mercedes-Benz C-class, BMW 3-series, Audi A4). The entry-level Lincoln stacks up best against the Lexus, which boasts similarly cushy ride and handling characteristics that do nothing to feign sportiness.

Lincoln's new look works very well on the face-lifted MKZ. The slimmer taillights look less awkward, and the more prominent grille is more in line with those worn by the new MKS and MKT. As Joe D suggested, the MKZ now looks less like a pretty, more sedate Ford Fusion and more like a proper Lincoln. The face-lift also blesses the MKZ with Ford's snazzy new navigation system, a nicely revised interior, and more oomph, resulting in a 0-to-60-mph sprint that's half a second quick than before, according to Ford.

Besides the primary issue I have with the MKZ - that it can't hold a candle to the driving experience of the Cadillac CTS - I was also bothered by a few less significant niggles:

-The seats felt uncomfortably firm.-The orientation of the third brake light, mounted at the base of the smallish rear window, kept fooling me into thinking that another car was tailgating me.-The power window switches are mounted so far forward that I lowered the rear windows several times when I meant to open the front windows.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

I'd take the MKZ over the Focus with its tart, superflous chrome trim any day. Big strong grille, nicely tucked and folded body shape, and an interior of real substance.

I had the same experience as Rusty Blackwell did: I kept glancing in my rearview mirror in annoyance at the ... oh. The high-mounted third brake light.

Though not in the same league as some of the foreign competitors who've been at the near-luxe game for awhile, the MKZ is a very respectable refresh.

Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief

I'd say that Jean Jennings's use of the word "respectable" to describe the MKZ is apt. It's definitely a step - indeed, perhaps several steps - ahead of the prior model. The exterior styling has been updated, with the most noticeable difference being the new, more aerodynamic-looking waterfall-type grille in place of the vertical, cross-hatch pattern found on the previous MKZ. In the interior, the attractive instrument panel is all-new, with more chrome trim pieces, three round gauges instead of two, and a newly designed center stack. The leather upholstery seems to be of high quality, but I can't say that I'm a huge fan of the two-tone pattern in our test car. Having said that, I did find the seats to be quite comfortable during a two-hour drive up to Grand Rapids over the Mother's Day weekend.

Still, as executive editor DeMatio mentioned, the MKZ can't disguise its lineage, which can be traced back to the more pedestrian Mazda 6 (although that car is itself quite good). But for the price, this is a respectable (there's that word again) effort from Ford. Included in the base price of $34,965 are traction and stability control, Ford's SYNC hands-free communication system, a 6-month subscription to Sirius satellite radio, a reverse sensing system, and more. For an extra $1900 you can opt for all-wheel drive, which probably makes sense if you live in a harsh climate. There's also an available technology package that includes adaptive HID headlights, which I'd recommend in place of Ford's notoriously weak quad-beam standard headlamps.

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

Base price (with destination): $34,965Price as tested: $41,355

Options:Rapid spec 103A (THX II sound system, power moonroof, technology package, navigation package, chrome 17-inch 9-spoke wheels) $5595Sport appearance package (18-inch, 10-spoke aluminum wheels, interior aluminum trim, leather steering wheel, floor mats) $795225/45R-18 V-rated tires no charge

Fuel economy: 18 / 27 / 21 mpg (city/hwy/combined)

Engine: Size: Duratec 3.5L V-6Horsepower: 263 hp @ 6,250 rpmTorque: 249 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3796 lb

Wheels/Tires: 18 x 7.5 in aluminum wheels 225/45R18 all-season tires

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