Hell-bent on finding a reason to criticize the Lincoln LS, I approached the test drive as though I were going into battle. After failing to find major flaws with 2000 and 2001 versions, I thought for certain Lincoln engineers were ripe for a slip up. I thought wrong.

Yes, they failed to hear my cry of adjustments for the heated seats (rather than just on or off). But this is a minor annoyance in an otherwise flawless vehicle. The rear-wheel-drive beauty boasts a near 50:50 weight distribution, said to optimize ride and handling. To help meet this goal, the battery sits in the trunk. The LS rides on a front independent suspension with unequal-length control arms, coil springs, and stabilizer bar. In back, unequal-length control arms, coil springs, and solid stabilizer bar mount on an isolated rear subframe. All this translates into an exceptionally smooth ride. The suspension damps out any road imperfections, including substantial potholes and uneven railroad crossings. The optional ($1,135) AdvanceTrac adds antilift/antidive geometry front and rear that eliminates pitching forward or back while accelerating or making quick stops. This system, along with speed-sensitive steering, helped me maneuver a few slippery roads during a sudden snowstorm.

Our test vehicle carried the optional 3.9-liter V8 with 252 hp at 6,100 rpm and 261 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm. A five-speed automatic transmission with Selectshift links to the powerplant. Selectshift gives the option between automatic or clutchless shifting. Having used it before, I left it in automatic mode. I find when its in manual, my left foot gets frustrated without having to clutch.

For audiophiles, new for 2002 is an in-dash six-disc Alpine CD player, which comes with the Sports package. The only other changes for 2002 include 16-in. polished or brushed aluminum seven-spoke wheels, an optional Vehicle Communication System, and three new colors.

The LS interior remains as luxurious as ever, with leather seats, burl walnut veneers, and chrome accents. The drivers seat has eight-way power adjustments with memory, and terrific lumbar support. And, so the driver doesnt have all the fun, the front passenger seat adjusts six different ways as well. Controls for the Lincoln are intuitive, so that theres no desperate searching while driving which seems to be the standard mode of operation in some European luxury sedans.

For fuel economy, the numbers are 23 highway/17 city. Base price for our test vehicle is $37,875. Add on optional equipment and destination charges, and the price goes up to $40,065. The LS is in the same class as the BMW 528i, Audi A6, and Lexus ES300. Unless you feel the need to fork over the big bucks for a foreign luxury sedan, my money is on the affordable LS.

Sherri Koucky