— Stephen J. Mraz

Lincoln's new five-passenger sedan, the MKZ (the Mark Z?), replaces the Zephyr as the automaker's entry-level luxury sedan, and it certainly fills the bill. It may not be quite as big and heavy as those old slab-sided lincolns (and Caddies), but inside there's plenty of room for four, maybe even five, adults.

Under the slightly sculpted hood sits Ford's new Duratec 35 V6 with a lightweight die-cast aluminum block and a mechanical-bucket valve train. The engine sends up to 263 hp and 249 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed transmission. Needless to say, there's plenty of power for freeway passing. It also earns the car an 18/26-mpg (city/highway) EPA rating.

To make the MKZ a bit more nimble than the Zephyr, Ford engineers adjusted the boost on the power rack-and-pinion steering and beefed up the antiroll bars and damping force. They also mounted the steering assembly on the front edge of the subframe to reduce noise and vibration, and to give the driver a better feel for the road. The car handles well and passengers commented on how quiet it was.

On the inside, most of the luxury seems reserved for the driver, though both front passengers enjoy heated, 10-way power seats. The driver, though, gets to watch electroluminescent gages and lED backlighting on controls that make the instrument panel easy to read, night or day. The driver also gets to take advantage of the navigation system, a $2,500 option. satin-nickel and maple trim make it all easy to look at.

But backseat passengers aren't totally ignored. They get 3 ft of legroom, more than all but first-class airline seats. They can also listen to the industry's first THX II-certified audio system. It boasts 600 W of power and 14 speakers, including two subwoofers, plays CDs and MP3s, and can be equipped with sirius satellite radio.

For safety, the MKX carries front air bags for both front seats and a safety curtain bag that stretches the entire side of the car, from A pillar to C pillar. The curtain bags are intended to keep front and rear occupants from hitting their heads on the windows or pillars in a side collision. They will also keep glass splinters out of the interior and away from passengers. The side curtains use roll-fold technology, and the MKZ is the only midsize car using it, according to lincoln. so if a passenger is resting his head against a window or is otherwise "out of position" during a crash, the air bag will slide between his head and the glass as it fills.

For luggage, or golf clubs, the trunk has 15.8 ft3 of cargo room. And it's all usable, thanks to a flat bottom and hinges that don't come down into the trunk space. For more room, the rear seats fold down and extend the trunk.

The staid-looking sedan has a base price of $31,050. Besides the nav system, options included heated and cooled front seats ($495), HID headlamps ($495), and six months of sirius radio ($195). With the destination charge ($715) thrown in, the tab comes to $35,455.

— Stephen J. Mraz