Our test vehicle carried the standard V6 engine, which gets an extra 12 hp to provide 232 hp and 220 lb-ft torque, a 5 lb-ft increase. An optional V8 powerplant produces 280 hp and 286 lb-ft of torque, compared to 252 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque for the 2002 model. Power is delivered through a five-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission. Unfortunately, Lincoln kicked to the curb its five-speed manual transmission previously available with the V6. To increase horsepower and torque, Lincoln engineers use variable-valve timing and electronic-throttle control.

Hydraulic actuators that attach to each intake camshaft as part of the cam-drive sprocket assembly are key to the variable-camshaft timing. The actuators use oil pressure to advance or retard intake-cam timing by up to 47 crankshaft degrees on the V6 and 48° on the V8. When intake timing is retarded, the valves delay closing which maximizes air intake for power at high speeds.

Electronic-throttle control takes input from the accelerator to determine how much torque will be delivered to the drive wheels. An acceleration-position sensor in the cabin and an electronic-control circuit and actuator at the throttle valve replace the conventional cable linkage. Advanced powertrain-control software continuously monitors operating status to optimize engine control and select the right gear to provide proper acceleration.

According to Lincoln engineers, compared to mechanical-throttle linkages, electronic control provides more seamless and consistent engine response, improved fuel economy, and better communication between powertrain and vehicle systems, such as traction and cruise control. I can attest to the seamless engine response. For example, a harsh stab on the accelerator pedal produced smooth acceleration, without the hesitation and forward surge that some engines produce when asked to respond quickly.

For 2003, ride and handling improvements include ZF Servotronic variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering with speed-sensitive variable assist; retuned suspension with new wheels, tires, springs, stabilizer bars, and larger shock absorbers; new brake boosters with emergency brake assist; and hardware and software improvements to the AdvanceTrac traction control that better manages understeer on slippery surfaces and during emergency maneuvers. AdvanceTrac was put to the test during a harrowing drive through a severe snowstorm with about one foot of visibility. I credit the traction control and my death grip on the steering wheel for keeping us on the road.

Let's talk comfort. Up front, optional heated and cooled driver and passenger seats link to the automatic climate controls, while heated rear seats keep passengers in the back happy. Our test vehicle carried this equipment, as well as an optional navigation system ($2,995) and an extended (up to 15 ft behind the vehicle) rear-park assist feature ($295). I had a lot of fun with the navigation system. First of all, it has the first readable and easy-to-use screen I've come across. Also, the navigation system needs only one DVD to hold maps of the entire U.S. and Canada, so there's no searching and loading multiple discs as with other navigation systems. Another cool feature worth mentioning is that the navigation screen slides outward and down to reveal the slot for the six-disc in-dash CD changer. The THX audio system includes an AM/FM radio, CD changer, 10 speakers, and two subwoofers. Total continuous power is rated at 265 W. To sum it up, the system rocks whether your preference is Mozart or Kid Rock.

Mileage estimates are 20 mpg/city and 26 mpg/highway. Base price for this rear-wheel-drive beauty (premium model) is $37,895. Adding the optional equipment jumps it to $41,960. As I've said before, if I had the means, there would be an LS in my garage. -- Sherri Koucky