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Lincoln Makes Mark in Midsize Cars

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Ford says growing Lincoln soon will outsell shrinking Mercury.

No wonder. With two midsize sedans -- a larger MKS and a smaller MKZ -- and two crossovers -- a seven-passenger MKT and five-passenger MKX -- Lincoln boasts a solid lineup. It won't be until next year that Mercury will expand its more-limited lineup with a slightly smaller companion for its midsize Milan.

We tested the MKZ, nee Zephyr until Ford opted a few years ago to give Lincolns confusing MK (as in Mark) monikers. Its 3.5-liter, 263-horsepower V-6 can pass or merge without needing a head start. The 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway rating with 6-speed automatic is admirable considering that's with all-wheel drive, the choice for Snow Belt security.

AWD teamed with stability and traction control translates into sure-footed maneuvering on the straights or twisties. The vehicle also has a sports-tuned suspension to keep it from doing the Town Car wander and float.

The MKZ looks and feels like what it is: a slightly smaller companion to the MKS. It offers a comfortable ride and ample seat support to prevent long-distance travel fatigue. It holds five adults, provided none are on the line for the Chicago Bears. But even average-size occupants will find the knees squeezed a bit in back.

Seats are covered in a perforated leather that breathes and prevents the occupant from slipping or sliding in corners and turns. Up front, backs and bottoms are heated and cooled. Comfort in January or July, when the humidity makes a chilled seat a blessing.

Trunk room is so massive Ford could give up a couple inches to the rear seat so folks can cross their legs. If more cargo room is needed, trunk-release levers allow seat backs to fold. Yes, the skis will fit inside.

One feature proved annoying: optional blind-spot detection that flashes yellow lights in sideview mirrors when a vehicle enters the zone on either side. In typical traffic, the lights never stop blinking, so you tend to stop looking.

But the system is linked to a cross-traffic alert that beeps if an unseen vehicle crosses your path from behind when backing out of a space with an obstructed view. It's also a huge benefit for those who don't look.

The AWD MKZ starts at $36,005 (FWD, $1,890 less) with all the power goodies standard, plus climate control and such nice touches such as capless fuel filler and a USB port and auxiliary plug under the armrest. A coinholder is tucked there, though raising the armrest to get toll change is a pain.

The sticker leapt above $42,000 with options, including a technology package (adaptive headlamps and rain-sensing wipers), navigation package (voice activated with blind-spot/cross-traffic alert and rearview camera), ultimate package (THX audio with surround sound) and sport appearance package (sports suspension and polished aluminum wheels).

Lincoln now offers a choice of FWD/AWD sedans/crossovers with pleasant looks and decent performance.

They join the full-size Navigator SUV, kin of the Ford Expedition, whose days may be numbered once the MKT arrives, and the rear-wheel-drive Town Car, a boat that caters to those so old they can neither tweet nor trick and is on the retail roster only through calendar 2010.

Unlike rival Cadillac, Lincoln has no plans for a wagon, coupe or image car like the performance CTS-V coupe.

And no hybrid, though MKZ shares platforms with Fusion/Milan, which each have one. Makes you wonder, with stricter fuel-economy regulations that will require all automakers' fleets to get 35 mpg by 2020, whether a hybrid is necessary. Lincoln sources, however, say that hybrids will be left to Ford and Mercury, not the luxury division.

Stay tuned.

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2010 LINCOLN MKZ AWD

Wheelbase: 107.4 inches

Length: 189.8 inches

Engine: 3.5-liter, 263-h.p. V-6

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

M.P.G.: 17 city/24 highway

Price as tested: $41,600

Add $850 for freight.

THE STICKER:

$36,005 Base

$5,595 Rapid spec group 103A that includes technology package with adaptive headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and ambient lighting; navigation package with voice activation, DVD/CP/MP3 players and jukebox, blind-spot and cross-traffic alert and rearview camera; ultimate package with THX surround sound and power moonroof; sport appearance package with sports suspension, 18-inch all-season radials and 18-inch polished-aluminum wheels

PLUSES...

+ Luxury sedan with lots of amenities and manageable size for parking/garaging

+ AWD

+ Energetic V-6 with decent mileage

+ Massive trunk

+ Quiet cabin

+ Hot and cold front seats

MINUSES...

- Sooo many packages boost price

- No boost for knee room in back

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Jim Mateja can be reached at transportation@tribune.com.
(C) 2009 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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