Lincoln MKZ

“Blinded by the Light” comes to mind when squinting against the sun's reflection from the miles of chrome on Lincoln's MKZ. Whoever hawks chrome to Lincoln purchasing agents must be awash in commissions. An abundance of brightwork is certainly a defining characteristic of that storied brand. But like a preening male peacock fanning its tail to seduce the female, a healthy display of chrome helps lure well-heeled buyers to luxury automobiles. In the case of the MKZ, it also helps distance MKZ from Ford's Fusion with which it shares many of its moving parts.

Actually, the use of chrome tappers off dramatically once your eye works its way from the front of the car around to its flanks and hindquarters. It is its familial front end, common among Lincoln's M-lettered vehicles, with its dominating chrome grille, headlamp surrounds and air port surrounds that leave onlookers somewhat dazzled. Lincoln stylists have applied chrome sparingly around the rest of the bodywork.

As a tidy, personal luxury sedan, the MKZ works well. Despite its four-door configuration and three-adult-friendly backseat, drivers who spend most of their wheel time alone won't feel they are driving a lot more car than they need. It is ideally suited for a couple's weekend getaway, but can carry the workplace crew out to lunch. Comfortable yet intimate, the cabin is elegant blend of convenience, luxury and functionality.

The leather-covered heated and cooled front bucket seats offer generous side bolsters and bottom cushions. Both driver and front-passenger seats offer 10-way power adjustment. Wood and subdued silver accents surround the soft-touch materials that cover the dashboard and doors. The four-spoke tilt/telescoping wood-and-leather steering wheel sports a bevy of buttons for operating the audio system and cruise control.

Although it hosts a driver information center, the operation center for the eleven-speaker audio system with its six-disk in-dash CD player and iPod interface, as well as the controls for the automatic dual-zone climate system, the redesigned center stack is remarkably uncluttered and simple to decipher. Operating the iPod interface is more involved than it needs to be, but otherwise operating these systems is anything but intimidating.

Included in the MKZ's $34,965 base price is Ford's voice-activated Sync connectivity system that allows the driver to operate most MP3 players, Bluetooth-compatible phones and USB drives with voice commands. It will also access the optional navigation system, as well as real-time traffic when the satellite radio subscription is active.

Getting the optional hard-drive based navigation system with its eight-inch touch-screen display will require an outlay of at least $2,495; but this particular option package also includes a rearview camera, a THX-certified 5.1 surround sound audio upgrade with additional speakers, DVD playback capability, 10GB music storage and the integrated Sirius Travel Link with its traffic, weather and sports information among other info features.

Further sprucing up my test Lincoln was the $795 Sport Appearance Package. It included upgraded seat coverings with a contrasting tuxedo seam and color piping, unique floor mats with a decorative “Z”, aluminum interior accents, stiffer sport suspension, and 18-inch 10-spoke aluminum wheels.

With its low liftover, the trunk can accommodate more than 16 cubic feet of cargo. Additionally the split rear seat back can be folded down to increase hauling capacity.

A 263-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 delivers its power to the rear wheels by way of a six-speed driver-shiftable automatic transmission. “Aggressive” probably isn't the adjective you would use to describe acceleration, but this V6 does get the MKZ moving effortlessly when the light goes green. The six-speed and V6 work well together. Getting to 60 miles per hour from a stop takes under eight seconds. Fuel economy is in the mainstream of the segment. The EPA rates its fuel efficiency at 18 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

All-wheel drive is available and will set you back $1,890. Not only does it move power from axle to axle, but also side to side as wheel slippage is detected.

Living up to its luxury designation, the MKZ stresses passenger comfort over handling. A double-wishbone setup in front and a multi-link arrangement in the rear are the suspension's key components. Its cornering capability is more than adequate, but it doesn't straighten out the twisties with the competence of such competitors as Infiniti's G37 or Cadillac's CTS. Ride quality, though, is excellent.

Bringing the MKZ to a standstill falls to disc brakes on all four corners supervised by an antilock system. Traction control, stability control and electronic brakeforce distribution are included in the base price. Dual front- and dual rear-seat side-impact airbags, as well as front and rear head airbags are all standard.

OK, so it isn't the sportiest sedan in its segment, but the MKZ offers good looks, better-than-average performance and a high-end passenger compartment in an easy-to-live-with package. There are enough tech features to wow neighbors yet all the systems operate intuitively. Driving it says you have arrived at a certain station in life, but it doesn't hit anyone over the head with your success. And as for all that chrome up front, that's why they invented sunglasses.

By Russ Heaps