2010 Lincoln MKZ – Click above for high-res image gallery

Launched in 2006 as the Zephyr, Lincoln's entry-level luxury sedan has undergone quite a few changes over the last three years. Graced with a new name – the MKZ – in 2007, as well as a 3.5-liter V6 and available all-wheel drive, the feature list continued to grow when SYNC and reverse park-assist were added to the MKZ in 2008. Like its Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan brothers, the 2010 MKZ benefits from a significant mid-cycle refresh that Lincoln hopes will make it more competitive in its segment. We recently spent a day with the new MKZ, scrutinizing its revamped exterior design, inspecting its all-new interior and testing out the re-tuned engine and suspension. Read on to see if the sum of the 2010 Lincoln MKZ's parts add up to an improved car.

Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc

Lincoln will be sure to tell you that the previous MKZ was a solid platform to work with, and they wouldn't be alone. J.D. Power gave the MKZ a 2007 "Best in Class" award for initial quality, and Consumer Reports listed it as a Recommended Buy for 2008. That's not to say there wasn't room for improvement. In our review of a 2007 AWD model, we asserted that the MKZ needed to offer dramatically more to set it apart from the Fusion and Milan besides exterior styling, and we found the 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed transmission to be merely satisfactory. Lincoln knew it had to step up its game, and it set a series of goals to improve the overall quality, styling and performance of the MKZ.

The 2010 MKZ is entirely new from A-pillar forward, highlighted by Lincoln's soon-to-be-signature split-wing grille and a subtly revised lower fascia. The design is similar enough to the old car that it won't win or lose any fans, but Lincoln did an admirable job of giving the new MKZ a more modern look. The rear has also been given a refresh with a new decklid, LED taillights and a new lower fascia with large cutouts to better highlight the dual exhaust tips.

However, the most significant update is to the interior. While the previous car's appointments were reasonably competitive, Lincoln has made a concerted effort boost the quality of materials used and improve the overall look of the cabin.

Genuine wood or aluminum is used depending on the trim package, and soft-touch materials make up the entire dash. Cabin noise has been reduced thanks to upgraded sound absorbent material in nearly everything surrounding the cockpit – the windshield, door seals, fenders, pillars, the floor and even the headliner. The instrument panel has been redesigned to have a more three-dimensional, modern look and an optional eight-inch touch-screen display is conveniently positioned higher up on the dash. The bucket seats are now wrapped in premium Bridge of Weir leather and have just the right amount of bolstering. We could easily spend hours inside the MKZ and never feel uncomfortable.

Powertrain options remain the same for 2010, with the MKZ retaining its 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 engine. Improvements have been made, however, to the transmission to make better use of the 263 horsepower and 249 lb-ft of torque on tap, including revised gearing and improved shift times. Lincoln claims a 0-60 mph time of 7.1 seconds, compared to 7.7 previously, but the MKZ still doesn't have as much gusto some of its competitors. We were happy with the addition of SelectShift, which is now standard on the six-speed automatic. This author normally doesn't care for any sort of manu-matic option, but the MKZ has one of the best versions he has had the pleasure of using. It engages quickly by simply slotting the shifter to the right, and gearchanges are delivered with minimal lag. We actually used SelectShift a few times on some twisty roads to maintain a gear and were pleasantly surprised at how well the transmission responded.

In the handling department, the 2010 MKZ gets some minor updates, including revised rear suspension geometry and a new variable-assist steering pump. The Sport model, new for 2010, also gets slightly stiffer springs and larger sway bars. We thought the MKZ held its own on the aforementioned twisty roads, although the steering felt too light and over-boosted. The low steering effort felt appropriate at low speeds and while cruising on the freeway, but it was devoid of any feedback while driving with the least bit of enthusiasm.

Lincoln has delivered on its pledge to keep things fresh with the MKZ. The upgraded interior is now more of a contender for best-in-class with its abundance of soft-touch materials and excellent leather seats, and the powertrain offers on-par performance while delivering 18/27 mpg in front-wheel drive form. We wouldn't yet consider the 2010 MKZ a standout among the sea of entry-level luxury sedans, but it will undoubtedly cause potential customers to take a second look, particularly with a price-tag at $34,965 for the front-wheel drive model or $36,855 for the all-wheel drive variant.

Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc

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