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Second Opinion: Lincoln MKZ

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I like its sense of style, especially the retro-binnacled interior, but I wasn't entirely a happy camper after a brief weekend in the 2008 edition of the Lincoln MKZ.

Let's put the blame where it belongs, with my parents. I have short legs and a long torso. So when I clamber into most vehicles, hitting my head on the roofline is a common result. Our Taurus, our Prius--only tall SUVs escape my scalp.

The MKZ is more of the same, but the deep sunroof on my test car was more noticeable than any I'd tested lately. I powered the seat down, and the backrest back -- but when I got comfortable headroom in place, my hands were stretching for the steering wheel.

That said, the MKZ still looks like one of Ford's more convincing badge-engineering efforts. It's a Ford Fusion underneath, but the MKZ's finishing touches show a clearly defined Lincoln look. There's no Euro-dilettante pretension at all in its big slatted grille, in the nicely stamped decklid, and mostly, in the tall and squared-off dash.

The stock 263-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 is a decent improvement in acceleration over the old Zephyr engine I last drove in 2006. It does growl a bit too much in this application, and Lincoln's automatic transmission still doesn't give you manual detents for shifting yourself. But even the all-wheel-drive model gets 17/24 mpg on the highway, thanks to those six well-spaced automatic gears.

Back-seat room is big enough for adults, and the trunk has more than enough space for weekend bags for a quartet. I know the golf-bag analogy is more readily absorbed, but I fit two tennis bags lengthwise and a bunch of boxes from the UPS store in back and closed the trunklid without hearing an awful crunching Prince sound.

The all-wheel-drive MKZ I tested wore a pricetag of almost $38,000, including that deep-dish sunroof, aluminum interior trim, a navigation system and Sync. Not many cars in this niche offer that traction option, so it's worth a look if you're shopping the Lexus ES and the like. Just make sure to get a haircut first.
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