Nice back seat. That's the big draw for the Lincoln Town Car Cartier L, a massive sedan with enough space in the second row for sprawling in regal comfort.

Town Car has been updated for 2003, and the L models add 6 inches of wheelbase to its already formidable size. Overall length is 221 inches, slightly longer than a Chevy Suburban. That's big, but at least all those extra inches go to a good cause: creating a back seat with 47 inches of legroom, the biggest of any production car, according to Lincoln. That's sure to be a favorite among livery drivers, captains of industry and, most likely, NBA players on the road.

Not too many folk of dating age drive Town Cars, whose owners average 70 years old. But if you happen to be borrowing grampa's ride, the Cartier L could be a fine conveyance for that special night out.

Now in its fourth generation, Town Car has been spruced up with its bright chrome grille standing more upright and topped by the classic Lincoln gun-sight hood ornament - absent for several years - to give the sedan a more formal look.

The Cartier models, both standard length and L, are the top-drawer models, followed by Signature and Executive.

The Lincoln rides on a new frame, hydroformed in the forward areas for improved stiffness and crashworthiness, and a new front suspension. The ride is still soft and floating, with plenty of body sway. At least the steering has been improved by switching from a vague re-circulating-ball system to power rack and pinion. Not exactly sporting, but reasonably responsive.

Lincoln calls the steering feel "creamy."

Brakes also have been improved, now including anti-lock standard, and are able to bring this 4,467-pound behemoth to a halt with minimal dramatics.

Getting going again is even less dramatic. The standard 4.6-liter V-8 produces 239 horsepower, so pulling away from the curb in this heavyweight is more majestic than inspiring. Once under way, the V-8 has plenty of power for highway cruising, passing and hill climbing.

Fuel economy for the Town Car is a contradiction in terms.

Despite its monumental size and boatlike handling, the Town Car Cartier L was surprisingly easy to drive. Cornering is ponderous but well-controlled, and with the improved steering, switching lanes is accomplished with a confident flick of the wrist.

The interior has been redesigned as well, looking tastefully understated and scented nicely by leather and wood. Walnut trim running across the instrument panel is softly polished instead of overly glossy.

Front-seat space is generous, with lots of room for three, or two with the broad console folded down. The brake and accelerator pedals are power adjustable for the short or long-legged.

The gauges are traditional in appearance, and a redundant digital readout complements the regular analog speedometer. In the center of the dash is a handsome analog clock that is both elegant and useful.

Th e pampered passengers roosting in the back seat will appreciate the extra console controls for audio, climate control and, oddly, the front passenger seat.

The trunk space also has been redesigned, making it more spacious and easier to load, with a cargo organizer set into the deep floor.

The standard Alpine stereo is superb, as well it should be in this high-end creature. Every other feature is standard, too, including all power controls, dual climate control, power trunk lid, traction control and 17-inch chrome wheels. The only extra on the test car was shipping, at $770. Probably costs extra for a bigger crate.

At more than $50,000, the Town Car is a lot of car for a lot of money. Though compared with full-size luxury offerings from such imports as Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, the Town Car starts to look almost like a bargain. And that broad back seat is priceless.

2003 Lincoln Town Car Cartier L

Vehicle type: Six-passenger, four-door sedan, rear-wheel drive.

Base price: $50,770.

Price as tested: $51,470.

Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 239 horsepower at 4,900 rpm, 287 pounds-feet torque at 4,100 rpm.

Transmission: Four-speed automatic.

Wheelbase: 123.7 inches.

Curb weight: 4,467 pounds.

EPA mileage: 17 city, 25 highway.

Highs:

Great back seat.

Improved ride, handling.

Handsome interior.

Lows:

Floaty suspension.

Modest acceleration.

Chauffeur's cap needed.