Lincoln's LS fits the European mold. The best way to describe the Lincoln LS is to think of it as an American BMW.

This front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sedan is an amalgam of balanced handling, understated luxury and over-the-road performance, things which are not usually part of the definition of a Lincoln. Until recently, the Lincoln name has been synonymous with couchlike comfort, and it brings to mind images of a Town Car or Navigator.

Lincoln is recasting its brand to appeal to younger customers. The Navigator has done a lot to bring in new, and younger, buyers, while the upcoming Blackwood, a cross between the Navigator and a luxury pickup truck, will continue to do the same.

The smaller, sporty LS, however, is capable of luring buyers into a showroom they might not normally visit. It competes very nicely against the BMW 5-series, Lexus GS 300, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz C-class. There are two powertrains, a 3.0-liter V-6 and a 3.9-liter V-8. The V-6 is even offered in a sport package with a five-speed manual transmission. Prices, including delivery, start at $32,275 for a V-6 automatic, $34,055 for the V-6 Sport with five-speed and $36,305 for the V-8.

The test car was a V-8 fitted with the Sport package, a $1,990 option that includes 17-inch wheels, European suspension and an Alpine Sport audio system with an in-dash, six CD changer.

It's not surprising that the LS has a very European feel, because it shares a good portion of its mechanical DNA with the Jaguar S-Type. Both cars are built on the same basic chassis platform, with similar suspension and powertrain packages, although the Jag's versions of the engines are more powerful. Even the 2002 Thunderbird uses a variation of the same underpinnings.

The traditional Lincoln buyer who loves his or her Town Car probably won't take a shine to the LS because the interior is relatively compact and the ride firm, but those folks really aren't the ones for whom this car is designed.

From the outset, the LS was designed with a 50/50 weight balance for optimum handling. Aluminum is widely used throughout the suspension to reduce weight, and the battery is located in the trunk for better weight distribution. Anti-dive suspension geometry keeps the LS flat under acceleration and braking. The fully independent front and rear suspension soaks up bumps and makes the LS as quick on its feet as any of its European competitors. In fact, it outshines many of them when driven hard. It is positively delightful in turns and makes fast tracks down the interstate. The only sweat you'll break is when you notice you're zipping along at 80 miles per hour when it feels like 70.

The four-wheel disc brakes are vented to keep them from fading under heavy use. Anti-lock is standard, as is all-speed traction control. Ford's Advance Trac vehicle stability system is a $735 option that helps keep the vehicle under control in skids and emergency accident avoidance situations.

Exte rnal styling is modest, and intentionally so. Short front and rear overhangs, as well as a long, 114.5-inch wheelbase, give it a muscular profile. The sharp "bone" lines that run from the top of the front fenders back along the cabin carry a hint of athleticism and add visual interest.

If there's any letdown with the LS, it is inside. Even though the wood trim, leather seats and gauges are nicely done, sections of the instrument panel aren't as luxurious as some of its rivals. The radio and climate controls, for example, don't look that much different than a Taurus. That doesn't really bother me, but for a car in this price segment a little more elegance would be welcome.

The climate control system has dual controls so each front-seat passenger can select their own temperature, and there are rear-seat ventilation outlets on the back of the center console.

Comfort while driving is a high priority, and the front seats were firm, but not hard. Lateral and lumbar support was q te good.

The 60/40, folding rear seat is useful for expanding cargo room. Rear-seat legroom is not overly generous, considering the lengthy wheelbase, but it is certainly adequate for adult passengers.

The LS puts Lincoln in position to expand its customer base by offering a driver's car in the European idiom.

Price The list price of the test car was $35,695. The Sport package, power moonroof, heated front seats, Advance Trac and delivery charges brought the sticker price to $40,435.

Warranty Four years or 50,000 miles.

To get in touch with Tom Strongman, send e-mail to

{Point:} The LS is LincolnÕs answer to European and Japanese sport//luxury cars. It is the opposite of a Town Car because crisp handling and understated elegance are its trademarks. {Counterpoint:} Traditional Lincoln buyers might find the styling to be too plain and the cabin too small.

Engine: 3.9-liter V-8
Transmission: automatic Rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 114.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,692 lbs.
Base price: $35,695
As driven: $40,435
Mpg rating: 17 city, 24 hwy.