The entry-level luxury-car segment has serious competition, but Lincoln's revised MKZ has taken a major step forward with greater sound deadening, a bold front fascia and improved interior materials.

The face of the 2010 MKZ has Lincoln's signature split-wing grille, and it adds some spice to the understated styling of the rest of the car.

Settling inside, however, reveals that this is a much quieter, much more refined model than the previous car. Ford engineers worked hard to reduce noise, and that included giving the engine a new mounting system.

It is apparent, when on the move, that the attention to noise attenuation pays big dividends. The MKZ feels solid and substantial, and there's just the right amount of engine noise.

The MKZ is available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Prices start at $34,115 for front-wheel drive and $36,006 for all-wheel drive. The test car had a sticker price of $41,355.

The MKZ, which shares its basic structure with the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, is not a large car, despite the 107.4-inch wheelbase. The back seat has 37 inches of legroom, and the trunk is generous. The split-folding rear seat affords space for long items.

The Lincoln's chassis has class-leading torsional rigidity, and the suspension was designed to deliver responsive handling. Agile handling has not been sacrificed for comfort, however, and the MKZ has confident cornering.

The brakes have large rotors, and the rack-and-pinion steering is mounted to a separate subframe for reduced noise and vibration.

The 3.5-liter V-6 produces 263 horsepower, and while it won't knock your hat off, it delivers a nice spread of power across a wide power band. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission whose lower gears give good acceleration while higher gears allow relaxed cruising.

Fuel economy is rated at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway.

Although front-wheel-drive traction is generally quite good in bad weather, Lincoln's available all-wheel-drive system gives an added level of controllability. It divides power between front and rear as needed, but traction control also means that power can be divided from side to side, and that is extremely useful if you pull up to an icy curb or get two wheels off the edge of the road.

The test car's interior looked rich because it had satin and aluminum accent panels. The gauges are bright and easy to read. Interior fit and finish were excellent throughout the cabin. I especially liked the leather seats with light-colored piping.

The leather steering wheel has controls for audio and cruise control.

The car I drove was equipped with the technology package that consisted of a voice-activated navigation system, rearview camera and THX sound system. Ford's Sync system of hands-free communication is included.

Price

The test car's base price was $34,115. Options included the technology package, navigation system, power sunroof, 18-inch chrome wheels and a leather-covered steering wheel. The sticker price was $41,355.

Warranty

Four years or 50,000 miles with a six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty.

2010 Lincoln MKZ

Engine: 3.5-liter, 263-hp V-6

Trans: Six-speed automatic

Front-wheel drive

Wheelbase: 107.4 inches

Curb weight: 3,410 lbs.

Base price: $34,0115

As driven: $41,355

Mpg: 18 city, 27 hwy.

Tom Strongman's e-mail address is tom@tomstrongman.com.