I've always liked the Lincoln MKZ best of the three Ford Motor Co. midsize sedan triplets. I'm not a parent, so I can like one child more than the others. The Mercury Milan's spokeswoman challenged for the top spot, but the Lincoln just had a few more charms, and, of course, it was an actual car.

It may have undergone an identity crisis when it arrived at dealerships a few years ago as the Lincoln Zephyr for one year before changing its name to MKZ. (To this day, I'm not sure if it's called the M-K-Z or the Mark Z -- it all depends who you talk to at Ford.)

But even then, it had things the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan lacked. It came with the beefy 3.5-liter V-6 while its siblings used a 3-liter V-6 for maximum power. It had the heated and cooled seats and the fabulous THX Certified stereo that could jam tunes so loud your ears would ring an hour after parking it.

For 2009, Lincoln has added a few more features to this entry level luxury sedan. There's a Midnight Black special edition that includes satin nickel accents and light-colored maple trim as well as black perforated leather seats with white piping.

There are also the features I like in the MKZ, including Sync, the top notch voice-activated phone and music player. And that 14 speaker, 600-watt optional stereo that does more to sound waves than Adrian Belew with a rubber guitar.

But when I hopped inside the 2009 MKZ for a quick drive, I was surprised. This sedan has not aged as well as the others. It was like running into an old acquaintance and wondering, "What happened while you were away?"

The MKZ hasn't held up as well as I had hoped. It may still have that sharp exterior, big waterfall grille and funky taillights, but inside, the competition, including the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Cadillac CTS, runs laps around it. Thirty-four thousand dollars is a lot of money to put down for this Lincoln, when $30K will buy you more car from a lot of carmakers -- both foreign and domestic.

Just compare the center stack of those four vehicles and you'll see a big difference. All of the competitors have sleek and clean techno-friendly looking displays. The MKZ's center stack looks like a tribute to the robot on "Lost in Space." Danger Will Robinson, Danger! The dash should reflect all of the technology instead of detract from it.

Driving the MKZ, however, is still a pleasure. The car keeps a sporty ride to fit its powerful engine -- 263-horsespower and 249-pound-feet torque. The six-speed automatic transmission glides through the gears and finds the right gear quickly -- no hunting or pecking for this tranny.

Even the power rack-and-pinion steering is clean and well-weighted. Lincoln has come a long way from those floaty cars of years ago. The MKZ can cut corners with any midsize sedan.

After every mile, I found myself a little more confident behind the wheel. The pickup was sharp and crisp. It may not throw you back in the seat, but it does hold you there quite nicely.

Body roll and sway was minimal on long sweeping turns or sharp right angled ones. Along those beautiful roads near Brighton, I carved them up.

The cabin was remarkably quiet, which Lincoln has correctly equated with quality. If people don't hear the outside world, their assumption is the car is well made. This Lincoln is, despite the ugly center stack.

The heated seats were handy on the crisp day I took it for a drive, and when I tried the cooled seats, they worked well, though it felt uncomfortable after a few minutes.

Admittedly, though, all cooled or ventilated seats make me uncomfortable.

When I finally parked the MKZ, I had to rethink if this was still my favorite out of three Ford midsized cars.

It has the power, abilities and technology inside to hang with the bigger boys in that $30,000 category. But its interior packaging doesn't match the competition.

Maybe, I'll take a second look at the Milan -- I've always thought spokeswoman Jill Wagner was aging very well.

Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. His reviews can be read online every Wednesday and Saturday. He can be reached at (313) 223-3217 or sburgess@detnews.com.

2009 Lincoln MKZ

Price: $33,490

Type: Midsize sedan with front or all-wheel drive

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6

Horsepower: 263 @ 6,250 rpm

Torque: 249 pound-feet @ 4,500 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

EPA Gas mileage:

FWD: 18/28

AWD: 17/24

Fuel tank: 17.5 gallons

Redline: 6,500 rpm

Steering: Power rack-and-pinion

Turning circle: 39 feet

Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes.

Tires: 17-inch 8-spoke aluminum painted or optional chromed aluminum

Curb weight:

FWD: 3,469 pounds

AWD: 3,672 pounds

Dimensions (inches):

Wheelbase: 107.4

Length: 190.5

Width: 72.2

Height: 57.1

Track (front/rear): 61.6/61.3

Interior (inches):

(front/rear)

Headroom: 38.7 / 37.8

Legroom: 42.3 / 36.5

Hip room: 54 / 53.6

Shoulder room: 54 / 55.6

Truck space: 15.8 cubic feet