It's hard to pin down exactly why the 2010 Lincoln MKZ isn't a contender for the entry-level luxury sedan crown. On paper, it's got all the bases covered. The ride is comfortable, the handling is capable, the mandatory 3.5-liter V6 is eager and the newly redone interior is nicer than what you'll find in Lincoln's top-of-the-line MKS. So why wouldn't we mention the MKZ in the same breath as top-rated and well-known rivals like the Acura TL, Hyundai Genesis, Lexus ES 350 and Nissan Maxima? The problem is that Lincoln simply hasn't done enough to distinguish the MKZ from its competent but commonplace platform-mate, the Ford Fusion family sedan. Under the skin, the MKZ is essentially a Fusion Sport. Sure, the MKZ receives the full Lincoln styling treatment inside and out, including appreciable aesthetic upgrades for 2010. Yet when we're behind the wheel of an MKZ, we can't shake the feeling that we're driving a gussied-up family hauler. To be fair, the ES 350, for example, is really just a gussied-up Camry -- but Lexus has worked overtime to dial out that family-sedan feel, whereas the MKZ just doesn't seem that special from the driver seat. Moreover, the MKZ's snappy but somewhat coarse V6 can't match the refinement of rival engines. On the bright side, the MKZ offers Ford's exclusive Sync voice-activated multimedia integration system -- but then again, so does the Fusion. And we doubt that buyers of a younger demographic will be drawn to the MKZ's chromed-out mug and staid (albeit high-quality) interior. If you knock a few grand off the MKZ's MSRP, it stacks up nicely against well-optioned family sedans. Pitted against the heavy hitters in the entry-level luxury segment, though, the MKZ falters. In addition to the above-mentioned models, top-performing sport sedans like the BMW 328i and Infiniti G37 can also be had for about the same price this Lincoln commands. We're fans of the MKZ's family-sedan sibling, but it takes more than a makeover to hack it in this league. Performance & mpg The 2010 Lincoln MKZ is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 263 horsepower and 249 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only available transmission, but it's a redesigned unit that's programmed to optimize fuel economy. Front-wheel drive is standard, while the optional electronically controlled AWD system can transfer power from side to side as well as front to rear. In performance testing, we hustled an AWD MKZ from zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, which is subpar for this class. The EPA rates the front-wheel-drive MKZ at 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined -- a notable improvement over last year -- while the AWD version comes in at 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined. Safety Standard safety features include stability control, front-seat side impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. As of this writing, the 2010 MKZ had not undergone crash testing. However, the '09 MKZ received five out of five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in government frontal impact crash tests, while side impact tests yielded five and four stars for front and rear passengers, respectively. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety deemed the MKZ Good (the highest rating) in its frontal-offset crash test and Acceptable (second-highest) in side-impact testing. Driving The base 2010 Lincoln MKZ feels like a Fusion Sport minus the Sport, which should be fine for most buyers seeking a quiet and comfortable luxury vehicle. However, add the sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch wheels of the optional Sport Appearance package and the MKZ is suddenly transformed into quite an agile, fun-to-drive car that you wouldn't necessarily associate with the Lincoln brand. The steering in particular is communicative and well weighted. There is a downside, though: a rough ride that you also wouldn't associate with Lincoln. There are no complaints about the power from the MKZ's V6, but its soundtrack is grainier than other six-cylinders at this price point. Interior With the 2010 MKZ, Lincoln has ditched the old-school dual-cowl dashboard in favor of a more modern layout that closely follows the design in the flagship MKS sedan. Indeed, the MKZ's interior is arguably a bit nicer than that of its more expensive stablemate, thanks to an abundance of soft-touch surfaces -- a pleasant contrast to last year's relatively low-rent cabin. It's spacious, too, as the MKZ's size advantage over some compact competitors yields ample room for front passengers and a fully usable backseat. Unfortunately, the MKZ is plagued by Ford's increasingly prevalent, aggressively angled front headrests. The voice-activated Sync system works impressively well, but we aren't particularly impressed with the sound quality of the uplevel THX-certified system.