If Lincoln were a hospital patient, it would be in intensive care. Years of neglect and questionable product decisions have turned a once-proud brand into a luxury car afterthought. But according to Ford, that's all about to change, and it starts with the Lincoln MKZ Concept on display at the 2012 Detroit auto show - a future vision of where the MKZ and Lincoln as a whole is headed.
"With the Lincoln MKZ Concept, we are not introducing a new car. We are essentially introducing a new brand," proclaimed Ford global product kingpin Derrick Kuzak in the statement announcing the MKZ Concept. "The MKZ Concept is the next step in the reinvention of Lincoln, something we've been quietly, but aggressively pursuing." Bold words indeed, Derrick. It remains to be seen if Ford's new approach will resonate with the discerning luxury crowd. The MKZ Concept features a revamped version of Lincoln's bold dual-opening front grille that the automaker says is a more refined interpretation of the split-wing mug from the iconic 1938 Lincoln-Zephyr, with horizontal bars replacing the classic car's vertical slats. A single piece of chrome wraps around each grille and headlamp flank, and both the front headlamps and the full-width taillamps employ LED technology.
Not surprisingly, the MKZ Concept features the type of long, sweeping, coupe-like roofline that's trendy these days in sedan design. Lincoln says the roofline lends the MKZ a more flowing, elegant, and aerodynamic shape. A panoramic glass roof opens up the cabin, extending from the top of the windshield to the top of rear window and spanning the entire width between the side roof rails. The body is finished in a special, cognac-colored hue.
"The MKZ Concept's shape is a vision of simplicity completed with just a few strokes," said Max Wolff, Lincoln's design director and the man in charge of the stroking, in a release announcing the MKZ concept. "Our movement as a brand is toward something we call elegant simplicity. It's something warmer and more restrained, which is moving away from complex designs and traditional luxury."
The Lincoln MKZ Concept is reportedly underpinned by an all-new midsize platform (no doubt a version of the new Fusion's underpinnings) that supports front- and all-wheel drive configurations. The concept's aluminum and boron steel chassis is larger than the current production MKZ - wheelbase is up 4.8 inches, now at 112.2; overall length is up 4.3 for a total of 194.1 inches nose to tail; and width is up 1.2 inches, now at 73.4. Height remains unchanged at 59.6 inches. The car rolls on concept-style, oversized 20-inch wheels with low profile 245/35 tires.
No word on powertrain configurations yet, but we can assume the production version of the MKZ will employ at least one four-cylinder option from the Ford engine portfolio, although given Ford's drive to differentiate Lincoln from Ford brand products, we'd be stunned if the MKZ doesn't come with a V-6 of some type. A hybrid version is no doubt in the cards.
On the inside, Lincoln says the MKZ's cabin uses "responsibly harvested poplar wood," bright- and satin-finished aluminum trim, and champagne-colored leather seating. The seats are set off with dark taupe accents featuring a "champagne perforation pattern" on the seatbacks. The perforation pattern gets its name because the perforations on the seat backs are supposed to "conjure up the image of champagne bubbles rising from the bottom of the glass."
A full-length center console limits seating to four, but visual and actual space has been increased thanks to the tiered center console and redesigned dashboard. In front of the driver sits a reconfigurable 10.1-inch TFT LCD screen that displays vehicle information as well as Sync and MyLincoln Touch. A flush-mounted 8-inch LCD touch screen is mounted in the center console.
"The front graphic is repeated in the dramatic sweep of the instrument panel, helping tie the interior to the exterior," said Wolff. "These flowing forms create a comfortable and functional interior that particularly appeals to the younger, more diverse customers we are targeting."
A highlight of the cockpit is the car's electronic shift actuation setup, in which lighted pushbuttons are pressed to select and change transmission gears, a neat old-school touch. The automaker said the design helped reduce overall vehicle weight and opened up more design possibilities for the center console.
The MKZ Concept also makes use of Lincoln Drive Control, its Continuously Controlled Damping (CCD) adjustable suspension, and Ford's Lane Keeping System, also found on the new MKS and MKT.
Although the production model is bound to differ, the concept is believed to be a fairly accurate representation of the styling and direction of Lincoln's new entry-level sedan, and of Lincoln itself. Will the MKZ help save the brand? We'll find out soon enough.