Hoping to turn its long-lagging Lincoln brand into a serious luxury contender, the upscale Ford division brought two important updates to the L.A. Auto Show that mark what officials call “truly the beginning” of Lincoln’s transformation.
The updates to the 2013 Lincoln MKS and MKT are relatively modest, with the sedan and crossover getting updates fascias and grilles, new wheels and modest improvements in performance and fuel economy. They’re also getting the updated versions of the MyLincolnTouch systems designed to address criticism of the infotainment technology.
But company officials confirmed that the big news for Lincoln won’t be revealed until January at the North American International Auto Show. TheDetroitBureau.com has learned that the centerpiece will be an all-new version of the Lincoln MKZ. The brand’s entry-luxury sedan will get an all-new look showcasing Lincoln’s new design language. And, among other things, Lincoln will abandon its well-known “waterfall” grille. The maker is also working on an all-glass roof that can operate like a convertible top, as well.
“This is truly marking the beginning” for Lincoln’s design renaissance, said Max Wolff, the brand’s chief designer, following the debut of the new MKS and MKT models.
The new models are a clear evolutionary step in Ford Motor Co.’s effort to revive Lincoln, which once vied for dominance in the U.S. luxury market – along with its arch-rival Cadillac. Though sales are a fraction of their one-time peak, Lincoln has been gaining ground lately, sales up 21% for the first 10 months of the year.
But the maker believes it has a significant opportunity to regain its position in the top tier of luxury brands, if not lead the sales race. The effort will require a mix of more enticing styling, stressed Ford’s global product development chief Derrick Kuzak, as well as high-tech features and a customer-centric ownership experience.
The 2013 Lincoln MKS and MKT nudge styling in a more progressive direction, and the new models are loaded with high-tech features, starting with the next-generation MyLincolnTouch. Updates are designed to counter recent criticism that the system is too slow and difficult to use – which resulted in a sharp slide for Ford, overall, in the most recent Consumer Reports Vehicle Reliability index.
Then there’s the new Lincoln Drive Control, which allows a motorist to program the car’s personality – switching between Comfort, Normal and Sport modes altering the way the steering, suspension, engine, transmission and other vehicle functions perform.
The new 2013 Lincoln MKS and MKT models also get features like the new Lane Keeping System, which can alert a driver who might inadvertently start to drift into another lane, even help steer the car back. And if the driver continues to drift the system will suggest it might be time for a rest break.
But where the new MKS and MKT models will seem familiar to Lincoln owners and fans the next-generation Lincoln MKZ, set to debut in concept form at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show, will likely deliver a shock.
Ford provided a subtle tease, earlier this month, with a Facebook image that showed little more than a dramatically sculpted hood. While product czar Kuzak wouldn’t discuss details, it fits in with his target of giving Lincoln “a striking and understated” look. “Normally, you wouldn’t use those words in the same sentence,” he admitted, but it appears he is hinted at a new look that is distinctive yet refined without going out to the limits like Cadillac did, a few years back when it introduced its edgy Art & Science design language.
Company sources gave TheDetroitBureau.com a few details of what will be seen on the new MKZ and the first thing viewers will likely notice will be the switch away from Lincoln’s classic “waterfall” grille. The MKZ prototype – and a production version to come at the New York Auto Show next spring – will shift the grille strakes to a more horizontal position, with the grille itself tapering back almost like a wing.
Those who have seem the new face of the Lincoln brand uniformly describe it in gushing terms like “striking,” “gorgeous,” and “exactly what Lincoln needs.”
While it might not be immediately obvious, the concept will also feature an all-glass roof that will retract much like the currently popular folding hardtops of convertibles like the BMW 3-Series cabriolet. Insiders would not say whether that concept will carry over into production, as well.
Critics lament that Lincoln has almost settled into a second-tier existence over the years. But it appears the maker has finally decided that if the brand is to survive it has to take some dramatic steps. The 2013 Lincoln MKS and MKT begin the process. The critical step will become visible in January. Then it will be up to the market to decide if Lincoln is on the right track.
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