The midcycle update will give MKZ the basic new grille seen on the Lincoln Continental concept. Photos: Jim Dunne, CarSpy, unless otherwise noted.

With the unexpected debut of the Lincoln Continental concept at the New York Auto Show last April, Ford’s long-struggling luxury brand appeared to be setting out on a new course intended to make the brand a more serious player in the upscale market.

Even as engineers push the Lincoln Continental towards production, they’re also working up a mid-cycle update of the mid-range Lincoln MKZ– along with its sibling sedan, the Ford MKZ. These spy shots suggest that the bulk of the exterior changes will be seen front and back.

The Lincoln Continental concept introduced an all-new face for the brand, abandoning the split-wing grille first introduced on the current MKZ. And we can expect that under the camouflage, we’ll be seeing the midsize model sharing that new look.

The Continental grille design features a raised Lincoln badge surrounded by a series of repeating Lincoln star emblems done in polished aluminum. “We’re showing the new face of Lincoln,” brand chief Kumar Galhotra explained in New York, adding that it will appear on “future Lincolns,” with the split wing grille going away “over time,” as existing models are updated.

(Lincoln Continental likely to be one of the coming year’s hot launches. Click Here for more.)

Most of the changes are found up front.

The Continental concept featured, LED matrix headlamps paired with laser-assist high beams that would extend range significantly. So far, lasers haven’t been approved for use in the U.S. and so, for now, we likely won’t see them on any Lincoln offering. But expect to see LED lamps on the new MKZ

In back, the new MKZ’s full-width taillights appear to be unchanged, no surprise considering they’re one of the sedan’s signature features.

While we’re waiting to get a closer look at the interior, sources suggests Lincoln wants to address some of the more serious complaints about the current MKZ, and that centers around the sedan’s capacitive touch infotainment system. The maker has been a strong proponent of the knob-less approach, requiring motorists to operate almost everything from that large LED screen. But several senior officials have told there’ll be more physical controls on the update.

A camo'd Continental under testing.

(Lincoln jazzes up new McConaughey commercials. Click Here for more.)

The 2017 Lincoln MKZ will also adopt the next-gen Sync 3 infotainment system making its official debut this autumn with the launch of the Lincoln MKX utility vehicle. It’s quicker and more intuitive, something that should help resolve the endemic complaints about Sync.

And Sync 3 is set to introduce over-the-air updates. Going forward, Ford will no longer require owners to plug in a thumb drive or go to a dealer to update the system. It will automatically download software revisions, much like an iPhone.

(Wireless updates to save consumers time, money, aggravation, says new report. Click Here for the story.)

The 2017 Lincoln MKZ will retain the same platform as the current sedan, no surprise for a mid-cycle refresh.

Some of the biggest changes could come under the hood. Some sources suggest Lincoln will drop the 3.7-liter V-6, one of three powertrains offered for the MKZ. It would be replaced with a version of the 2.3-liter turbo inline-four used by the small Lincoln MKC crossover. In the utility vehicle, the EcoBoost engine makes 285 horsepower. But there is room to bump that up for the heftier midsize sedan considering the same 2.3-liter package produces 310-hp in the Ford Mustang.

The Lincoln Continental concept at the NY Auto Show, showing the new grille. Photo: Paul A. Eisenstein.

The new 2017 Lincoln MKZ may also be one of the first products in the Ford family to get one of the maker’s new nine- and 10-speed automatic transmissions.

The MKZ plays to the heart of the U.S. luxury market, and Lincoln desperately needs to enhance the sedan if it’s to gain any traction against key competitors from Europe, Japan or, closer to home, Cadillac. The update could also help Lincoln provide a more affordable option for those drawn to showrooms to check out the upcoming Lincoln Continental.

The one question that these spy shots can’t answer is whether Lincoln will bolt a new badge onto the sedan. The decision to abandon the MKS nameplate in favor of Continental has raised expectations Lincoln might finally go back to more traditional names – the MKZ previously being known as the Zephyr. Such a transition is possible, but more likely to wait until Lincoln launches a complete makeover of the MKZ at the end of the decade.

(Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.)

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