Lincoln's missed opportunity

Did the Fusion adopt the MKZ's sloping roofline or did the MKZ concept, pictured, adopt the Fusion's? Photo credit: RICK KRANZ
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News

The 2013 Ford Fusion was the most talked-about car at the Detroit auto show this week. And for good reason.

The exterior styling is terrific -- there's not a bad line to be found. Ford's design team deserves all the applause it's been getting.

And then there's Lincoln …

The Detroit show was supposed to mark the "reinvention" of the floundering brand, highlighted by the unveiling of the MKZ concept sedan.

But instead of seeing the shape of Lincoln's comeback, I saw two glaring weaknesses in the MKZ's exterior styling -- and a ray of hope beyond that.

Proportions: As in front clip, rear clip, wheelbase. Allow me to turn the focus to General Motors for a second. The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, 2012 Buick LaCrosse and even the upcoming 2013 Cadillac XTS have something in common: They share GM's front-wheel-drive Epsilon vehicle platform. But dimensionally there is a difference among the models. The overall length varies among these sedans, as does the wheelbase. The front and rear overhangs have different lengths -- long hood vs. short, long rear deck lid vs. short. As a result, each car has a unique silhouette.

Now, back to Ford: The MKZ and Fusion share Ford's new mid-sized, front-wheel drive, global platform. The cars are fraternal twins -- the front and rear overhangs appear to be identical, as does the wheelbase. Where's the distinction between the mainstream and luxury brands?

Greenhouse: Did the Fusion adopt the MKZ's sloping roofline or did the MKZ adopt the Fusion's. Both have a three-window side treatment, too. Yes, it's an attractive roofline. But by the time the MKX comes out, Lincoln's will hardly be distinctive.

There's also the revised split-wing grille. Some people liked it; I expected it to be abandoned for a new approach. Why keep any trace of a design feature that runs across a lineup of disappointments?

The 2013 Ford Fusion. Photo credit: RICK KRANZ

Ford can't afford to be timid as it races to rebuild its only remaining luxury brand. BMW and Mercedes outsell Lincoln by 3-to-1 on Lincoln's own turf. Cadillac outguns its domestic rival by a 2-to-1 margin.

Given Lincoln's desperate straits, I expected a really fresh start. I didn't see it on Lincoln's glitzy new stand in Detroit.

But, as I said earlier, that can change.

Lincoln's design chief Max Wolff was hired a year ago. But the MKZ isn't really his car, although he did alter the front-end styling after joining the company. Lincoln is scheduled to introduce six more models over the next two years or so. That should give Wolff some time to put his signature on things -- and give Lincoln the unique look it deserves.

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