|Bradford Wernle covers Ford for Automotive News|
The 2013 Lincoln MKZ sedan made its world debut on the glitzy New York auto show stage today. The MKZ is the glamorous lead actor in Lincoln's stable, with a redesign that will showcase to the world the future vision of Ford Motor Co.'s last remaining luxury brand.
The MKZ's larger sibling, the 2013 MKS sedan, may not be quite as sexy as its smaller sibling. But the MKS debuts first, is being shipped to showrooms now. The MKZ won't arrive in dealerships until sometime around the end of the year.
Both cars will feature a raft of new electronic technologies -- and not just to pump up the cars' wow quotient. All Lincoln cars and crossovers share platforms with their more common Ford siblings.
In the past, that limited how distinct the brands could be. Moreover, luxury rivals such as Mercedes and BMW don't have to share platforms with volume sister brands -- their platforms are all dedicated ones.
Now, though, the automaker's engineers believe they have finally got the technological wizardry to elevate Lincolns into the same performance class as expensive luxury imports without imitating them. Lincoln wants its cars to be "refined and engaging," a compromise between the hushed, luxurious feel of Lexus and the sporty, Teutonic characteristics of BMW.
For those who have difficulty keeping track of Lincoln's confusing alphanumeric naming system, the MKZ is the mid-sized luxury sedan, and will be built on the same platform as the mid-sized Ford Fusion. The MKS is Lincoln's full-sized luxury sedan, built on the same platform as the Ford Taurus.
Those Lincoln-exclusive technologies first appearing on the MKS include Continuously Controlled Damping, which monitors and adjusts the suspension up to 500 times per second to keep the car from wallowing in corners. Continuously Controlled Damping works with Lincoln Drive Control, which allows drivers to choose between comfort, normal and sport modes.
The car also has a feature called Active Noise Control, which filters out engine noise and pipes a throaty growl through the car's stereo when a driver accelerates in sport mode.
No more 'tradeoffs'
Because of the new systems, "we don't have to make the traditional ride and handling tradeoffs we've had in the past," simply sharing platforms with Ford, said Scott Tobin, Lincoln vehicle line director.
Tobin believes the fancy electronics can put the MKS on equal footing with other luxury sedans in the $55,000 price range including the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E350.
Prices for the MKS will start at $43,685 for an MKS powered by a 3.7-liter V-6 that cranks out 304 hp. A top-of-the-line MKS, powered by a 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged EcoBoost engine that cranks out 365 hp, will be priced at $55,275. Both prices include shipping.
Prices for the MKZ haven't been announced.
Transforming a brand
Lincoln knows it takes more than fancy gizmos to transform a brand. Lincoln has spent $100 million in the last year shrinking its dealer network from 500 dealerships to 300 in the top 130 luxury markets, says C.J. O'Donnell, Lincoln group marketing manager.
Lincoln now has its own design studio and a dedicated staff of 200 people, including 78 in marketing and sales. Its lending arm, Lincoln Financial Services, is geared to working with individuals with "higher net worth."
"We're trying to lay out a path forward," says O'Donnell. The brand transformation "is not something we expect to do overnight."
The MKZ is Lincoln's great design leap into the future. Under the skin, the MKS gives the world an early peek into that future.