Lincoln has not officially announced plans to make a production version. But the four-seat MKZ Concept is based on the same front-wheel-drive architecture as the new Ford Fusion, which is also making its debut at the show and will go on sale in the second half of this year. And Lincoln plans seven new or refreshed products by 2014, one of which undoubtedly will be a redesigned production MKZ.
A new vision of Lincoln can't come soon enough. The brand has been an also-ran in the luxury race for years, and Ford wants to change that.
In 2011, Lincoln finished with a 6.1 percent share of the luxury market, its smallest in the past five years.
After 11 years atop the U.S. luxury rankings, Lexus dropped to third place with a 14.0 percent share, due to supply disruptions following the March 11 earthquake in Japan. That allowed BMW to claim the luxury crown, as its 17.5 percent share edged out Mercedes-Benz's 17.3 percent. Cadillac, Lincoln's crosstown rival, took fourth place with 10.8 percent. Lincoln took eighth place, behind Acura, Audi and Infiniti.
Bill Wallace, a Lincoln dealer in Fort Pierce, Fla., hopes Lincoln will get it right this time.
"They've got to do what they did with Ford -- pick one or two cars, make a halo car and build the franchise around it," he said. "We need a halo car, something that really jumps out there as something that is really exciting and gets people talking about Lincoln."
"The MKZ Concept's shape is a vision of simplicity completed with just a few strokes," said Max Wolff, Lincoln's design director. "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 MKZ was designed at Lincoln's new, still-under-construction design studio in Dearborn, Mich., near Ford's headquarters.
The MKZ concept will mark a major departure from Lincoln's current design while keeping some design elements, such as a "more refined interpretation of the split-wing grille," Lincoln said in a press release.
The concept's dominant feature is a long, sweeping roofline that Lincoln calls a "significant break from the traditional sedan three-box shape."
AutoPacific Inc. analyst David Sullivan, who has seen the concept, says the new roofline resembles that of the Audi A7. "It's a love-it-or-hate-it design, but that's the way to go," he says.
A panoramic glass roof spans the roofline. LED taillights, popular these days in the luxury segment, will run the entire width of the rear.
"The front graphic is repeated in the dramatic sweep of the instrument panel, helping tie the interior to the exterior," Wolff said in a statement. "These flowing forms create a comfortable and functional interior that particularly appeals to the younger, more diverse customers we are targeting."
The champagne-colored leather seats feature a perforation pattern meant to conjure champagne bubbles rising to the top of the glass.
The dash features a push-button gear selector and liquid crystal display instrumentation along with the latest version of the MyLincoln Touch infotainment system.
Lincoln says the platform can accommodate multiple drivetrain options in front- and all-wheel-drive configurations.
The concept features Lincoln Drive Control and an adjustable suspension with what Ford calls Continuously Controlled Damping.