2013 Lincoln MKZ Preview

Lincoln-MKZ-2012 Frank Gehry's stunning "tower of light", headquarters of Internet giant IAC in Manhattan's trendy Chelsea district, was a fitting backdrop for the unveiling of Lincoln's new MKZ – the cornerstone of the brand's new direction which blends technology with style.

It's an important vehicle for this dwindling luxury marque – not only does it represent Lincoln's reinvention, but the company's future rests on its success.

Like Cadillac before it, Lincoln's biggest challenge lies in changing its aging and frumpy image and convincing a new demographic that they're worth a premium price tag. It won't be easy. The success of the Ford Fusion only serves to make buyers need a more compelling reason to shell out extra for what is essentially a more luxurious version of the midsize sedan. And as one wag observed, "why pay extra for a Lincoln when you can buy a Ford that looks like an Aston Martin?"

But Lincoln is hoping to attract those who are new to midsize luxury sedans – a segment that's projected to grow 20 per cent over the next three years.

While impossibly beautiful waiters circled bearing trays of artfully arranged delicacies, onstage sand artist Joe Castillo cleverly transformed an eagle, its wings outspread, into the sweeping grille that is the new face of Lincoln.

Lincoln-MKZ-2012_i01 The first product of the newly formed, 40,000-sq ft design centre led by chief Max Wolff, the unveiled MKZ made an understated rather than startling impression. Describing its look as "elegant simplicity," Wolff said the MKZ is the vehicle that "will define the future of Lincoln."

The swept-back roofline lends it a slippery, almost coupe-like appearance and the reworked eagle's wings grille is an upscale improvement over its garish predecessor. But the most striking aspect of the new MKZ's design is its retractable glass roof. The largest in the industry at more than 15 square feet, the glass panel slides down over the rear window – providing an almost topless cruising experience.

Although Wolff refers to the exterior of the car as a rolling billboard for the brand, he says it's the interior that "seals the deal". Bringing both interior and exterior design teams together under one roof helped integrate the design themes. Wolff is particularly proud of the hi-tech centre console, clean and elegant, it's "really something special." Rather than a conventional shifter, it features a pushbutton design stacked beside a 10” LCD screen with Ford SYNC and MyLincoln voice and touch system.

Lincoln-MKZ-2012_i02 Lincoln Drive Control – adaptive suspension damping – comes standard and there's a host of safety tech including lane departure, adaptive cruise control, parallel parking assist and blind spot warning with rear cross traffic alert. Buyers in this segment expect plenty of pampering – and hopefully they'll find the "responsibly harvested" wood trim, heated leather seats, 11-speaker sound system, and cabin air filtration satisfactory.

There are three powertrains offered, starting with the 2.0L EcoBoost four cylinder with 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque, a 3.7L V6 with 300 hp and 277 lb-ft as well as the 2.0L I-4/electric Hybrid with 188 combined hp and 129 lb-ft of torque. Although the hybrid is available only with CVT and front-wheel drive, the other two models will come with six-speed automatic transmissions and optional all-wheel drive.

There are no official fuel economy ratings yet, but according to US test procedures, Lincoln projects the hybrid, as the most fuel-efficient, should achieve about 6.9L/100km highway and 7.8L city – while the four-cylinder should do 10.7L/100km city and 7.1L/100km highway.

Lincoln-MKZ-2012_i03 Taking the stage, Ford president of the Americas, Mark Fields, claimed that Lincoln's small size is a key part of their strategy to reinvent themselves as a true luxury brand.

The midsize luxury sedan is a fiercely competitive segment with "customers who are used to being treated a certain way; we're not the biggest, so we can use our size to our advantage to give them [customers] a personalized experience."

Part of Lincoln's reinvention strategy includes a 24/7 online "concierge" service to streamline the shopping experience, and dealerships that provide upscale, personalized service. A key part of this service is the dealership training by "Les Clefs D'Or," the international association of professional concierges, whose crossed keys are the recognized benchmark worldwide for excellence in services.

Pricing has yet to be announced for the new 2013 MKZ, but Lincoln said it should be about the same as the current model. It will arrive in showrooms later this year.