You’ve heard Lincoln is undergoing a reinvention. If you were one of the one-hundred-whatever million people that watched the Super Bowl, you probably saw Lincoln’s spot that–if nothing else–reminded us that this century-old relic of an automaker was still here, still kicking, and maybe even in its infancy. We’ll see. For now, the luxury arm of Ford isn’t trying to flex its muscles, mostly because it’s still learning and observing, a puppy becoming aware of its faculties.
Lincoln, for all intents and purposes, is the Benjamin Button of automakers. Not long ago written off as the pride of the Bingo-hall parking lot, the early-bird special, and of chauffeurs and livery drivers everywhere, Lincoln has somehow found a hidden vial of youth serum. And it’s acting weird. Grandpa in the sandbox.
Is the wool being pulled over our eyes? Is this business as usual with a clever marketing campaign? There’s only one way to tell: product. The newly minted Lincoln Motor Co. has already unveiled the first of what was supposed to be the core of the new Lincoln, the 2013 Lincoln MKZ. We poked around in one, and at the end found ourselves nodding. The MKZ, a midsize luxury vehicle that shares much of the same technology and the underpinnings of the 2013 Ford Fusion, didn’t look like the Ford Fusion. It’s nice and it’s unique, adjectives that haven’t been used in the same sentence as Lincoln for a long, long time. And there’s more to come. The investment is real, “B, as in billions,” said Matt VanDyke, director, global Lincoln, when we caught up with him a couple months ago.
What’s next? The automaker pulled the covers off of the Lincoln MKC Concept at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The small crossover is the second of what are supposed to be four all-new models to bow in the next four years. What’s special about the attractive MKC Concept, is that it’s hardly conceptual. A peek inside and one can see the dash and center console are MKZ-like, and look production-ready. Sure, the absence of door handles will have to be addressed, and the side mirrors will swell in size, as will the headlights. Some things will be different, but for a concept, there are a striking number of things that look showroom-ready. That’s important; the small crossover market is exploding. Lincoln will enter the Chinese market later next year, and the Chinese share the American affinity for CUVs. And if the MKC looks much like the MKC Concept, the Chinese will scoop them up faster than 10-piece buckets of KFC extra-crispy.
Lincoln for its part seems acutely aware that people are now watching, and paying attention. America loves a comeback story, and Lincoln can be a great one. But if the MKC fails, people will be reaching for the shovel in a hurry. As fellow Detroiter Eminem said, you only get one shot.
To get the skinny on the MKC, we caught up with Soo Kang, chief interior designer for Lincoln, and Murat Gueler, the exterior design manager for the MKC Concept, both of whom work directly under Max Wolff, director of design for Lincoln. Murat, who comes from Ford Europe, and was previously working in the design studio in Cologne, now resides in Detroit. The move, he says, gives one a “fresh perspective, especially important when you’re trying to rejuvenate a brand.” Admittedly, there were challenges, to come to market with a concept that was fresh and exciting, and at the same time “pure Lincoln.”
Referring to the MKC, Murat, in an affable way, said “we’re inviting, more flowing and dynamic, not cold and technical,” a dig at the Lincoln MKC’s potential German competition. The Mercedes-Benz GLK and BMW X3 are, “more boxy.” And with five members working on the clay model, and three exterior designers on the team, a lot of effort was put in to the details. Ample width and plenty of sculpting reflect strength and confidence. There are sharp lines on the hood, leading in to the textured grille, the grille bars showing you both “the bone and the bone marrow.” The wing-motif is seemingly omnipresent, and gives the MKC “a sense of harmony.” And there are other details, too. From the exhaust–which looks similar to the BMW 4 Series Coupe Concept–to the “jewel-like” lugnuts, on the two-tone rims.
And as Soo Kang–now twenty-five years with Ford and Lincoln–points out, the interior is clean, spacious, and spirited. “Think of the five senses,” she says. “We took inspiration from the senses, and applied it to this concept.” Light was used to convey a feeling of warmth. The leather is pure; you can smell it. Visually, the MKC is “clean but layered, there are exquisite details.” And in a sign of just how production-ready this concept could be, the striking seats “actually use the MKZ track. Those are the MKZ seats, on the same track, but we re-trimmed them. Everything you see on the MKC Concept,” Kang tells me, “is feasible. Nothing here is impossible.” Kang led a team of 12 interior designers, two of which worked exclusively on the MKC Concept.
What’s next? For most automakers, it would be reasonable for the production version to debut a year or two after the concept was initially unveiled. In some cases–like in that of the Cadillac ELR–it can take years. But from what we saw of the MKC Concept, the actual MKC shouldn’t be far off. We wouldn’t be surprised if it debuted before the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show later this year, possibly even earlier. For now, we’ll be watching Lincoln’s next move, and looking out for the MKC.