Monday, January 16, 2006

Autoshow Season - Lincoln MKX and MKS concept

Lincoln is a lost little brand. It seems for the past couple of years, with Cadillac refusing to play leapfrog anymore, that the Lincoln folks didn't know what to do.

Well, after a few years showing us re-hashes of 60's Continentals - Lincoln has decided that maybe Cadillac was onto something after all. However, without to corporate will to sink billions into this floundering luxury brand (I mean with all the money going to Jaguar, a second luxury div would be just too much), we'll see Lincoln doing the Cadillac thing - only on the cheap.

Exhibit A - Lincoln MKX

Yep, Lincoln's going alpha with their new products. Just like Cadillac. Only this time, it appears that they are going to try to stretch the old Mark moniker just past the breaking point by naming everything MK_. First we got the Mark LT (likely to be rebadged MKLT or MKT or some other nonsense soon). Now, the Aviator replacement (you remember the Aviator, right? The mini-me Navigator based on the Explorer?), a Crossover Utility Vehicle in Ford-speak, is badged the MKX (see, X for crossover, get it?). In previous photos, you could see the MKX even had Aviator badging - whether this was because they wanted to wait until NAIAS to debut the new naming system or they just hadn't decided on it until now is anyone's guess.

Now, as Cadillac competition goes, this would go up against the SRX. However, the MKX will very likely only get the 3.5l 250hp V-6 that Ford just announced. However, it will also likely be quite a bit cheaper than the SRX (you'd hope). Based on the Mazda6 platform, just like the Ford Edge CUV, Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Lincoln Zephyr (I'm sure the marketing folks are thrilled that all the work they've done to get the Zephyr name out there has been undone by a need to change it to the MKZ or MKLMNOP). It likely was much cheaper and faster to build the MKX on this front-drive shared platform - but it won't gain the traction with the import lux buyer like Cadillac's Sigma architecture.

Oddly, this vehicle has a grill design that Lincoln showed on concepts but never put on a production car. It has a cheese-grater look about it and should quickly be replaced by something similar to the next car on our list...I'd hope.

Exhibit B - MKS concept

Interestingly, Lincoln also showed the most attractive concept they've had in quite some time. The MKS...S for sedan?

Lincoln MKXThis car looks every bit like a beefed up Acura TL with just the right amount of Lincoln cues thrown in. This is a genuinely attractive car and would only be better if it didn't ride on the same front-drive platform that underpins the Ford Fivehundred (and Volvo S80). In this case, instead of bringing a real luxury rear-drive chassis to bear, Ford makes the same mistake they made with the Jaguar X-Type...they added standard all-wheel drive and hoped that no-one would notice.

Lincoln MKS conceptThis is rumored to hint at the next Lincoln flagship (of course, until they chicken out of killing the Towncar and keep it around for fleets). This may sell well to American luxury buyers who just can't accept the Cadillac edginess, but won't attract many BMW/Mercedes shoppers.

Exhibit C - Lincoln interiors

Lincoln MKX interiorOh my god! Will someone please get a memo to the stylists at Lincoln and tell them that the square gauges/neo-70's interior theme wasn't a good idea in the 70's and is the one aspect of retro-styling that just won't work? *shiver* Go with styling like the MKS with an nice modern interior theme (check out the aforementioned Acura TL for an example) and Lincoln would finally be about 80% there. Fork over the cash for a real-high-end rear-wheel/all-wheel drive chassis, kind of like the Lincoln LS had, and then we're talking 90-95%. Then it would just be a matter of marketing and dealer experience to make Lincoln a real player.

Lincoln MKS concept interiorOf course, Ford seems confused by having Lincoln, Jaguar, and Volvo. If Jaguar is stylish rear-wheel drive luxury and Volvo is front/all-wheel drive luxury. That doesn't leave too much room for Lincoln to inhabit. However, if Jaguar and Lincoln were managed correctly - Jag as a classically styled, elegant car and Lincoln as a progressive high-tech car - there's no reason they couldn't both sell well.

In the meantime, the MKX and MKS look like progress - just not as far as you might hope.

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