What are you doing, Lincoln?

17 01 2012

I like Ford’s current lineup. Their entry-level vehicles have some spirit. The 2013 Fusion is promising. F-150s are flying off the lots. Yet none of this energy has rubbed off on Ford’s struggling Lincoln division.

The new Lincoln MKZ is supposed to change all that. Unveiled last week, the concept (which is allegedly very similar to the production version) is supposed to jump-start the flagging brand. I saw it last Saturday. I am not impressed.

The Future is...meh

I’m sure that I’m in the minority here, but I found the exterior styling neither dramatic nor revolutionary. The whiskered grille is an odd variation of the waterfall-bedecked beak present on most of Lincoln’s current lineup, from the uninspiring MKZ to the homely MKT.The concept’s front is still bulbous and protruding. Obviously, Lincoln wants to differentiate itself from its competitors, but luxury brands from Audi to Cadillac boast front end treatments that manage to look distinguished and imposing–while still meeting pedestrian and crash safety requirements.

It’s always easy to be a critic. The MKZ concept does have some cool elements, including a retractable glass roof. And from some angles, it actually looks attractive (if a bit derivative–compare the rear half to the better-executed Audi A7).

I’m well aware that I’m not part of Lincoln’s target demographic. But I’m not a part of Cadillac’s demographic either. Or Aston Martin’s. Or Rolls Royce’s. That doesn’t mean I don’t dream of owning one of their vehicles. There’s simply nothing aspirational about Lincoln, and the MKZ concept has not changed that.

Lincoln has a great heritage–and its designers have produced some compelling concepts in the recent past. Like the 2002 Continental:

So close...yet so far

When the way forward is unclear, it never hurts to take a look back at what worked in the past. Successes like the new Camaro, Challenger, and even Ford’s own Mustang prove that classic designs serve as great jumping-off points for fresh vehicles.

How many cars can still look this good in brown?

Lincoln would be wise to remember their past triumphs, such as the timeless 1961 Continental. But even if the brand insists on throwing away its heritage and completely rewriting its design language, there’s really only one question executives need to ask when contemplating a concept: Would Frank Sinatra ever be caught dead in this car? If not, take it back to the drawing board.

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