Lincoln MKZ Concept
The luxury segment is not huge, but it is a place where vehicles produce far higher profit than compacts, so it is understandable Ford would like to have a bigger presence.

The Lincoln MKZ concept car, unveiled at the auto show, "shows a strong hint of where Lincoln is going," Ford's Booth said.

"We can compete with the premium brands," said Booth, noting that Lincoln will "not be exactly like BMW or Lexus -- we think we can find a set of brand characteristics that resonate with our customer base." The new MKZ will go on sale in the fall.

Among the recognizable brand design elements ensuring recognition as a Lincoln is the split-wing grill, resembling the two wings of a bird, that was introduced on the 1938 Lincoln-Zephyr. The concept has a long, sweeping roofline that enables a flowing aerodynamic appearance and a glass roof that creates an airy, open interior.

The luxury segment accounts for 11% to 13% of overall U.S. sales. While Cadillac sold 152,389 units in 2011, Lincoln sold just 85,643.

Brauer of TotalCarScore said the MKZ concept has "a presence" that should serve it well as it seeks to make its mark. "A premium luxury car needs to be special," Brauer said. "You can't get started in the luxury sector if you don't have that nailed down, and Lincoln hasn't done that in a long time. But this car has that sense."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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