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Is Ford's Latest Entry a Home Run?

John Rosevear
April 10, 2012

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the Lincoln MKZ as the Lincoln MKS. The article has been changed to correct the error. The Fool regrets the error.

Last week's New York Auto Show saw, as always, several major new-model debuts. But while flashy, photogenic cars like Chrysler's new Viper sports car stole the headlines, the really important debuts were a little more below the radar.

While the Viper is iconic, with sales likely to max out at a few thousand a year, it's not exactly going to be a major contributor to Chrysler parent Fiat's (OTC: FIATY.PK) bottom line. But major debuts from Ford (NYSE: F  ) and General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) , along with a subtle-but-significant overhaul of Chrysler's own Ram pickup, are likely to have big impacts when they hit dealers later this year.

Ford's latest attempt at luxury is convincing, sort of
Ford showed off its all-new Lincoln MKZ sedan, the first of seven planned new models that it hopes will revitalize its all-but-moribund luxury marque. Lincoln sales have been practically microscopic since the airport-limo-favorite Town Car ceased production, but Ford has signaled that it's serious about a renaissance of its old premium brand -- and the MKZ is the first production-ready evidence of its commitment.

So how is it? Well, it's not bad. The good news is that it departs from recent Lincoln practice in a big and important way: While it shares basic underpinnings with a more pedestrian Ford model, it doesn't look like that Ford. That's a good thing -- the (often-justified) impression that a Lincoln was just a Ford with more chrome and better leather was probably hurting sales, and it was certainly limiting Ford's ability to command premium prices.

And the bad news? While the MKZ is a good-looking car, it's stylistically not a home run like its mechanical cousin, the upcoming new Ford Fusion. The new Fusion is a daring design that sparked wide discussion and has already won a lot of fans. Meanwhile, the Lincoln looks ... nice.

But the MKZ's design may not need to be striking to accomplish Ford's goals. I continue to think that the MKZ was designed with at least one eye on China,