This, we're told, is what Lincolns will look like in the future. The MKR concept is a statement promising that Lincoln will build beautiful, sexy cars again. Those with medium-term memory loss might wonder if Lincoln ever built beautiful cars in the first place, but the elegance of the MKR should raise the pulse of even the most cynical observer. This four-door, four-place sports sedan is Lincoln's take on the Mercedes-Benz CLS. Or on a modern version of the Mark VII.

We've heard the "new design direction" shtick more times than the Lincoln designers used the term "DNA" to describe the relationship between the MKR and future Lincoln products. Plenty of concept cars show the design direction for a brand -- and some of that design even makes its way into production cars -- but the raw appeal of the show car is usually lost in translation. The MKR is different, and not just because Peter Horbury, Ford's executive director of design in North America, tells us so. The styling elements of the MKR are so strong that they will stay relevant even in filtered production form. What’s more significant, in translating the concept into production reality, is that the MKR is underpinned by a stretched Mustang platform with an independent rear suspension. The twin-turbocharged V-6 is based on Ford's 3.5-liter Duratec engine, now in production in various Ford products including the MKZ small luxury sedan and MKX crossover. If the parts underneath are only a short step away from reality, it's easy to believe the styling could make it, too.

The MKR takes some design cues from previous Lincolns, but Horbury is quick to point out this isn’t a retromobile. "We did look into the past for inspiration," he says. "We don't repeat the past, but we use it as a reminder. We didn't just pick on one year or one model -- we picked a whole spectrum of Lincolns that are memorable in people’s minds."

Take the grille, for instance. It's reminiscent of the 1941 Continental, but the MKR takes that theme a step further by bisecting each half with a strip of bodywork in the center. There's also some 1961 Continental in the simple contours of the MKR's side profile and the taillight that spans the width of the trunk. There are echoes of the Mark VIII in the shape of the C-pillar.

In person, the MKR bears less of a slab-sided resemblance to its predecessors than the pictures suggest; all the lines are curved to give the car the perception of constant motion. The blister on the front fender continues on as the beltline creases and wraps all the way around to form the lip on the trunklid. There's a fold in the center of the hood that continues back to the trunk, serving to provide the MKR with a symmetrical divide and to highlight the giant Lincoln stars at the front and rear. The Lincoln badge is also seen in the shape of the halo structure in the glass roof, in the treads of the tires, even in the hexagonal latch cutouts of the seatbelts, as if to say "I'm a Lincoln, and I'm proud of it."

And there's something to brag about under the hood. The twin-turbo direct-injection V-6 is dressed up and oriented in an obsessively symmetrical fashion in this show-car form. Running on E85 ethanol, it produces 415 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque from a mere 3.5 liters routed to the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Yes, the rear wheels. The MKR is built on a Mustang chassis, stretched 5.8 inches. The strut-front suspension is straight from the Stang, and the multilink independent rear is suspiciously close to what the pony car was rumored to have been endowed with before cost cutting required a solid rear axle.

The interior is accessed by pressing a button to open any of the four doors, all of which swing out at a slightly upward angle on conventional front-mounted hinges. Rear suicide doors -- another famous Lincoln design element from the '61 Continental -- were considered but were axed in the interest of side-impact protection.

The interior of the MKR is notable for what isn't there -- mostly, too many buttons, the blight of the modern luxury car. At rest, everything lies dark and dormant, but when activated, the instrument cluster lights up in sequence, a wood panel on the center console retracts to expose the navigation system, and the turn-signal and headlight stalks pop out from the steering-wheel spokes to provide access to the paddle-shift levers. Horbury says of this simplicity: "[We have a] fewer number of buttons doing more operations. If you don't put excessive decoration on something, it tends to stand the test of time."

The interior continues the symmetrical theme of the exterior, with wood trim that covers the dash, bisects the cabin as a floating center shelf, and continues back to form the rear parcel shelf. On the passenger side is a multifunctional screen that is meant to provide extra data from the navigation system. Rear passengers are offered little sensory stimulation, but they can take solace in the fact that there's a lot more headroom and legroom than in a Mustang.

Although Lincoln calls the wood trim in the cabin "engineered oak," we call it particle board -- but we'll both agree that it looks and feels good. The leather in the MKR is tanned without the use of chromium sulfate, which is environmentally unfriendly. Sure, it's still leather, but the cows are raised and, uh, harvested humanely. Even the seat foam has an environmental hook: It's made of soy instead of petroleum products. It's all part of what Lincoln calls "guilt-free luxury," or having your no-trans-fat cake and eating it. Some of this tree huggery could actually make its way into showrooms.

Which brings us to the tough question: Will Ford build it? Lincoln is saying as little as possible on that decision at the moment but does promise that elements like the large double grille will be here in the near future. The twin-turbo engine doesn't seem too far out, either -- it's based on an existing architecture that would give Lincoln some much-needed differentiation from its Ford counterparts. But will we ever see the MKR on the street?

Only the product planners know for sure, but it seems that Lincoln (and Ford) can't ignore the fact that most of its competitors have a rear-wheel-drive offering. Chrysler has the 300, and GM will have a whole slew of rear-drive vehicles in the near future in North America. If you look at the ease of platform sharing as opposed to producing new chassis architecture, and the admission from Ford that there is excess capacity at the Mustang plant, then the MKR seems like a no-brainer -- especially if Lincoln can make a car that’s as stylish and sexy as a CLS for a lot less money.

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 4-door sedan

ESTIMATED BASE PRICE: $55,000

ENGINE TYPE: twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection

Displacement: 213 cu in, 3496cc

Power (SAE net): 415 bhp @ 5750 rpm

Torque (SAE net): 400 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manumatic shifting

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 112.9 in

Length: 195.7 in

Width: 75.4 in

Height: 52.7 in

Curb weight: 4075 lb

PERFORMANCE (MFR'S EST):

Zero to 60 mph: 5.3 sec



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