Detroit Auto Show 2012: Lincoln MKZ upgrades, but is it too late?

How many second chances is too many? Lincoln, Ford's troubled luxury brand, seems determined to explore that question with concepts like the MKZ sedan, the first in a relaunch of new models. Is this Ford's final answer?

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm on record saying Ford should do away with Lincoln, which has no footing outside North America and little to set it apart from the Fords it often shares showrooms with here. Ford has decided to plunge ahead, committing $1 billion for several new models and building a 180-person design team for Lincoln to compete with the BMWs, Lexuses and Cadillacs hitting the market.

Based on the new Ford Fusion, the MKZ concept does take a larger step away from the somewhat blockier Ford than it has with previous models, offering better materials in the cabin, a sleeker roofline and a more traditional grille -- albeit one that still resembles a Movember mustache. If there's a significant difference between the engines in the MKZ and the Fusion, Ford isn't telling -- and unlike Cadillac's new ATS, there's no indication of any performance pretension with the MKZ, the production model of which is expected late this year.

It's been more than a decade since Lincoln could still face-off against Japanese and German brands for U.S. luxury sales dominance. Last year, it was outsold by Cadillac and Buick, and fell to a speck in the Germans' rear view mirror, thanks to a lack of key products such as a rear-wheel-drive sedan. The new MKZ may prove just how much Lincoln has left in the tank.