ROMEO, MI – Ford Motor Co. is looking to its upcoming ’10 Lincoln MKT cross/utility vehicle to build on the momentum generated by the MKS flagship sedan that hit dealerships last July.

The MKT, set to debut in late summer, will help round out a Lincoln lineup that was lacking just three years ago and help transform the luxury division’s showroom, says Scott Tobin, vehicle line director-cars and CUVs.

“Look at where (Lincoln) was at just a few years ago. Probably not where we wanted to be,” Tobin says at a recent media event here. “Today, I would contend it’s very balanced.”

Pending the arrival of the MKT, the Lincoln range consists of the Navigator fullsize SUV, MKZ midsize sedan, MKX midsize CUV, MKS sedan, plus the long-in-the-tooth Lincoln Town Car fullsize sedan.

The MKT is meant to appeal to consumers seeking a 3-row CUV, and its primary competition likely will be the Audi Q7 and Acura MDX, says Kate Pearce, MKT marketing manager.

“We think the vehicle stacks up perfectly against those two,” she says. “The key is you have to have a really compelling entry that makes people want to come back and take another look at Lincoln.”

The MKT’s exterior boasts Lincoln’s signature split waterfall grille, which has helped the brand forge a family resemblance in the showroom since the MK-naming strategy was implemented three years ago.

Other exterior design cues include a beveled edge that accents the MKT’s shoulder line and a silhouette that flows uninterrupted from the greenhouse to the full-width horizontal taillamps.

Tobin admits the MKT’s exterior styling is “polarizing,” but notes that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“It makes a statement on the road,” he says. “It looks better on the road than statically.”

Despite the overall weak market, Tobin thinks the MKT will be a success, as the premium CUV segment is showing growth “on the backs of customers moving out of traditional truck-based SUVs, both premium and non-premium, into this segment.”

However, Ward’s data shows the Large Luxury CUV category, where MKT competitors Audi Q7 and Acura MDX reside, has been hard hit by the ongoing recession. Through the year’s first-quarter, sales in the segment were down 50.2%, compared with year-ago, to 14,679 units. Audi Q7 and Acura MDX deliveries fell 57.6% and 50.5%, respectively.

Ford declines to predict volume goals for the MKT, but Pearce says it is a “niche” vehicle. “We’re going to build and sell what industry demands,” she says. During market research, the MKT received favorable reviews from female buyers, but the goal is to attract families.

Under the hood, car buyers have a choice of two engines: a standard 3.7L V-6 producing 268 hp and 267 lb.-ft. (362 Nm) of torque or a 3.5L twin-turbocharged direct-injection EcoBoost V-6 generating 355 hp and 350 lb.-ft. (475 Nm) of torque.

The MKT comes standard with a 6-speed automatic transmission with SelectShift and F1-style shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel. All-wheel drive is optional on the base MKT, but standard on the EcoBoost model.

Of the two engines, the EcoBoost variant likely will appeal to consumers “looking for V-8 power,” Pearce says, noting the performance mill also should attract “enthusiasts that skew a little bit more male.”

The 3.7L MKT will base at $44,200, not including a $795 destination charge. The 3.7L model with AWD will be priced at $46,195, while the top-of-the-line MKT with AWD and EcoBoost will sticker at $49,200.

The Lincoln MKT CUV will be built at Ford’s Oakville, ON, Canada, assembly plant.

bpope@wardsauto.com