The future of the Lincoln luxury brand is revealed in the form of the Lincoln MKZ concept, unveiled today at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

“I think we all want to turn (Lincoln) into a distinctive and credible luxury brand,” new head designer Max Wolff tells WardsAuto. “(It’s) been in that position before and deserves to be back. We have to continue to evolve and push the brand and back it up with product.”

Wolff admits the transformation “is not going happen overnight, or even (after) one or two cars.”

But Lincoln insiders say the MKZ concept, which hints at the production model scheduled to hit dealerships later this year, will signal how the brand’s design language will progress.

The concept features a modified version of Lincoln’s split-wing grille, first introduced on the ’38 Lincoln Zephyr and found on all vehicles in today’s lineup.

The new grille is sleeker than the current one, which has proved a polarizing feature for consumers, particularly as employed with the MKT cross/utility vehicle.

Accenting the grille is a longer, sleeker profile and roofline Lincoln says breaks away from the traditional 3-box shape found on most sedans. The changes create a more aerodynamic appearance for the MKZ and clearly are the work of Wolff, who brought similar changes to the Cadillac lineup during his stint at General Motors’ luxury division.

“Our movement as a brand is toward something we call elegant simplicity,” Wolff says in a statement. “It’s something warmer and more restrained, which is moving away from complex designs and traditional luxury.”

A panoramic glass roof spans uninterrupted from the top of the windshield to the rear. Lincoln says the fixed glass is integrated into the sedan’s aluminum-and-boron-steel superstructure. While some Ford and Lincoln production vehicles feature panoramic roofs, none are as expansive. As such, it’s likely the roof won’t make its way past concept form.

In what’s fast becoming an industry trend, the MKZ concept boasts light-emitting-diode taillights that span the width of the rear fascia, which also features integrated exhaust tips.

The interior is designed to emulate the exterior with a sweeping instrument panel Wolff says will appeal to the younger, more diverse customers Lincoln is targeting.

Interior features include a push-button transmission; an open, tiered center console; and liquid-crystal instrumentation. A reconfigurable 10.1-in. (25.6-cm) Thin Film Transistor LCD in front of the drive displays the MyLincoln Touch infotainment system, as does the centrally located 8-in. (20.3-cm) LCD touch screen.

Interior materials include “responsibly” harvested poplar wood, aluminum in bright and satin finishes and Champagne-colored leather seats with dark taupe accents.

While still just a concept, Lincoln says the MKZ is capable of utilizing multiple powertrain options in front- or all-wheel drive configurations.

In addition to the MKZ concept, Lincoln also will show refreshed versions of its MKS flagship sedan and MKT CUV, both of which were revealed at the recent Los Angeles auto show.

The MKZ concept is just one component of an aggressive plan to reinvigorate Lincoln and attract new, younger buyers.

During the past 14 months, Lincoln has built a dedicated team consisting of designers, engineers and quality and marketing experts. The team includes people from luxury brands, including some from outside of automotive.

Many of the team members began working last year at a new dedicated Lincoln design studio in Dearborn, MI.

“With the Lincoln MKZ concept, we are not introducing a new car. We are essentially introducing a new brand,” Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president-product development, says in a statement. “The MKZ concept is the next step in the reinvention of Lincoln, something we’ve been quietly but aggressively pursuing.”

bpope@wardsauto.com