DETROIT – This used to be the Aviator?

The '07 Lincoln MKX cross/utility vehicle unveiled here at the North American International Auto Show today drops the old Aviator name and puts on a new face.

The wrap taillights, the mating of the 3.5L V-6 to Ford Motor Co.'s new 6-speed automatic transmission and the smiling chrome grille all are a rolling advertisement for Lincoln's self-ballyhooed “innovation.”

This also is the vehicle that will advance Ford's move from SUVs to CUVs. George Pipas, manager of U.S. sales analysis for Ford, promises CUV sales soon will overtake those of SUVs.

“The CUV will be the vehicle of this decade,” he says. (See related story: Ford Analyst Says CUVS Gaining on SUVs)

The MKX, the first of 10 new Ford vehicles to be based on the Mazda6 platform, or CD3, will be available this fall.

'07 Lincoln MKX firmly ensconces Ford in CUV market.

The 5-passenger CUV is powered by a 3.5L Duratec V-6 engine and a 6-speed automatic ransmission. It sports a panoramic glass roof, heated rear seats and a 14-speaker THX Certified audio system and DVD-based navigation.

The MKX also offers an adjustable front suspension with a 4-link independent setup in the rear. Four-wheel disc brakes and an antilock braking system are standard.

The MKX is looking to solve the front area storage solution that plagues most vehicles with removable dividers in the center that allows for stowing a laptop, handbag or CD wallet. The console's concealed power outlet permits an MP3 audio jack.

The interior recalls the predecessor Aviator's spaciousness, despite the new CUV's retooled size. Front seats have 8-way power adjustment and power lumbar. The 60/40 split in the second-row provides reclining angles of up to 15 degrees.

The cabin space is magnified by the Vista Roof, a 27.3-in. (69-cm) by 29.4-in. (75-cm) forward sunroof. A fixed 15.8-in. (40-cm) by 31.3-in. (80-cm) rear moonroof gives backseat stargazers a view as well.

The MKX will be built at Ford's Oakville, Ont., Canada, assembly complex and goes on sale in late 2006.

stmiller@primediabusiness.com