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Greater L.A. Auto Show

Lincoln’s new designer puts his fingerprints on the MKS flagship sedan and MKT cross/utility vehicle, as the luxury brand embarks on a path of reinvention.

The two refreshed Lincolns, unveiled today at the Los Angeles auto show, have seen sales spiral downward, with 2011 deliveries off 18.9% and 33.5%, respectively, according to WardsAuto data.

Max Wolff, who arrived at Ford late last year after a successful stint as lead interior designer at crosstown rival Cadillac, says neither the MKS nor the MKT needed much modification.

“Line and detail work is really good,” Wolff tells WardsAuto. “We did maybe a little bit of a maturing, particularly in the front face of the vehicles. They still have very distinctive split grilles, but maybe (now) there’s a little more refinement and detail within that.”

For the MKT, the objective was to change the proportions to make it “feel wider and a bit less tall, less vertical,” he says.

While the CUV has been criticized widely for its polarizing front and rear fascias, Wolff defends the original design.

“I think it’s fairly distinctive and well-executed,” he says. “Maybe the size is a little problem, but we’re not going to make significant changes to that.”

The MKS underwent a more thorough makeover. The sedan gets a new grille, hood, fenders and high-intensity-discharge headlamps up front. At the rear, the flagship sedan sports a modified fascia, light-emitting-diode taillamps, new exhaust tips and redesigned deck lid.

Both vehicles get substantial re-dos inside. “We took the opportunity to go back in and restyle the instrument panels with more flowing look, rather than the linear look from today’s vehicles,” Wolff says.

“Look out for some covered storage; today some of it is opened,” he adds, “There are also improvements in terms of craftsmanship and content, as well as design and execution.”

Wolff, best known for his work on the Cadillac CTS, says his task is to restore Lincoln to a “distinctive and credible” luxury brand.

“We have to continue to evolve and push the brand and back it up with product,” he says. “You’ll see something reasonably dramatic in the next six months or so.”

Wolff says he follows design trends in other industries, such as hotel and fashion, for inspiration.

“People are moving away from large, established mainstream luxury brands, looking for a smaller, more personalized hotel experience,” he says. Luxury is “a little bit more of a self-aware experience rather than something from the shelves.”

Wolff is pleased with how the revised MKT and MKS turned out, saying they represent “significant improvements” from the current models.

In addition to design changes, both vehicles get new technologies, including Lincoln Drive Control, which Ford says enables drivers to easily change a car’s on-road personality.

Selecting sport mode on the gear selector automatically adjusts handling performance, ride firmness, throttle response, shift feel, steering response and traction- and stability-control parameters. Comfort mode, which softens the ride, can be selected via the MyLincoln Touch infotainment center.

Lincoln Drive Control works in conjunction with the auto maker’s new Continuously Controlled Damping system, standard on the MKS and available on the MKT, with the optional 3.5L direct-injected turbocharged V-6 EcoBoost engine.

Ford says the system required some 4,000 hours of development.

“CCD makes it possible to provide a smoother, more controlled ride over virtually any road surface, in part by reducing body roll by up to 20%,” Brian Naspinsky, Lincoln vehicle integration engineer, says in a statement.

Both vehicles come standard with a 3.7L V-6 engine, with a projected rating of 300 hp, up 9% from the current generation’s 273 hp. The extra power comes from the addition of twin independent variable camshaft timing. Torque is listed as 275 lb.-ft. (373 Nm).

The 3.5L EcoBoost makes 355 hp and 350 lb.-ft. (475 Nm) of torque. That’s 45 hp more than Audi’s supercharged 3.0L V-6 and 55 hp more than BMW’s turbocharged 3.0L inline 6-cyl.

Both engines come mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that can be controlled manually via steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The new ’13 models are expected to arrive at dealerships in spring. Pricing will be announced closer to launch.

bpope@wardsauto.com