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Exclusive: Ford Oz working on mystery large car

Another one: It might look like a mid-sized Ford Fusion, but telltale rear wheelarch flares suggest a wider rear track under test at Ford Australia’s You Yangs proving ground.

‘Lincoln MKS’ joins the global new-model engineering logjam at Ford Australia

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Lincoln logo20 May 2014

FORD Australia engineers are working on a mystery large car that is likely a replacement for its ageing Lincoln MKS for North America and China.

The test mule – based on a left-hand-drive American Ford Fusion but with major modifications under the rear end that appear suited to a larger vehicle – has been spotted by GoAuto going through its paces at Ford Australia’s busy You Yangs proving ground in Victoria.

As our pictures show, the disguised test vehicle has rear wheelarch extensions, seemingly to cater for a significantly wider rear track than the standard set-up for Fusion or its Mondeo sister model that is due Down Under in the second half of this year.

While Ford has no plans to introduce its Lincoln luxury line to Australia, the work on a large vehicle sitting on the company’s ‘D4.3’ large-car platform might have implications for a Falcon replacement once the homegrown sedan goes out of production in 2016.

Under the One Ford plan, all Ford large cars – namely the Taurus and Lincoln MKS sedans and Explorer and Flex SUVs – will be based on the D4 architecture from 2014.

By our count, the large car spotted at the You Yangs, near Geelong, brings to at least five new vehicles under development by the Blue Oval’s local engineering team – the Falcon/Territory facelift, Ranger facelift, Everest SUV global development, Escort small car for China and now, the large car.

The Lincoln work appears to be a contract job for Ford’s American parent, probably to do with rear chassis development and calibration.

A similar mule was spotted by Car and Driver in North America last year, with the American magazine adamant that the car was a technology test bed for the next Lincoln MKS large sedan.

When the new Lincoln goes into production in 2016, the under-the-skin overhaul will be complemented by a new body designed by former Holden stylist Max Wolff, who was poached from General Motors to head up Lincoln design.

Although Mr Wolff appears to have slipped a rung and is now reportedly Lincoln exterior design manager, he has still had a major influence on the latest Lincoln vehicles such as the MKZ sedan and MKX crossover – the latter just revealed as a concept at the Beijing show.

The current front- and all-wheel-drive MKS – launched in 2008 – is based on the Ford Taurus and its D3 architecture that also spawned the Volvo S80.

However, the Lincoln has been an abject sales failure in its home market, selling only about 1000 units a month – a drop in the bucket in the huge United States market where rivals such as the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class sell many times more.

Critics says the MKS is heavy, thirsty and relatively cramped inside for such a large car.

Some US journalists speculate that Ford plans to reinvent the MKS by not only completely redesigning it and making it more spacious, but also rebranding it – perhaps as MKL – in an effort to recapture the ascendancy that Lincoln had in 1998 when it was America’s leading prestige brand.

The rebranding theory was given some credence recently when Ford announced at the Beijing motor show its plans to launch Lincoln in the huge Chinese market this year, saying it was planning “an all-new full-size luxury sedan” – and not “next MKS” – as part of a five-car line-up there by 2016.

Like other Lincoln models bound for China, the large sedan will be imported from North America, meaning it will likely be made as one variant for both markets.

The current MKS comes in two V6 mechanical specifications – a normally aspirated 205kW 3.7-litre V6 driving the front wheels and a twin-turbo 275kW 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 driving all four wheels.

The EcoBoost V6 will likely carry over and be joined by Ford’s 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder, as used in the current Ford Falcon and many other Blue Oval models. Some journalists speculate these engines will be joined by a rumoured 2.9-litre EcoBoost V6 called Nano.

At some point, these engines are likely to be hooked up to a new nine-speed automatic transmission under joint development by Ford and GM.

Many Lincoln fans in the US hope Ford will plonk the MKS replacement on a rear-drive chassis to take on European rivals head on, but the mule seen by GoAuto appears front-wheel drive or at best all-wheel drive, in line with D4 architecture.

Expanding the Lincoln brand to China against Cadillac and the German brands will give the new-generation MKS a much greater potential volume.

But Ford Australia has ruled out any Lincoln move here, saying all Ford cars sold here will carry Blue Oval badges.

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