In a world where the badge on the hood is no longer a guarantee that the product parked in your driveway packs more firepower or even nicer leather than your neighbour’s more-affordable ride, convincing customers to invest in your brand often comes down to identity. Specifically, what does buying your automobile over that of a competitor broadcast to the world about the customer behind the wheel? Not coincidentally, it’s exactly this issue that the new 2017 Lincoln MKZ has been designed to tackle: putting some distance between the premium brand and the Ford platforms that underpin its automobiles.

It’s a tricky two-step that was most recently executed so well by the compact Lincoln MKC SUV, but the four-door MKZ is facing more of a stacked deck. It’s simply getting harder and harder to sell sedans – particularly luxury models, which are being squeezed from above by a crushing influx of SUVs and crossovers and from below as value-oriented brands pile on features and equipment that were once the exclusive province of pricier vehicles.

The 2017 Lincoln MKZ attacks this problem with a two-pronged pincer strategy. First up is a complete re-think of the car’s initial impression. Gone is the dual-waterfall grille that was for so many years the divisive design language ruling the roost across the entire Lincoln portfolio, and in its place is a pointed snout with a mesh-and-oval arrangement that initially debuted on the Continental concept car last year. Along the flank and to the rear the MKZ maintains a similar disposition to the previous model, however, creating an interesting harmony between new and old.

The older chrome grin certainly had its detractors, but the new take on Lincoln’s visuals draws more than a few parallels with segment-mates from Audi, Jaguar, and Volvo. Handsome though it may be, it’s easy to argue that Lincoln has taken a step away from the individuality of its earlier styling in favour of going with the flow of premium global design cues.

Inside, the new MKZ’s efforts at distinction from its Blue Oval roots are more successful than they were in the car it replaces. The new SYNC 3 infotainment interface may be shared with Ford, but the console and instrument panel that wrap around it – along with the new dial-and-button controls for stereo and climate – look and feel distinctly Lincoln rather than simply sourced from the same parts bin. SYNC 3 is easy to use, and will no doubt prove popular with customers frustrated by the more-complex, and not always responsive SYNC system that was originally available from Lincoln.

The fully loaded MKZ models that were available during my drive through the Nova Scotia countryside were also to be commended for the feel of their leather and the appearance of much of the vehicle’s trim, which helped take the car a further step up from the Ford-plus personality of previous Lincoln interiors. I was forced to deduct a few marks for some fit and finish issues on the door panels and lower footwells – a condition no doubt linked to the early-production status of the vehicles in the test fleet.

Pop Quiz: 2017 Lincoln MKZ or Lincoln MKZ Hybrid?

Road manners for the 2017 Lincoln MKZ are aimed squarely at those who would best appreciate the ‘quiet luxury’ tagline that the automaker has fully embraced. Cabin noise was indeed minimal at speed, while suspension tuning for the sedan worked hard to maintain an arms-length distance between the driver and any rough road that might be encountered when traveling from country to coast.

Connect with