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.

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.

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.

Power from the entry-level 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder motor is adequate (245 horses and 275 lb-ft of twist), but it's being asked to motivate 1,769 kilograms of car, which means passing is best planned and then executed rather than impulsively attempted. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard with the 2.0L, as is all-wheel drive, which will be a boon during the harsher winter months.

If you're on a greener kick, Lincoln has continued its forward-thinking policy of pricing the hybrid version of the MKZ identically to the gas-only model – a strategy that has traditionally seen the order mix for the car skew respectably towards electrification. This means the $42,000 nets you either the base turbocharged engine or a naturally-aspirated four-cylinder that works together with an electric motor to produce 188 hp. What you lose in grip and performance (the MKZ Hybrid is front-wheel-drive only) you more than make up for in fuel savings, what with the 5.7 L/100 km city rating for the battery-assisted sedan doubling the efficiency of the gas-powered sedan.

Lurking in the shadows – and not yet available to Canadian buyers – is the version of the 2017 Lincoln MKZ that I very much want to drive. The flagship edition of the four-door luxury car is set to debut a twin-turbo 3.0 L V6 that's good for 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, managed by an all-wheel-drive system that can be outfitted with a performance-enhancing torque-vectoring system. Destined to be the quickest and most agile member of the Lincoln family in recent memory, the V6 TT represents the automaker's best shot at snagging the attention of buyers who typically source their luxury wares from across the Atlantic.

Still, even with the promised punch of the twin-turbo model just over the horizon alongside its newly tailored suit, the 2017 Lincoln MKZ does not have an easy road ahead of it. Lincoln has become lost in the nebulous world of 'premium' automobiles that intersect a little too closely with the top-shelf offerings of brands like Nissan, Toyota, and of course Ford, while also being forced to battle against more focused luxury efforts from Buick, Acura and Lexus. With the MKZ and MKC as two of its cardinal points – and the soon-to-be-delivered Continental executive sedan representing a potential third – the company may finally have the bearings it needs to escape the doldrums it has been mired in for far too long.

Pricing: 2017 Lincoln MKZ
2017 Lincoln MKZ Select AWD: $42,000
2017 Lincoln MKZ Reserve AWD: $46,000
2017 Lincoln MKZ HEV Select: $42,000
2017 Lincoln MKZ HEV Reserve: $46,000
Freight and PDI: $1,900