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The 2013 Lincoln MKZ automobile is seen during a news conference in New York, April 2, 2012. Ford Motor Co is rolling out new Lincoln models with a panoramic glass roof option to lure younger, more affluent buyers, as the No. 2 U.S. automaker tries to revive a luxury brand whose sales peaked two decades ago. The 2013 Lincoln MKZ sedan will be unveiled at the New York auto show this week, one of seven new or revamped Lincoln models to be rolled out by 2015. (SHANNON STAPLETON/Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
The 2013 Lincoln MKZ automobile is seen during a news conference in New York, April 2, 2012. Ford Motor Co is rolling out new Lincoln models with a panoramic glass roof option to lure younger, more affluent buyers, as the No. 2 U.S. automaker tries to revive a luxury brand whose sales peaked two decades ago. The 2013 Lincoln MKZ sedan will be unveiled at the New York auto show this week, one of seven new or revamped Lincoln models to be rolled out by 2015. (SHANNON STAPLETON/Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

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One of the many world debuts planned this week at the New York Auto Show include an all-new Lincoln MKZ based on the similarly new Ford Fusion sedan and MKZ Concept that debuted to much acclaim at the Detroit show in January.

Lincoln hopes this new MKZ will mark a new era in the floundering luxury division, similar to how the Cadillac CTS and its new angular design theme signalled a new, more modern direction for GM’s top brand, and Lincoln’s top rival.

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The MKZ is the first Lincoln to be designed by a dedicated team in a Lincoln-specific design studio. It will offer a shifter-less, push-button transmission inside and a massive retractable glass sunroof that comes close to giving the four-door mid-size luxury sedan convertible status. All of these are meant to distinguish the MKZ from the mainstream Fusion, which uses the same architecture and engines as the MKZ.

At its launch later this year, those ’13 engines will include a base 2.0-litre, 240-horsepower EcoBoost four-cylinder, a more frugal Atkinson-cycle gas-electric four that puts out 188 hp in the MKZ Hybrid, and a more powerful 3.7-litre, 300-hp V-6. All-wheel-drive will remain an option on non-hybrid models, while hybrids will be front-drive only.

The powertrains are similar to those to be offered in the ’13 Ford Fusion, but no longer identical. The Fusion will no longer offer a V-6, at least at launch, while the Lincoln’s base 2.0-litre turbo four is the top power engine in the 237-hp Fusion.

Notable by its absence in the Lincoln lineup is the availability of a plug-in version, as the Fusion will offer by the end of this year. Ford says the Fusion Energi will trump the mileage of GM’s much-hyped Chevy Volt, but with a much smaller battery and at a much lower cost.

BMW unveils i8 Spyder Concept

With BMW’s i cars rapidly approaching their long-trumpeted 2013 market launch of the i3 city hatchback, with the i8 sports car planned to follow for 2014, BMW has unveiled a third member for this sub-brand: the i8 Spyder Concept.

It’s a convertible prototype version of the low-slung i8 Audi R8 fighter. But instead of the coupe’s 2+2 seating format, this drop-top offers only two seats, and loses the coupe’s transparent door panels, while keeping the same dramatic upward- and forward-sweeping doors, as well as the plug-in hybrid all-wheel-drive powertrain.

That powertrain remains a 96-kilowatt electric motor up front, juiced by lithium-ion batteries, while a gasoline-powered turbocharged 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine drives the rear wheels. Combine the two powerplants and the i8 can put out 354 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque. This advanced powertrain can be adjusted by the driver to run in planet-friendly battery-only mode, where it offers about 27 km of electric propulsion, performance-minded rear drive mode, or an all-wheel-drive mode with both powerplants propelling the car along to an electronically governed 250 km/h top speed, and a 0-100 km time of about five seconds.

Not bad for a car with EU fuel consumption ratings of 3.0 litres/100 km.

Camaro ZL1 finally ready to go

After a production and delivery delay of about a month, the 580-hp Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is set to start coming off its Oshawa, Ont., assembly line – but GM still won’t specify what caused the major disruption.

Saying only that it’s an “internal quality issue discovered as part of our normal pre-production quality checks,” GM officials in both the United States and Canada have refused to specify why deliveries were delayed, while simultaneously insisting that whatever the mystery issue, it only affected the all-new 2012 ZL1 Camaro.

“If there’s a delay on an Impala or Malibu for a couple of weeks, nobody notices,” said one GM official. “But because there’s such a rabid fan base out there with very active and knowledgeable enthusiasts, any delay is magnified.”

Vehicles that had been produced but held at Oshawa for what GM is officially calling a “quality assessment” were released to dealers last Friday, with customer deliveries to start around mid-April, which is when production is set to resume as well.

The GM official acknowledged that one ZL1 was inadvertently delivered to a dealer and then a customer by mistake, but wouldn’t confirm reports that the car had to be returned to the Oshawa plant for repairs, an extraordinary step for any “quality assessment.”

But another GM insider admitted “they don’t halt production if it’s not a safety issue.”

Regardless, GM Canada is still on track to deliver the 2012 ZL1 coupes in the spring, with the 2013 coupes and convertibles still scheduled to arrive in the summer.

Azure filing kills Transit Connect Electric

Burnaby, B.C.-based Azure Dynamics has filed for creditor protection in Canada and the United States, spelling the end for the Transit Connect Electric that it produced for Ford, at least until an approved restructuring plan is implemented.

The vehicle’s resurrection seems unlikely, however, given the low sales volume and steep asking price of the compact cargo truck, which sold almost exclusively to fleet buyers, although Azure vice-president of marketing Mike Elwood had said that Transit Connect Electric’s price was seeing regular reductions as of last fall.

It’s an unfortunate fall from grace for a company founded in the late 1990s just outside Vancouver that had long been seen as an electric vehicle and hybrid innovator. Elwood said a lack of government support for the business’s EV efforts compared to the aggressive action south of the border led Azure to move much of its operations to Michigan in 2007, where 120 employees were laid off last week. The company has about 35 to 40 employees in British Columbia, The Detroit Free Press reported.

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