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Lincoln looking for big things from small SUV

2015 Lincoln MKC
Source: Lincoln Motor Company
2015 Lincoln MKC

Will a small SUV drum up the kind of big buzz Lincoln needs as the struggling luxury brand tries to revive sales?

Lincoln has unveiled the new MKC small SUV, at a time when "small utility vehicles" have become the hottest selling models in the luxury auto market.

(Read more: Popular small SUVs fail critical crash test)

"We were very purposeful in picking this segment because at its highest growth, it is up 200% the last couple of years," said Jim Farley, head of the Lincoln brand for the Ford Motor Company.

The new MKC, which hits showrooms early next year, will start at just under $34,000, a price Lincoln executives believe will help sales given the growing demand for entry-level luxury models.

"The people who are going to buy this car aren't people buying their first luxury car. Many of them are people trading down and what they want are features and content and good gas mileage. And they want an affordable price," said Farley.

Lincoln Still Looking For Traction

Since taking over the Lincoln brand last year, Farley has been preaching patience as he and other executives laid out a plan to change the brand's tired image.

The first model, the MKZ, is a sedan with a substantially more refined styling. Despite steady marketing and advertising, MKZ sales have been modest; just 26,684 of the MKZ have been sold this year.

(Read more: Demand for 'street legal' ultra-luxury cars soars)

However, Farley says he's not worried.

"And we are really pleased to see the price on the MKZ, up almost $6,000, our hybrid mix is over 30 percent now, which is something we didn't expect frankly. Those are the types of metrics we're happy with that lead us to believe we're on the right track."

As for the Lincoln brand, sales are down 3 percent this year while the luxury auto market overall is up almost 11 percent.

Farley says slowly, but surely Lincoln is changing perceptions of luxury buyers.

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"It's natural until people see really big sells growth to say that Lincoln is not back and growing," said Farley. "It takes time for people to consider you and that will come."

—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau. Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.

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