Alan Mulally insisted Ford resurrect the Taurus namplate, then turned the Explorer into a midsize crossover sport/utility. Can he, will he, name the sleek new Vertrek -- an obvious hint for the 2013 Escape replacement -- the Escape?

The Vertrek concept, unveiled at the North American International Auto Show, goes on sale in early 2012 and is Escape in size and European Kuga in its use of Martin Smith's sleek "kinetic design" language. Like the Focus and C-Max with which it will share its front-drive platform, the Vertrek's profile features a "Zorro Flip" with converging Z-shaped accents between the front quarter-panel, the doors, and the rear quarter-panel.

The hood's center bulge, with its unusual cutout pattern just ahead of the windshield, is said to be production-ready, though the skylight-style glass roof panel behind it isn't. The deeply drawn lower-profile accents also are a good indication of production. Don't count on the sequential LED taillamps and certainly not the sleek, low sideview mirrors, which help create a "wing" look by connecting with the dashboard.

The deep-bucket 2+2 seats are pure concept, but the interior materials give good hints at the level of attention Ford's interior designers paid to the inside. From the outside, add a thick B-pillar, remove the power-operated foldout running boards, and you've got a good look at the next Escape.

"We've pulled the A-pillar forward" and made a sleeker roofline, with a sport coupe-like rear roof resembling the current Kuga's, says J Mays, Ford's group vice president for design and chief creative officer. "People actually think we've lowered the car, but we haven't."