Giving new life to an iconic name is tough, but the struggling Lincoln brand is trying to do just that with the new Continental concept car — a preview of its future look, and a bet on defining a 21st-century mission for Ford's luxury brand, with an eye toward growing in the world's most bustling luxury car market, China.
First, the good news: The Continental concept, unveiled today ahead of the New York auto show, does have beautiful lines. A new, less baleen whale-style grille with a chrome Lincoln cross that lights up when the car is “awakened,” and a bucketful of new technologies. Features like 30-way adjustable seats with cleverly designed split thigh bolsters that can be individually adjusted, door handles at the beltline that open elegantly with a touch of a button hidden underneath and feature both soft open and close, a “smart-glass” roof that tints at the touch of a button, and a 3.0-liter twin-turbo Ecoboost engine, all combined with safety and convenience features already offered on the new Lincoln MKX.
Add into that mix the “quiet luxury” touches they’ve included—things like a Harmon Kardon-designed Revel audio system and active noise control to cut down on exterior or engine noise and you have a car that, at least from a spec sheet, hits all the luxury buttons.
Even the interior design is geared to the East. More Maybach, in finish and flair it includes a champagne cooler, massage seats and a sleek fold out tablet that rotates up and out of a buttressed center console. There are also briefcase style bags that attach to the back of the front seats, presumably to enable those riding to grab and head to their next meeting. (Most Chinese luxury car buyers ride in the back seat.)
The reason could be based in the fact that the beleaguered brand is heavily targeting the growing luxury segment in Asia in the hunt for profit. In a presentation last night, CEO Mark Fields repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Chinese market for Lincoln. He stated that despite only entering the Chinese market last November, the success of the Lincoln brand had “over-exceeded expectations,” and by the end of 2016, Lincoln will have as many as 60 dealers throughout 50 Chinese cities—fast growth for a relatively “small” brand.
What may be more noteworthy than what Lincoln said about the concept is what it left out — any details of performance or driving specs. Unlike Cadillac, which will reveal a production CT6 flagship sedan in New York as well, Lincoln has shied away from taking on the German automakers head-to-head, and has set its targets instead on customers from brands like Acura, Buick and Infiniti.
The question, however, remains. Is this Continental worthy of the moniker first given to a car designed by Edsel Ford? This is the same nameplate that architect Frank Lloyd Wright praised as the “most beautiful car ever made.” It’s also the same brand that the likes of Clark Gable and Rita Hayworth drove, giving Lincoln the aura of sophistication and style from World War II through the '70s. That's a tall order to reproduce in any era; and while Lincoln says the Continental previews a new full-size luxury sedan next year, we'll have to see how close the production car gets to pleasing buyers on several continents.