The Speculator: A Continental Return

Lincoln Continental Concept - All photos courtesy of The Ford Motor Company
Lincoln Continental Concept – All photos courtesy of The Ford Motor Company

I bet you were as surprised as I am when you saw these first photos of it.

The rumors began to swirl about a new concept a few months back. The only thing to go on was a 2007 concept designed as influenced by the 1961-65 Lincoln Continental. That concept was replete with suicide doors and other design features from the older car with loads of modern technology and engineering supporting it. That would have been a great luxury car that had the potential to ensure the brand’s future.

At the New York International Auto Show, Lincoln presented a new Continental Concept. The new concept was something that was a complete break from the past. No heritage lines were shown. It was completely modern with some future technology on board. Yet, the level of luxury on the concept was something never thought of by Lincoln since the Mark II. That was what blew away everyone when the first images and information were released prior to its official press conference.

My reaction to these initial images was of complete shock. I was absolutely blown away by the Continental concept. It was as something threw away everything about the brand and started with a clean sheet of paper. The push-button automatic transmission was gone. So was the split-wing grille. There were seats that got their inspiration from the mid-1970s, but the rear seats could be fully reclined to emulate a private jet – something seen on flagships from the Hyundai Equus to the Mercedes-Maybach S600.

There were little details about what was underneath this body and cabin. The brand-exclusive 3.0liter EcoBoost V6 sounded enticing, without knowing the power range it might have. No information on transmission, final drive wheels, availability of all-wheel drive and suspension set-up. It left a lot of people scrambling to get this information.

The Continental concept opened a whole new chapter for Lincoln. It begs the question whether this will turn the brand around completely and induce another war with Cadillac and other luxury manufacturers – namely, the Germans.

First off, let's take a look at the design. Despite the pissing match between Lincoln and Bentley designers, I do see a lot of originality in the Continental concept. As an executive once said to me, and I will paraphrase, sometimes some design elements end up being coincidental, even if the other person is not in the room. In particular, the roofline was the point of contention between the concept and the Flying Spur or the Mulsanne. Again, I see an original set of details that have coincidental features from the Bentley sedans. Yet, it does appear to all Lincoln. Moving on…

Lincoln Continental Concept

Up front shows a lot of the tall Lincoln star – as LED lamp units, as grille inserts and the illuminated front badge. As cool as it may be on the concept, the question remains whether they will appear on the production model. As many of us know, not everything seen on a concept will make the assembly line. Though the lighting technology is fantastic on the concept – there should be accommodation to bring that through into production. It may also help the image and aura Lincoln wants to carry through on the Continental.

Swing around the back and there are current Lincoln design cues that should carry over. They appear to be right for the Continental. The tail light design and off-bumper license plate position may just win customers over. One hopes for a large trunk – the MKS had well over 18 cubic feet of space. The target should be 19 cubic feet – larger than all flagships available in the marketplace.

There is a lot of technology happening just outside the car. There had been electronic door openers and latches before. Lincoln felt they would submit their own idea for an E-Latch on the outside. Most concepts usually like to hide these details. If you look closely, they are there – tucked away in the car's beltline. That is novel and clever.

In the concept, the interior has a mix of new ideas and some carryover from Lincoln and Ford products. The carryover would be the use of a center touch screen, familiar instrument cluster and other switches. That is where the carryover stops. On the concept, they show a curious stalk from the steering column. It appears to be a transmission lever. It also appears to be inspired by the Europeans where if you flip one way, you're in reverse…another way, you're in drive. It is not a novel idea, but it would be a first for Ford and Lincoln to adopt this kind of transmission switching. Does that mean that those meh push buttons would be gone? In my humble opinion, I certainly hope so.

The seats are an interesting study, as well. They appear to bring back the "pillow" kind of seating last seen in the early 1980s. I wonder if they are more integrated and are more supportive than before. Lincoln states that the front seats offer 30 different power-assisted adjustments. They also claim to have these seats designed for practically every kind of body. Even mine – long torsoed, a bit wide at the love handles and a 29-inch inseam?

Even more interesting is the rear seat setup. On a few flagship sedans, there is the option of reclining rear "lounge" seats. It appears Lincoln is exploring this in the Continental concept. They even added a high center console with a control panel that pops out from it. Lincoln states I would allow rear seat passengers to control the new Revel audio system from three general settings to something customizable for the ear. The center console also offers a place for Champagne/sparkling wine flutes and a tablet holder.

Lincoln Continental Concept

Lincoln states there is going to be an exclusive engine for the Continental. There will be a 3.0liter EcoBoost V6 with an unspecified horsepower rating, attached to an unspecified transmission send power to an unspecified seat of wheels. The rest of driving experience sort of known. Lincoln promises a suite of active safety features along with a ride/handling mix under the banner of Lincoln Drive Control with adaptive steering.

This is all that was gleaned from the materials presented. I better try to fill the gaps here…or, at least speculate…

It appears that the Continental concept has a rear-drive bias. This calls for possibly using a platform that is versatile – such as the one underpinning the current Mustang – to be framed into a large flagship sedan. To be a front-wheel drive sedan is to give the Cadillac CT6 the lead in American luxury sedans. I would state that all-wheel drive is a given for the Continental.

The Continental should have two engines. The 3.0liter EcoBoost has to be twin-turbocharged. Yet, I fear it would have a power target of 350 horsepower or a bit more. That is OK, but some buyers would want more. Ideally, a Continental should have 400 horsepower. That should come from offering a specifically tuned 3.5liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6. As for the transmission, don’t you think it’s time for Ford to develop a multi-overdrive transmission? Perhaps an eight- or nine-speeder? Either one would be perfect for either EcoBoost in the Continental.

There are so many features stated above that I fear would not make it into production. We always hear that some technologies are great, but the accounting folks would nix them unless a justification is made towards a selling price to include them. If Lincoln wants to sell a reclining rear seat option with a high center console, they should take a page or two from other luxury brands on how to offer it at a price worth paying. However, I would see the 30-way front seat adjustment make it into production. The E-Latch door opening system is going to be a tough call on making it or not.

Emphasis should be on developing the Lincoln Drive Control and the suite of active safety features. In this segment, these features sell. If a vehicle can be safe and competent to drive, that just half the battle. The next step is to create a driving atmosphere that is partly-autonomous – such as active cruise control and forward collision mitigation with automatic braking and active lane departure system using the brakes and steering to keep the vehicle within the lines. One would also hope that the Lincoln Drive Control would not only have just adaptive steering, but a suspension system that strikes the perfect balance of a solid, comfortable ride and near-flat cornering through the curves.

There is a lot to ask for Lincoln on this Continental. Then again, there is a lot riding on it. By bringing back the name and creating an entirely new car with it is a huge gamble to take. For this to happen next year, Lincoln – and Ford – has to take a huge leap forward to accomplish this car.

Now that you have everyone's attention, "make it so."

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