The Lincoln Continental, once one of the most elegant and widely respected vehicles in the U.S. luxury market, is making its return. And the concept version set to make its first public appearance at the New York International Auto Show will return in production form next year, a senior Lincoln executive has advised TheDetroitBureau.com.
The show car version not only will introduce such luxury features as “laser-assist” high beams, but also will reveal what company officials are calling “the new face of Lincoln.”
“The concept is a pretty strong hint of what the production vehicle will look like,” Lincoln President Kumar Galhotra said during a Sunday night interview. The road-ready version, he added, will reach U.S. showrooms “sometime in the 2016 calendar-year.”
(New Lincoln concept will compete in NY with debut of all-new Cadillac flagship. Click Here for more on the CT6.)
The reborn Lincoln Continental will serve as the replacement for the outgoing MKS sedan, though it will move more up-market, in keeping with the traditional role the Continental played in the highline brand’s line-up.
The original Continental was developed as a one-off vehicle, the personal car for Edsel Ford, the son of Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford. It was designed by Eugene “Bob” Gregorie and made a splash when it was driven by the executive during a March 1939 vacation in Florida. Based on the production Lincoln Zephyr, it introduced several critical design cues, including the long hood, short trunk and external, covered spare tire, which became signatures of the Continental line for decades.
The Continental won so much praise – Edsel sending a telegram back to Detroit saying he could sell 1,000 of them – it was quickly put into production, the 1940 model largely being hand-assembled.
The flagship of the Lincoln brand went through a number of major changes over the years before the final, ninth-generation model debuted in 1995. It introduced a variety of new features and was one of the first luxury cars to allow an owner to program a variety of functions electronically. But it received mixed reviews, at best, and by 2002 was pulled from production.
A 2002 Lincoln Continental concept car picked up such retro cues as suicide doors but never made it into production.
The debut of the 2015 Lincoln Continental show car comes as the brand struggles to regain momentum after years of neglect. When it goes into production next year it will mark the final of four all-new models Lincoln promised to launch at the beginning of the decade. (A fifth, a heavily updated Navigator SUV, recently was introduced. The others are the smaller MKZ sedan, the compact MKC crossover and the MKX ute launching later this year.)
Visually, there are some classic design cues but the 2015 Lincoln Continental concept vehicle is no retro-mobile. Don’t expect to find a rear spare tire hump, for example.
Significantly, the show car’s design might be described as subtle, rather than the in-your-face look of the original Continental, Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields suggesting the goal for the new model was “simplifying and quietly exceeding expectations, rather than being the loudest statement on the road.”
Finished in Rhapsody Blue, a traditional Continental signature color, p erhaps the most obvious visual detail is the appearance of a new, centered chrome grille. It marks a distinct shift away from the “split wing” grille that the maker debuted with the MKZ show car at the January 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The design features a raised Lincoln badge surrounded by a series of repeating Lincoln star emblems done in polished aluminum.
“We’re showing the new face of Lincoln,” explained brand chief Galhotra, adding that it will appear on “future Lincolns,” with the split wing grille going away “over time,” as existing models are updated.
The new flagship opts for electric door releases which are almost hidden in the vehicle’s beltline. The new Continental concept features exterior lighting that activates automatically as you approach.
Up front, LED matrix headlamps are paired with laser-assist high beams that extend range significantly. The taillights are an unusual light-through-chrome technology that run virtually the entire width of the rear.
Inside, the new Continental concept gets Venetian leather for its seats and doors, with Alacantara inserts and trim, shearling wool carpet and satin headliner. The 30-way power front seats, Lincoln claims, can conform to the shape of each individual body, and the passenger seat can recline to a fully flat pose. A “smart glass” sunroof can, with the touch of a button, cool the vehicle interior, Lincoln claims, by as much as 18 degrees.
The new Continental will be powered by an exclusive, 3.0-liter V-6 version of the EcoBoost engine. Lincoln officials aren’t yet revealing specific power or fuel economy numbers. Also unsaid, they declined to discuss the layout of the new model. Until now, Lincoln has been opting for a front-drive strategy for its passenger models, with all-wheel-drive an option.
(Mercedes-Benz set to reveal new GLE sport-utility vehicle at 2015 NY Auto Show. Click Herefor a first look.)
Riding on 21-inch polished aluminum wheels, the Continental concept will get a number of advanced safety and comfort features, including Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, a 360-degree camera and the next-generation MyLincolnTouch system.
While the basic design will carry over into production, some of the more advanced features won’t – notably including the laser headlights, which have yet to be approved for street use by federal regulators.
Those familiar with recent Lincoln models will quickly note that, along with the big Navigator, the new Continental won’t use the controversial “MK” nomenclature followed by the rest of the line-up. But Galhotra stressed that it signals “no change” in strategy.
“The MK strategy,” he said, “is building equity. But the Continental and Navigator names have a lot of brand equity” and will be the only models” to use traditional names.
As Lincoln wraps up the roll-out of products first announced at the beginning of the decade, it has confirmed two more will be added. Though company officials won’t discuss details, sources indicate one will likely be a rear-drive coupe sharing platforms with the latest-generation Ford Mustang.
Beyond that, said Galhotra, “our focus is on getting to know our customers better…at a visceral level” to decide what additional products might follow in the Lincoln line-up.
(Lincoln tweaks that “new car smell” for Chinese customers. Click Here for the story.)