When Lincoln announced it was dropping all of its sedans, the automaker pointedly excluded the Chinese market from that plan. If the new Lincoln Zephyr Reflection Concept is any indication of what the luxury brand has in store for China, then, U.S. motorists come out on the short end.
What Lincoln refers to as a “preview car” makes its debut at this week’s Shanghai Auto Show. As the name suggests, the Lincoln Zephyr Reflection returns in production form in less than a year. But it will be sold “solely” in China, the brand stressed.
“Lincoln’s strategy for growth in China is firmly rooted in our deep understanding of the discerning Chinese consumer,” said Joy Falotico, president 0f the Lincoln Motor Co. And the fact is that Chinese buyers have not gone nearly as SUV-crazy as their American counterparts.
“Their desire for sedans is the inspiration behind this progressive and distinctive vehicle for China and underscores our commitment to the China market,” she said.
What’s in a name?
The Zephyr name has strong significance for Lincoln, the original model conceived by Edsel Ford, son of the Ford Motor Co. founder, and brought to market in 1936. It helped rebuild the struggling marque but production ended in 1942, as the U.S. entered World War II. The nameplate returned in 2006 as part of a planned revival of the once again-struggling Lincoln brand. It was then renamed MKZ as part of an ill-conceived change in Lincoln’s product nomenclature.
The sedan ended production last year, as did the bigger Lincoln flagship, the Continental.
Put them side-by-side and you’d have a hard time recognizing they come from the same company. The tall, stout Continental was meant to give Lincoln an imposing presence but, as less-than-impressed critics frequently suggested, it was dowdy and largely uninspiring. The Zephyr Reflection, by contrast, seems low, sleek and aggressively commanding.
About the only thing they have in common, beyond the Lincoln badge is the use of the marque’s “hexagonal bean” grille – which is meant to echo the shape of that badge.
The Zephyr isn’t meant to replace the Continental, it is smaller and carries a very different visual weight. Starting
up front, the low, wide grille is bisected by a narrow chrome bar and framed by almost invisibly thin LED headlamps.
Twin creases, low rocker panels, blackout pillars and other flourishes all come together to make Zephyr seem to hug the roadway without giving up its overall gravitas. If trying to find a competitive offering that it most closely resembles, one might point to the Audi A7. Not bad company to be in.
If the Zephyr retains any familiar Lincoln cues it’s at the big end with its high spoiler lip.
An impressive interior
Lincoln designers didn’t slack off when working up the sedan’s interior. They’ve gone with a strikingly high-tech feel that begins with an instrument cluster that seamlessly integrates a wall of digital displays running from pillar to pillar.
The infotainment system introduces a new human-machine interface, or HMI, that Lincoln calls Constellation. It’s “inspired by the night sky,” Lincoln suggested in a news release while offering nothing on how it actually works — other than suggesting it has three themes: Normal, Sport and Zen.
The steering wheel uses two-tone leather to give it a squared off, almost yoke-like appearance. But the overall feel of the cabin is meant to reinforce Lincoln’s “Quiet Flight” design DNA.
Lincoln appears to be saving most hard details about the Zephyr for the launch of the production model. Up front, we see large air intakes below the front bumper but whether they’re functional and needed for what motivates the sedan remains to be seen.
The automaker also introduced the plug-in version of the Corsair SUV in Shanghai this week. With China’s regulators pressing manufacturers to boost sales of PHEVs and all-electric models, few would be surprised if Lincoln offers an electrified version of the Zephyr when it reaches market by next year.