Intercontinental Style: Continental Concept Showcases Lincoln's new Face, Engine, and Commitment to China
The iconic name is back, the split-wing grille is gone, and to answer your first question: No, it’s almost certainly not rear-wheel drive.
The official response from Lincoln‘s PR team goes something like this: “This is a concept; we’re not talking platform architecture at this stage.” They are happy to confirm that a new turbocharged, 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6, exclusive to Lincoln, will power the production Continental.
But that’s just a bit of misdirection when confronted with the return of such a historic nameplate on a concept so dripping with potential. It’s impossible not to gaze upon its long lines and curves, the position of the greenhouse, atop yards of chrome and Rhapsody Blue paint, and imagine …
If you were Lincoln’s design director, tasked with creating the car that would again wear the iconic Continental badge, how far would you take it? As far as you could, right?
If the design brief even hinted at rear-wheel drive, you would leave no doubt. You’d send the windshield back and draw a hood as long and shimmering as a reflecting pool. There would be a country mile between that polished Continental fender badge and the Lincoln stars centering the front wheels.
And while the concept impresses with sculpted haunches and a rakish profile, the answer lies in the space at the bow. While the dash-to-axle ratio of the concept is just long enough to suggest room for the 3.0-liter EcoBoost to be mounted longitudinally, the intentional understatement of this proportion is clear: The production Continental will be front- or all-wheel drive.
That production car — in fact, all Lincolns going forward — will also bear a version of this new face, as the split-wing grille soars into the history books. As Continentals go, the new mug has international cues and intent. The upright posture and chrome ring around the deeply set mesh recall Jaguar, but the plinth (as the Lincoln design team calls it) that supports the Lincoln badge recalls Kia‘s tiger maw, though half as toothy. “This new face gives confidence; it puts the face of Lincoln where it needs to be for future expansion,” says David Woodhouse, Lincoln’s design director.
And where the Lincoln most needs to expand is China, a country where large, chauffeur-driven luxury sedans are king. “The proportion is really essential to what we do,” says Woodhouse. “The line of the car is very special. The gesture of the car is very upper-scale; it’s very confident. It’s not trying too hard. The way it sits and is settled in the back end gives it the big-car, luxury feel.”
It also gives it the look of a certain British luxury carmaker that also has a Continental in its lineup, which is no bad thing. But the lighting sequence is pure American drama. Approach the car, smart key in hand, and the large Lincoln star in the grille fades on, followed by the LED tubes in the headlamps and foglamps. Last to light up are the five LED “ice-cubes,” which are also shaped like miniature Lincoln stars, in each headlamp. Various laws will prevent the light-up badge from making it to production, but Woodhouse says the other parts of the welcome sequence are being evaluated.
The full-width rear taillamps, a Lincoln signature, have a similar fade-on sequence, which, like the pulsing ignition button, are meant to give life and warmth to the concept.
The attention to detail continues from the quad tailpipes around to the 21-inch wheels. “Every manufacturer does flats around the wheel cuts,” says Woodhouse, pointing to the flattened portion of the wheel arch. “Ours have S-cuts, and in here you get light puddling and reflection — more attention than you get on any other car.”
Large swaths of chrome run around the car at rocker level, giving the appearance that the lower body was partially dipped in chrome. Woodhouse says this brightwork accentuates the horizontal and breaks up the volume of the sides, which you many notice are devoid of door handles.
The replacements are four chromed wings sprouting from the beltline that are elegant in look and operation. Lincoln calls the system “E-latch,” and the doors release via a push button under each upturned wing. Rear ingress is further facilitated by door hinges that open to nearly 90 degrees. Yes, rear-opening suicide doors were evaluated, but the Lincoln team had other plans. “We have a long-travel hinge, and what you end up with is a very large ingress opening that quite frankly is superior to the suicide door in terms ingress,” says Woodhouse.
“We put a lot of emphasis on a very large opening for this back seat because this has so much emphasis, not only in the U.S. but for our China market. It’s really important that we have a really spacious back seat,” said Mike Celentino, Lincoln’s chief program engineer.
Says Woodhouse: “The Rhapsody Blue really leads us from the exterior to the interior. It’s ‘tone-on-tone,’ or monochromatic modernism, an incredibly modern way to do luxury these days.” His team also focused on a sensory progression throughout the cabin. “The softest materials are at the bottom,” he says, gesturing at the soft wool carpet carpeting. Soft suede and yards of cool chrome are close at hand, but there is an interesting flourish overhead: a silk-covered headliner with a hint of woven shine that’s firm to the touch.
Push a few buttons, and the front passenger seat slides forward as the rear seatback reclines and a lower leg support rises up. Push a few more, and a thick-mirrored tray the size and shape of a King James Bible rises up from the center console and rotates over your thigh as if by magic. Opening it reveals a small touchscreen for watching movies or controlling the climate and infotainment systems. Just behind your left elbow is a champagne refrigerator and a cubby for the thick-stemmed, custom flutes, matched to two different sets of cupholders: one for when the vehicle is parked and another for when it’s moving. Two leather-bound, zippered compartments on the front seatbacks pop off lugs and hidden magnetic clasps to become slim attaché cases.
Front occupants are spoiled, as well; the concept boasts seats that are heated and cooled and adjustable 30 ways, thanks to 11 air bladders strategically placed in the seat cushion and all the way up the seatback to shoulder level. Winged sections suspended by elastomeric fingers sprout from the seat back and cushion. These wings gently cradle your love handles, latissimus, and shoulder areas in a passive, not a mechanical or air-bladder-supported, grip. A cutline about a third of the way into the seat cushion allows air bladders to independently support the right and left thigh. This articulation was added based on research Ford engineers performed on the leg position of occupants while riding and driving.
Look up to see the sky through an electrochromic sunroof. If you’ve flown on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, you’ve seen this technology in the windows, replacing the sunshades. Woodhouse says Lincoln would love to do the same for the windows in future cars as a way to eliminate the complicated shutters and drapes found across all of saloondom. “This is much neater. It could be on the back window, the side windows … imagine the top portion of the windshield darkening to block the sun,” says Woodhouse.
The electrochromic sunroof, attaché cases, and hideaway computer are all for show, but the spiral-drilled mesh speaker covers are not. They’re part of the 19-speaker Revel Ultima audio system, installed on the concept to kick off the 10-year exclusive deal between Lincoln and Harman, the makers of Revel.
And despite all the noise and chrome, Woodhouse and Lincoln’s president Kumar Galhotra hope you understand why they brought back the Continental name and who they are targeting.
“Continental was derived from intercontinental style,” Woodhouse says. “It was very important that it was informed from around the globe. It wasn’t purely American. It was a global feeling.”
“It’s such an iconic name, but it is a very, very modern car,” Galhotra says. “The emphasis overall for this vehicle is quiet luxury. And by quiet, I mean quietness in all aspects, not just NVH. NVH is important, but in attitude and in beauty, in interior, all of it to create a space for the customers … a serene place, a sanctuary. That name is so well-associated with the best of Lincoln, the next logical step for us was to create this flagship sedan that offers the best of Lincoln.”
Says Galhotra: “It lives up to the Continental name. And that name is huge in China.”