Ford Motor Company has long struggled to reclaim the pizazz that made its luxury marque, Lincoln, among the most beautiful nameplates of the mid-century. It’s a storied brand that dates back to Henry Ford’s son, Edsel Ford, who had a very different philosophy than his strictly-business father. Edsel, not Henry, founded the Detroit Institute of Arts. He led the company’s efforts to build a war arsenal in World War II. He commissioned the first Lincoln Continental concept as his personal car to show off on his 1939 Florida vacation. Edsel set the tone for a Hollywood-style glamour takeover of the auto industry: Elvis Presley, Liz Taylor, and Frank Sinatra all owned Lincoln Continental Mark IIs. But the trouble for Lincoln is that outside of the ‘90s-era Navigator, it’s never recovered any sense of that old-school swagger. The Continental itself faded out of production, a shadow of its glory days, in 2002.
But you’ve got to give it to the Lincoln brand for not giving up. Lincoln reintroduced the Continental as a concept at the New York International Auto Show last spring — an old trick of using nostalgia to reposition the brand’s flagship for a tenth generation. And for the most part, it worked. Critics (including The Verge) were impressed by its souped-up surface architecture and unusually plush interior that included Gershwin-inspired “Rhapsody Blue” seats.
Now, we have the production version of the car.
At the LA Auto Show, we saw some of Continental’s promised DNA trickle out on the refreshed Lincoln MKZ — particularly its gleaming grille, which is a market improvement on the ‘stache-like front end we’ve grown accustomed to on recent model.
I first glimpsed the production vehicle in December at a New York studio, where I noticed distinct compromises as the Continental made the transition from dreamy show car to the challenge of real world specs and regulations. On the exterior, the Continental grille does indeed gleam, striking an even balance between chrome and good taste and helping to compensate for the more conservative lines on the car. What the Continental has lost in production form is some of its exterior presence as a stately full-sized sedan. Its silhouette is a familiar one — and won’t stand out from the average sedan in its market segment. (But we’re happy to report they’ve kept the trick e-latch door handles — touch-sensitive protrusions just below the windows — that clean up the appearance of the door panels and stand out visually.)
Where Lincoln plays its strongest game is on the Continental’s interior, a zone where the company has gone to great strides to help you kick back. This is a Lincoln built to be more comfortable than a Sleep Number mattress. We mean this in the best possible way: Lincoln wants to give you a luxury sedan that lulls you. In practical terms, Lincoln has done this by using acoustically laminated glass and active noise reduction. Perhaps there is a hidden strategy here on the road to self-driving — why do any work behind the wheel when you can max and relax?
Lincoln has also taken its time with materials, and used better quality leather and wood on its surfaces that we’ve also noticed in the MKC and MKX crossovers. The car we saw in New York included the optional panoramic sunroof that makes the interior feel more spacious. When we rested on the seats with 30 available settings, we felt like taking a nap. (Quiet, please.)
After spending time in and around this car, it’s clear that Lincoln has been looking around, weighing heavy on customer research and eyeballing ultra-luxury makers like Bentley and Mercedes-Benz’s stylized treatment on the S Class. And keep in mind, luxury sedans with roomy backseats are especially appealing in China, where Lincoln hopes to make the biggest inroads with this car.
The definition of "luxury" varies from brand to brand
The definition of "luxury" varies from brand to brand, but for Lincoln customers, I’d venture to say the latest CES-style technology does not rank high on their wishlist. To that end, the company has responded with a car steeped in market research: see the return to traditional knobs after Lincoln’s touch-sensitive controls backfired, for instance. Still, Lincoln does manage to squeeze in a bunch of sensors that speak to an automated future, including pre-collision braking, pedestrian detection, and a 360-degree camera system. Used with imaging from 180-degree side mirrors, the parking driver will feel as if a drone is taking a photo from above. It will also offer optional adaptive cruise control, which adjusts the car’s speed based on data from surrounding traffic.
Where Lincoln gets a little more aggressive is under the hood, even without the availability of a V-8 option like you might expect for a car of this size. Instead, the Continental’s top-of-the-line engine is a new 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 that produces 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. Lincoln promises an all-wheel drive option and torque vectoring to beef up its ride and handling. It also has the ability to operate in comfort, normal, and sport modes, a very European approach.
The Lincoln flagship sedan will be made in Michigan and goes on sale this fall.