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Lincoln Continental Concept accurately points to production car launching in 2016. For more images click on the small arrow at top right. (Lindsay Brooke)

China luxury market requirements drive new Lincoln Continental design, engineering

“This concept is a strong indication of what the production model will look like,” said Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields, at the New York media introduction of the Lincoln Continental concept on March 29. “It’s the ‘next chapter’ of Lincoln.”

In development for two years, the all-wheel-drive Continental is scheduled to enter production in 2016 on Ford’s CD4 flexible architecture that underpins Taurus and is engineered to support AWD and FWD drivelines, according to a key supplier involved with the program. The Continental debuts a bold new design language for Ford’s premium brand. Gone is Lincoln’s signature “waterfall” split-grill front end. Inside, the Continental’s enormous and sumptuous rear-passenger cabin area was defined by requirements in the booming China luxury market, where discriminating owners are driven in chauffeur fashion rather than driving themselves.

The car’s overall form and details are so bold, in fact, that the concept seemed to catch off-guard most of the reporters assembled for the car’s unveiling in Manhattan. If placed in any Lincoln showroom today, the handsome and exquisitely trimmed Continental would immediately obsolete the rest of the current portfolio. It’s a significant directional statement by Lincoln Design Chief David Woodhouse.

“We have to move the brand forward and it can’t be with baby steps,” Fields asserted. “Lincoln is truly core to our growth plans.” He noted that sales of luxury vehicles are responsible for about 33% of the industry’s profits.

Ford’s $5B investment in Lincoln’s rejuvenation is aimed at tripling volume from the 100,000 units produced in 2014 within the next few years. It is also providing dedicated design and engineering resources, as well as technology features, to support Lincoln’s ambitions to become a global premium player that is decoupled, in the public’s eye, from the Blue Oval.

“We’re very focused on how customers experience the vehicle—and how we deliver that experience will be unique to Lincoln,” said Kumar Galhotra, the Lincoln President and formerly Ford’s Vice President of Engineering and veteran Asia-Pacific product planning chief.

As examples, he listed the Continental’s new 30-way-adjustable seats; E-Latch door handles that open the doors by touch rather than by pulling and are integrated into the car’s upper beltline; Lincoln-exclusive 3.0-L EcoBoost V6; active noise cancellation; and its audiophile-quality Revel sound system (co-developed by Harman International in a 10-year-exclusive deal with Lincoln) as “technologies that will define the Lincoln Motor Car Co.”

The new seats use a new synthetic cushion material that contributes to structural strength. According to Scott Tobin, Director of Product Development, the seats were designed in house and have 50 patents either applied for by Lincoln or granted. They feature independently controlled left and right thigh supports to increase driver and passenger leg comfort particularly during long trips.

The car also will feature a tailored version of Ford’s 360° camera-and-radar-based parking-assist system. Another technology on the concept that is expected to make it to production is SPD SmartGlass, a product of Research Frontiers, Inc. SmartGlass is used in the concept’s tinting sunroof and allows passengers to control heat from ambient sunlight. Ford engineers say the glass can cool the cabin by as much as 18°F (10°C) while blocking 99% of UV rays.

But it’s that cavernous and posh rear-seat cabin that will most distinguish the new Continental from Lincoln’s current “large” sedan, the D3-based MKS that is scheduled for retirement within a year. Back-seat passengers are enveloped by high-fashion materials that tastefully juxtapose aromatic, buttery-texture animal hide (and convincing faux hides) and real wool carpet with polished metal accents.

“There is a balance we had to strike between creating the ‘driven’ car for China and more of a driver’s car for the North American market—and also for China,” Galhotra told Automotive Engineering. “It’s important for the Chinese customers who are being driven to have lots of space and all kinds of amenities—music, multi-adjustable seats—that they can control from the rear-seat area. But many of these luxury customers also want to go out and drive their cars themselves on weekends.

“It’s a young demographic, in their 30s and 40s, and many of them want an engaging vehicle as well as a comfortable, quiet, and effortless vehicle,” he noted. “That’s what we have to deliver.”

According to Galhotra, the Continental’s main competitors include the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, and Lexus GS—midrange sport-luxury rather than flagship products. The Lincoln appears to be sized between the global D- and E-segments (Ford has not yet released dimensions or other specifications).

He said a long-wheelbase version has been under investigation. 

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