A few days ago, we reviewed Lincoln’s latest show car, the MKC Concept. Chosen to represent the brand for its Chinese debut, it took the acclaimed recipe that gave us the Concept and production versions of the MKC luxury crossover and turned up the heat a notch with a sporty design that should prove very successful.
But, just a few years ago, Lincoln tried the same recipe with another critically acclaimed concept of a sporty yet stylish crossover vehicle. Why didn’t it fly? We’ll talk about it some other time but it can basically be explained by a gap between a great concept that was a little early in terms of packaging (riding the wave of crossovers before that of SUVs fully died out) and an otherwise very capable production vehicle that had not much to do with it and didn’t wear its cues as well.
So, today, we’ll go back in time to study the original Lincoln sports crossover: the 2008 MKT Concept.
The first thing one notices is the controversial “bow-wave” grille. In fact, the Lincoln MKT concept was the one that confirmed the use of this design identity for the brand, on the heels of the stunning 2007 Lincoln MKR concept and alongside the then-new 2009 Lincoln MKS production sedan. Still, the MKT Concept probably also confirms the potential of that design: while production vehicles have to make-do with defined hard-points and air intake requirements which can make the flowing grille too wide and too tall, the MKT Concept wears it exceptional well thanks to a squared-off and sculpted front end.
First off, the Lincoln star logo draws your eye to the center of the car thanks to its sheer size but also thanks to a very strong character line that appears between the two elements of the lower air intake but really gathers strength after running through the Star. The way it divides the entire length of the hood is reminiscent of both classic cars of the pre-War era and aerodynamics, linking both eras as if the MKT Concept was cutting through the wind and the contours of the Lincoln star got carried onto the sheet metal.
Once your eye has gathered the idea of height and movement conveyed there, it is drawn to the width of the car thanks to the grille and lower air intakes carving out the bumper. Here, the grille is closer to that of the MKR Concept than to that of any production vehicle that followed: the angles are sharp yet its overall outline is rounded and flowing into the sides of the vehicle, the number of bars is limited and their design is visually lightened by a two-tone treatment. Indeed, the outer edge is finished in polished chrome and the inside in a duller metallic finish.
Most interestingly, the grille continues well under the headlights, which are slim and dynamically styled. The intricate dual main element rests nestled into the sharp outer angle of the grille, counter-balanced by a wide strip of LEDs placed inwards to house the amber turn-signals. This particularly aggressively styled headlight assembly sets the tone for the overall design of the vehicle and are highlighted by wide haunches linking them to the rest of the front fenders.
Down on the lower part of the front fascia, two wide air intakes are circled by a wide chrome blade that loops around the outer openings and go meet the initial character line in the middle of the bumper.
Overall, it’s a very cohesive design that avoids the pitfalls that a big and bold grille can create: well-proportioned and dynamic, it does convey the idea of a ship fending the waves at high speeds, as envisioned by Peter Horbury, and to me represents the best application of that particular design.
A Stately Profile
If you walk to the sides of the vehicle, you realize designers have managed to work a lot of distinctively Lincoln design cues into an overall pretty clean package. First thing we notice is that the profile too is forward-biased and shaped by the wind: the roof line accentuates the front of the vehicle and gently arches to the back.
Then comes one of the most interesting features of the MKT concept, and probably one of the all-time trademarks of Peter Horbury and his teams: the two-level belt line, which creates haunches that run the length of the vehicle, highlighting the width, reducing the height and reflecting light in a very interesting manner. The upper line originates above the headlights, and meets the outline of the side windows. The lower line happens to circle the entire vehicle, starting under the lower air intakes on the front bumper, rising up next to the grille in a curve parallel to the front wheel wells, runs on the sides and outlines the rear tail light assembly before dropping down to mark the contour of the rear bumper.
As seen on other cars designed by Horbury, this gives relief and depth to sides that would be otherwise be slab-like, and it also creates a “second” outer outline for the car: instead of following the actual outlines of the vehicle, the ones closest to the ground, your eye is that way tricked into thinking the car is more svelte than it actually is.
Two interesting features provided by these haunches are also the slim pedestal side-view mirrors, which are set between the two belt lines and of course the “Continental” kick featured on the rear doors and which raises the entire belt line up a notch, in the purest Lincoln tradition dating back to the Continental Mark II and popularized by the 1961+ Lincoln Continental sedan.
In addition to being a historical marker, this “kick” upwards adds drama to the profile and reduces the length the roofline and C-pillar have to go to meet the body of the vehicle, meaning a higher rear window. Meanwhile, most of the side windows can still enjoy greater height and increased outward visibility. They are also framed by a chrome moulding that up front sets into the front fenders and out back spreads out in a chrome blade almost as thick as the third window. All together, the strong C-pillar and short third window soften the profile of the MKT Concept, as if that part of the vehicle effectively did not have to face the resistance of wind.
Also of interest are the Lincoln stars set into the front fenders, and which were already features on the 2006 MKS and 2007 MKR concepts. Here, and just like the Lincoln logo up front, they provide the starting point to a very strong character line that runs almost the whole length of the front door, following the belt line. While also conveying the idea of a shape sculpted by wind, from the sides and thanks to their chrome highlights they also remind us of the trail of a comet or maybe a star
Finally, down by the side skirts, two forward- and down-canted character lines also lessen the visual height of the vehicle, running parallel, or almost parallel after a certain point, to the belt lines as well as the character lines coming from the side logos. They also work to lessen the height of the vehicle and merge at the rear into the rear fascias, along with the rest of the design.
The rear fascia of the Lincoln MKT Concept is, in my opinion, one the best designs the brand came up with in the past few years: there is something quintessentially American about full-width tail lights. Actually, together with the “Continental” kick on the rear fenders, the rear fascia seems like an almost retro answer to the modernity of the front fascia, as if the lines softened along the sides of the car before joining the gentle curves of the rear light assembly.
Highlighted in neon-like tubes that throw us back to the 1997 Mark VIII LSC coupe, or the more recent 2004 Aviator Concept and 2007 MKX, their soft red glow is highlighted by a thick chrome band which mirrors the curve of the belt lines and houses the Lincoln name, embossed.
The rear fascia is also divided in its center by the same character line that we encountered on the hood, but again much softer and tamer here. It goes through a Lincoln start logo housed on a gloss black panel that offers a subtle contrast with the burgundy tone of the rear light bezels. Thanks to the curve of the inside of the rear lights and a dip in the sheet metal, the Star is once again proudly showcased for drivers following the MKT.
Finally, the lines that started by the side skirts meet on the rear bumper to create a separate lower section, which house a contrasted diffuser and two large chrome trapezoidal integrated exhaust outlets. To round up the package, a set of 14-spoke wheels with chrome accents planted the MKT on the ground, their recessed center giving them a turbine-like appearance when moving.
All in all, and although lines appear softer than upfront, they all work to emphasize the width and stance of the vehicle. The small rear window and reduced hatchback opening all remind us of much sportier cars than a mid- to full-size crossover, and the attention to detail in the light assembly and intricacy of body lines tell us that, back then, crossovers were surely thought fit to replace personal coupes.
Inside, it is all in the details
In the recent past, the Lincoln MKC Concept is arguably the car that has gotten Lincoln the most praise for its interior design, thanks to high-quality materials and exclusive detailing. And yet, back in 2008, the Lincoln MKT Concept set the bar really high, in part thanks to soft, white leather throughout and polished chrome trim.
Although minimalistic in appearance, the design of the cockpit reveals futuristic elements: first off, the windscreen flows seamlessly into the panoramic roof, leaving only an overhead console to obstruct the view of passengers… and even then as little as possible. Indeed, the overhead console itself opens into a sunroof-like window, revealing its necessity to the rigidity of the vehicle. Still, if the entertainment provided by the outdoors is not enough, it also houses a retractable screen to watch your favourite kind of man-made panoramas.
Sporting a 2+2 design, the MKT Concept pampered both the front and rear passenger in integrated seats built around a free-standing shell. Out back, they even offered reclining and electrically deployed extensions for the passengers’ legs.
Up front, seat chassis were trimmed in chrome (like in the olden days) and a free-flowing console running the length of the cockpit was practically devoid of any mechanical operations: a vertical, tablet-like touch screen at the top of the center console controlled the usual HVAC functions as well as infotainment. When asleep, this system would reduce the center stack to classy, piano-black insert framed by a strip of polished chrome embossed at the top with the Lincoln name.
Finally, a number of very particular details must be showcased: first, and if you look closely, the free-standing arm rests on the door panels and sill plates are designed like fine silverware, with an assortment of dot-matrix curves and shapes. Down in the driver’s foot well, the bottom-hinged pedals are reminiscent of air planes and seem cast from a solid piece of metal that was then carved into two distinct elements. Above, the steering wheel’s inner trim ring is finished in polished chrome, along with control stalks.
Most importantly, the gauge cluster is literally as luxurious as jewellery, featuring brushed metals as well as bevelled and sculpted glass that lights up in a pretty dramatic fashion thanks to several “tunnels” of light carved above each mark on the speedometer. That is seriously the kind of craftsmanship you otherwise find on Aston Martins and other speciality makes.
That is definitely the kind of attention to detail that is expected from Lincolns!
Conclusion: A Visitor from the Future?
As it turned out, the MKT Concept was a showcase of the brand’s new identity and technological choices, as it predicted the generalization of the bow-wave grille and the upcoming release of the twin-turbo V6 in the 2010 MKS sedan and 2010 production MKT. It went so far as ditching the unique and daring “Twin Force” name featured on the MKR in favour of the more eco-friendly and politically correct “EcoBoost” shared with the Ford product line.
Still, in more ways than one, the MKT Concept seemed like a visitor from the future. First, it told us of the importance of the crossover market in the luxury segment, as prospects were trying to ditch their gaz-guzzling full-on SUVs for vehicles that retained the appearance of an SUV yet worked on the mechanicals of a personal car. Maybe was it a little early?
Second, and that is probably what strikes me the most with this Concept, is how close it resembles the newly minted 2014 MKX Concept. If you exclude the ups and downs of design in Lincoln’s production vehicles since 2008, and just compare the two show cars, you will find a number of similarities, yet expressed differently, like cousins of different generations on the same family tree.
Up front, the way the headlights work their way into the grille and the way the lower air intakes works to define the bumper along a dividing, central character line. On the sides, the way the shape hinted at a vehicle that sliced its way through the air, with worked side skirts and strong character lines, all the way to a mere hint of a “Continental” upkick on the new MKX that debuted in Beijing. Out back, a strong, wide stance with a slanted hatch and full-width tail lights. Inside, the free-standing center console, with a chromed outline and tablet-like interface. Even the craftsmanship on the door handles and door sills remind us of the designs found on the seats of the MKC Concept for instance (do note that the interior of the MKC Concept has not been revealed at this time).
In conclusion, it feels like the MKT Concept carried, even back then, the answers Lincoln needed to give to the luxury buyer. And yet, it also feels like the ground breaking, unique ideas of the designers and artists of Lincoln (including the immensely talented Peter Horbury) could not translate into exclusive products for people to actually buy. Luckily, that was back then, when FoMoCo was busy saving its main line with extensive restructuring, back when Lincoln were just coming out of the Premier Auto Group debacle.
Today, it seems like Ford is turning its full attention on Lincoln, and the warm welcome given to the MKX Concept in Beijing lets us think that this time the ideas of Lincoln designers will meet the requirements of product planners and marketers. I feel like, in 2014, we picked up where the 2008 Lincoln MKT Concept left us.