A lot could be said about the return of the Continental nameplate, even before we get to the qualities of the actual concept on which it was bestowed. But one thing is certain: from its first use on a production vehicle some 76 years ago to its discontinuation back in 2002 after nearly 50 years of presence in the Lincoln line-up, it has always been a name synonymous with FoMoCo’s finest and a beacon to all enthusiasts of American luxury cars.
That being said, since the last attempt to bring the Continental into the next century, prospects and pundits alike have used the nameplate and what it stood for as a counter-point to Lincoln’s recent offerings and nomenclature. This year, at the New York International Auto Show, and after much (justified) clamoring, the brand is finally bringing back its beloved Contie. And it is packing some serious stylistic punch.
Have we met before?
The one thing that has to be faced upfront is, precisely, the car’s front fascia. As a company looking to improve its standing and recapture lost sales, Lincoln has reinvented its corporate identity many times over the last decade or so: from the 1961-inspired grilles introduced in 2002 on the Continental concept, to the controversial 2007 “Bow wave” design reminiscing of the 1939 Continental, all the way to the current and original split-wing grille theme introduced in 2012.
Each time, the brand faced criticism for either being too retro, too distinctive, or too gimmicky. In its latest iterations, the split-wing theme had seemed to redeem itself: the MKC and then MKX crossovers introduced different textures and headlight bezels that gave more presence to their front fascias and reinforced Lincoln’s unique identity within FoMoCo.
Then came this Continental Concept. The press release mentions “the new face of Lincoln”, which is literally the argument used in each of the aforementioned design (r)evolutions. The difference being that, this time, you hardly hear any objections: the key is, in my opinion, that it is much more conservative than previous designs, in fact probably as sure a bet as the “Shield” design was during the 1990s. As such, it eschews its status of premium entry-luxury outsider and reaches directly to the core of a traditional, conservative segment: full-on luxury.
In itself, this new design language is not a throwback to any previous vehicle. That, before anything else, is what makes it work. It cannot be judged in the light of a previous identity’s success or failure as its predecessors were. Some could say that it precisely means it could be any car’s face, but that would only be true if the design could not otherwise stand on its own. And this one can.
Lines are conservative, just as Lincolns of yore were: except this time instead of conforming to American luxury standards, offering buyers what they want means going against a much more international set of competitors and market habits shaped by decades of successful European and Japanese imports.
This time, the grille is a vertical, stand-up element, as opposed to the horizontally laid-out design found on the current Lincoln line-up. It is not quite as temple-like as the Rolls-Royce grilles were in the 1970s and 1980s, but it still works to provide the car with a stately appearance and counter-balance the sloping hood. Though it will probably not make it to the production version (or maybe only as an option), the grille texture is also very interesting: while it may look like a thick chrome mesh from afar, it is in fact a pattern reproducting the contour of the Lincoln emblem. Interestingly enough, Lincoln has been distilling this pattern in its interiors for a few years now, using it to spruce up storage areas for instance. This easter-egg of a leitmotiv proves easier to use than the whole logo while still carrying a familiar theme around the vehicle and underline a cohesive identity.
For the first time in many years, the large Lincoln logo is also set right within the grille, instead of being framed by twin grille inserts. And yet, it pops out and catches the onlooker’s eye: not only is it because the texture of the grille highlights its outline, but also thanks to the grille’s lower part. A set of chrome lips plants the grille insert into the front fascia, but also serve to reveal a raised section of the bumper, which acts as a pedestal of sorts. You would be excused if you saw a hint of a hood ornament in there!
By comparison, the lower portion of the car, from the wheels to the bumper assembly are very tame, save for a chromed skirt that goes all around the vehicle. Daytime running lights and lower air intakes are only underlined by thin stripes of chrome, which makes the car appears particularly wide.
This leaves a lot of room for the headlights to stand out, and once again this is a rather serious departure from recent designs. All new Lincolns since the 2012 MKZ concepts had worked very intricate headlight arrangements into their front fascias, going as far as mixing the texture of the grille with the bezel’s inside trim. Just recently, the production version of the MKX crossover introduced on higher trim levels a matrix-type unit using technology close to that found on Audis, and looking very much like an intricate piece of jewelry. Here, again, designers went with a conservative choice: it is still very advanced technologically speaking, using full LED matrix-type lamps, but arranged in five independent pods, each shaped like the Lincoln star.
This is not unlike what can be found on recent Acuras, where they provide a particularly distinctive look as well as powerful illumination. Actually, the light-up sequence is also similar to Acura’s: each quarter of the Lincoln star lights up individually to emphasize the number of components – you can find the video in the links below.
If you take a step back, more lines come into focus. A strong character line goes down the middle of the hood (probably one of the only carryover features on the whole car!), and a powerdome of sorts highlights strong recessed fenders which provide a strong stance and classic proportions. That is when the grille really takes its place: lines from the hood, fenders and bumper meet along its contours to make it stand forward, while the slightly convex grille insert helps make the car look ready to pounce forth.
The right profile for the job:
If you follow the swoopy fenders to the sides, you find another very clean expression of what makes a modern luxury four-door sedan. A good deal of work has been done to emphasize the long wheelbase, especially thanks to details like the concealed door handles (deemed “e-latch”, they are pop-out units located of all places in the chrome beltline moulding), which will most likely not make it into production.
But most of all, your eye will follow the upward swing of the headlights’ inner light tube, up the curve of the fender, past the long chromed “Continental” nameplate that replaces the MKS’s inset Lincoln star, and all the way down the character line running right under the beltline. This “spear” is not as dramatic as Buick’s, especially when it comes to the kick-up by the rear door and fender. It is more like a gentle reminder of the Continental Mark II’s own profile, but blended in with the help of classical cues taken from pre-War models.
Although we do not know exactly the specifics of the car’s platform, the entire design helps the car appear wider than it probably would otherwise be: the beltline as such, where the windows are set, appears recessed from the car’s track and stance. But instead of matching the two through convex slab-sides like those of the MKS, haunches and strong fenders give a lot more character to the Continental.
Speaking of greenhouse, that is also one of the most conservative aspects of the Continental’s looks. No intricate or fussy real six-window lay-out here, as large windows follow a thin but gently arching roofline that is almost canopy-like in its symetry between front and rear. Up above, a large panoramic glass roof extends the windscreen up past the front seats, and promises the same kind of electrochromatic technology offered on high-end Mercedes limousines and Rolls-Royces.
A lasting presence:
Although the Continental is built for comfort rather than speed, one can probably expect it to whisk away celebrities and politicians from the bore of a never-ending appointment. And when it does, the car’s athletic and luxurious tail is what will provide a lasting impression.
From the rear, the car’s wide haunches are the most apparent. Seen straight on, it is as if the rear wheels framed the rear seats rather than support them: that is reinforced by the way the car’s profile tapers, especially when it comes to the trunklid’s opening as it comes sloping down from the rear window. As up front, the rear’s clean design is barely disturbed by quad exhaust tips set within the chromed rear skirt.
The full-width taillamp unit is probably the only other feature that, along with the hood, ties the Continental to the rest of Lincoln’s current line-up. When turned off, the tail lights appear as if they were chrome plated. When turned on, they shine a gentle shade of red, which is then highlighted by the chrome element. In terms of outline, it follows that of the MKC crossover but inverted, to allow the the trunk lid to stop flat against the unit – this also provides the car with a rather serious appearance and draws the eye down and out, once again emphasizing the width of the vehicle.
Conclusion: “Quiet luxury”.
The interior of the Continental Concept is sumptuous enough that we’ll review it separately, but the exterior design already scores big points on the luxury front. Lincoln calls this identity “quiet luxury”, which offers a counterpoint to their 2010-ish motto of “smart luxury”. Indeed, when you think about it, luxury is always smart, whichever sense of the term you refer to. But it is not always quiet, as many manufacturers demonstrate in their concept cars or production vehicles. And that is why Lincoln hits a home run with this one: like the buyer it targets, the new Continental appears understated at first glance, but full of luxurious details.
How much of it will make production? FoMoCo executives called it a “strong hint” and Lincoln itself refers to it as a “vision for Lincoln’s future full-size sedan to come next year” so it is safe to say we are in for a good surprise.
- Lincoln Continental Concept, at Lincoln.com
- Exterior B-roll footage, headlight sequence at the 0:55 mark, at Lincoln.com