Design controversy: similar idea, or similar result?

Since the release of the 2015 Continental Concept at last month’s New York Auto Show, there has been a buzz on social media regarding whether or not the new Lincoln sedan was inspired by Bentley’s Flying Spur, and to some whether or not the former is actually a forged copy of the latter.

To be fair, when the Continental was revealed to the media the day before the Auto Show, many journalists and enthusiasts tried to tie its lines to another manufacturer’s influence – and they cannot really be blamed, given how much of a departure this Concept is compared to the current Lincoln line-up and even the last handful of concepts rolled out by the brand. Many saw influences from the Chrysler 300’s classic proportions, others saw British influence in the trim and details, while others saw the confidence of German sedans. Right off the bat, such buzz is a good thing: in 9 years, one concept and two production versions, the outgoing MKS was judged against its corporate cousins and not against the industry’s finest. Did it reveal a lack of imagination? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we think it is proof that the new Continental is fit to stand comparison against its strongest competitors, and, doing so, it elevates Lincoln as a whole.

But to some, it seems that there was more to the story. The ‘fracas’ (thanks to the BBC for the word’s renewed popularity) truly occurred when Luc Donckerwolke, Bentley’s chief designer, posted on his Lincoln counterpart’s own Facebook page this rather spirited zinger: “Do you want us to send the product tooling?”. Needless to say, the post was quickly removed but damage was done and the controversy remained, relayed by every news outlet covering the Auto Show. I am guessing there was also some discussion backstage on the auto show floor.

Was it justified? Once again, it is in the eye of the beholder but many commentators observed that Bentley’s style is rather a lack of distinct identity and instead a tasteful blend of traditional proportions, organic shapes and that they build their reputation on the quality of execution rather than the risks taken designing their cars. Which is perfectly fine. But it is not as if a manufacturer stole another manufacturer’s signature design language (which usually comes with a name, several concepts to show for it, etc.) – unlike what Jalopnik jokingly remarked at the opening of the Shanghai Auto Show it is no Chinese knockoff.

You can read more about the comments and David Woodhouse’s reaction in the link below. Also, for reference and to help you make up your mind, here a side-by-side comparison of what is “in” and current in the full-size luxury market these days:

From the front:



Lincoln’s Continental has a wide, low stance with a prominent grille and classic proportions. The front fascia is definitely unique, even within Lincoln, and the rear-fender kick-up can also be traced back to Continentals of 1956 and 1961.



Bentley’s Flying Spur shares the same stance, but has Bentley’s signature front fascia with waterfall grille and chromed mesh pattern. The sides are very clean, but also not particular to the Flying Spur.



Jaguar’s all-new XF has a dynamic grille with free-standing ornament, intricate headlights leading the eye up toward the wheel arches and a conservative profile.


Buick’s Avenir is just a concept but plays on the same proportions with fenders sitting lower than the sharply creased hood. It also works Buick’s “side spear” into the design, in a fashion similar to other competitors.




Kia’s K900 is interesting because coming from a mainstream manufacturers it reflects the latest trend: prominent grille, fender vents applique and rear fender “swoop” to lighten the car’s visual weight.



Although much sportier and more aggressive, Maserati’s Quattroporte sports the same classic proportions, prominent grille, fender vents and rear fender kick-up as its competitors.

And from the rear:

Lincoln Continental Concept


That is probably where discussions were the strongest, given the Continental’s limousine-like C-pillar and plunging and tapering rear fascia. But again, the stance is very conservative and the full-width tail light is definitely American.



The Flying Spur also has a plunging and tapering rear fascia but it appears narrower than the Lincoln’s and the upright design of the light arrangement is different from the Continental’s horizontal layout.


Jaguar’s XF does not have haunches or sculpted fenders, probably due to its rather compact packaging. We could have used the XJ as comparison but it openly shattered traditional British luxury traits to carve itself a niche against – you guess it, Bentley. 



Buick’s Avenir really plays on the car’s haunches to create a dramatic design reminiscent of pre-War automobiles. But once again, it shows that sculpted rear fenders are a great way to break up the length of a full-size luxury sedan and emphasize RWD proportions: even though the car may not be RWD!



The design of the Kia K900’s rear is not nearly as intricate as the other cars featured here but it still gives an idea of what proportions are “in” on today’s full-size luxury cars.



The Quattroporte’s rear is also very telling of this similarity among luxury sedans. A strong C-pillar is used here instead but the tail is wide and gives the car a strong presence thanks, again, to the sculpted fenders.


It is probably fair to say that Bentley’s response was a little bit exaggerated given the current state of the full-size luxury sedan. Also, the fact that people who liked the Flying Spur turned out disliking the Continental (and vice versa) also goes to show that the two cars are not that similar… when it comes down to what makes them unique. What also seems refreshing, as evidenced by the selection shown above, is that wherever the Continental may come from, it is definitely not aping the German competition with martial styling and sports-oriented details. Which, in turn, makes for a very interesting future because now more than ever, there may be a very clear distinction between Lincolns and Cadillacs!

See also:




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