Lincoln Continental takes style cues from Jaguar

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Lincoln rolled out its production-ready, 2017 Continental flagship sedan at the Detroit auto show Tuesday morning, as Ford’s premium brand continues to redefine itself as an elegant, refined choice in the luxury market.

Wearing the “new face of Lincoln,” the Continental ditches the old, winged grille for Jaguar XF-like styling cues. But where the English brand and its athletic German peers — the BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-Class — command the most expensive prices in the midsize segment, the all-wheel-drive Lincoln will sticker below $50,000, while boasting XL proportions.

True to the Continental concept that debuted at last year’s New York Auto Show, the production model stands out for its best-in-class 30-way front seats, art deco Revel audio speakers, and roomy rear seats.

“Our customers want to experience the world effortlessly and seamlessly,” said Eric Turner, Lincoln brand manager.

The Continental resurrects a badge that Lincoln retired in 2002. It re-introduces Lincoln to the American market and the growing luxury sedan segment in China and the Middle East, where plush rear quarters are valued by chauffeur-driven executives. The Continental concept also appeared in the Shanghai and Dudai auto shows last year. Lincoln opened 33 new stores in China in 2015 and expects that number to grow to 60 this year.

Much as Ford looked to Aston Martin to give its mainstream Fusion sedan upscale looks, the Continental mirrors Jaguar’s classic fascia and sleek flanks, while maintaining Lincoln’s signature, horizontal taillamps. In addition to its nose job, the car is low and more athletic than the MKS model it replaces.

But the Lincoln’s distinguishing features begin on entry. When approached with the key fob, signature Continental front head-and-taillights glow, side mirrors shine Lincoln’s logo on the ground, and the doorhandles illuminate. Touch the raised handles and the door swings open effortlessly. Close it softly and an electric motor sucks the door back into place.

“This car is about attention to detail,” said Chief Program Engineer Mike Celentino. “We have 50 patents on the seat alone. We call it the ‘perfect-position seat.’ ”

With controls located on each door, the available 30-way thrones contain separate bladders for the upper and lower back as well as each thigh so that occupants can adjust the seat precisely to their body type. Other available features include a 19-speaker Revel audio system, open-pore wood highlights, and the full-length moon-roof that Lincoln pioneered.

Rear seat passengers can adjust the roof’s automatic shade as well as the front passenger seat for legroom.

Under the hood, the Continental sports three engine options: a base, 3.7-liter V-6, 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6, and a powerful, 3.0-liter twin-turbo six with 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. Built at Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly plant, the D-segment Continental shares a front-wheel-drive platform with the MKX crossover and Fusion sedan — but its standard AWD system will feature rear torque-vectoring for quicker handling.

Determined to balance elegance with technology, designer David Woodhouse said the Lincoln doesn’t “have tech for the sake of tech.” The sedan boasts no industry firsts in safety, but offers a cocoon of features including collision-assist forward radar, adaptive cruise control that can come to a stop, pedestrian-collision recognition, and auto-hold brakes.

Lincoln sales grew by 7 percent in 2015 on the strength of its MKC and all-new MKX sport utility vehicles. MKX sales grew by 77 percent alone, but the Continental sets the brand’s tone in design and image.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at hpayne@detroitnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne.