Lincoln, Ford’s luxury brand, just revealed the production model of its Continental sedan at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show.
The car, in shimmering white, drives home Ford’s strategy for reviving the brand. And it shows that Lincoln is zigging where everyone else is zagging.
Unlike the rest of the industry, which is showing off bold designs, horsepower and technology — the Continental is characterised as “an elegant, effortlessly powerful, serene full-size sedan that delivers quiet luxury to the industry’s most discerning customers.”
It’s because, for the people Lincoln wants to sell cars to, the Continental was never a numbers game.
Executives say that in focus groups, the specs never really came up.
I used to knock Lincoln for not having a rear-wheel drive options, something that BMW, Mercedes, and Cadillac consider the price of entry for the luxury market. But Lincoln is satisfied to go with all-wheel-drive, and to stick with a 3.0-litre V6 that — with turbocharging — makes a respectable 400 horsepower, and it’s betting its customers will be too.
The new Continental was also a stark reminder of the biggest mistake I ever make in covering the car business.
Flash back to the spring of 2011, when the Detroit’s 2009 meltdown was a fresh memory and Ford was the only member of the Big Three to avoid bankruptcy.
Then-CEO Alan Mulally had created a “One Ford” strategy that meant aggressively streamlining the company’s brands and bringing it back to its roots. Exotic brands like Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin were out. So was Mercury, a mid-luxury brand.
The industry was crying for Lincoln’s head too. Mulally had a decision to make.
I offered this helpful advice, after Ford announced plans to spend $1 billion getting Lincoln back in shape:
Lincoln is a leftover from the days when American automakers built brand ladders, moving customers up from entry level to luxe over a lifetime. Nowadays, folks are less focused on that distinctly middle-class 20th century experience and more interested in quality and features. That would be a better place to invest Ford’s extra billion.
Fast forward to 2016 and Lincoln isn’t just back, it’s one of the best comeback stories in the auto industry.
The Detroit show is proof of this, as Lincoln’s booth here is palatial, a debonair counterpart to the main Ford booth, which looks like a large video game (Ford is really pushing its tech credentials this year).
At at the center of it all, like a white queen, is the Continental.
Elegance on wheels
Sure, there are cars in this segment and above that serve up more than 600 horsepower. I recently sampled Cadillac CTS-V that delivered 640.
That much power is good fun, but in a practical sense, hard to tap. The speed limit is 65 in much of the USA, after all.
Lincoln’s game plan for the Continental is to aim for a more mellow experiential vibe. It goes like this: You’ve been stressed and overstimulated all day long. You need your car to provide a sanctuary, an escape from all that.
Look inside …
So the Continental’s interior is deeply thought out. The seats, front and back, are phenomenally comfortable (Ford does the best seats in the business these day). The driver’s seat is massively adjustable to 30 positions, including options for each leg.
There’s infotainment in the front and back seat, revealing that the Continental is intended to aid Lincoln’s progress in China and needs to have limo capability. But there’s also a custom-design Revel audio system that, in my brief listening time, is competitive with the Bowers & Wilkins system that Business Insider was blown away by in the new BMW 7 Series.
We don’t know how much it will cost, but the Continental is very likely to be less expensive than the BMW, which can tip the scales at $130,000 (and regardless, the Continental’s scale is bit closer to the BMW 5 Series).
The car is a thorough rebuke to 2011 scepticism about Lincoln’s.
And it isn’t just a marquee car like the Continental that shamed me. Lincolns lineup of crossover and SUVs means that it has enjoyed a sales boost over the past two years, as consumers have flocked back to these vehicles amid plunging gas prices.
I’m very sorry, Lincoln. I was wrong. I wish I could take it all back.