Less than a year after its surprise reveal at last April’s New York Auto Show, the Lincoln Continental has gone from concept to a production-ready prototype that was the star of the division’s display at the Detroit show.The styling distinctions between the New York debutante and the Detroit production final car are largely confined to a slightly different mesh grille, already displayed on the MKZ sedan, and subtly altered wheel designs.

What emerges is a quietly elegant large sedan that will be Lincoln’s flag carrier when it reaches showrooms this fall. Quietly is a key word in the revival of the brand name Edsel Ford chose for the legendary original back in 1939. According to Lincoln president Kumar Galhotra, the traits that will set the new car apart from its competitors are “quiet luxury, effortless power, and serenity.”

Three Sixes

The Continental’s underpinnings trace their origins to the Ford Fusion, stretched, widened, and reinforced to accommodate the Lincoln’s bigger dimensions and, presumably, increased mass. This means that it’s basically a front-wheel drive design, but with the option of all-wheel drive, which is standard in the top model.

Galhotra’s mention of “effortless power” refers to a new twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6, rated for 400 horsepower and 400 lb ft of torque, which is exclusive to Lincoln for now. Other engine choices include a naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V-6, and a twin-turbo 2.7-liter V-6 both from Lincoln’s MKX sport utility inventory. Lincoln engineers weren’t ready to specify outputs, but in MKX tune they deliver, respectively, 303 horsepower and 278 pound feet of torque, and 325 hp and 380 lb-ft. Lincoln also plans to offer a 2.0-liter twin turbo four, but only in models bound for China.

Also, it’s interesting to note that the word “Ecoboost” does not occur in Lincoln’s show for the new car, presumably an effort to give the Continental separation from its Ford siblings.

All the engines send thrust to the drive wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. There will be three drive modes -- Comfort, Normal, and Sport. Each of the presets adjusts shock absorber settings, transmission shift points, and steering effort. The all-wheel drive system, standard with the 3.0-liter engine, optional with the other two, includes torque vectoring.

Posh and More Posh

Interior treatments are, as you’d expect, posh, becoming more so as one moves up through the four trim levels -- Premier (another name from Lincoln’s past), Select, Reserve, and Black Label.

The Black Label trim provides three color schemes-- Chalet (cream and white), Thoroughbred (tans and brown), and Rhapsody (deep blue with lots of bright surfaces). All are tasty, and materials, including aromatic leather upholstery, steering wheel wrap, and dashboard, are first rate.

Other available luxo touches include a driver’s seat with individually adjustable thigh supports and 30-way adjustability; heated and cooled rear seats that are reclinable in the outboard positions and include a massage function; door handles integrated into the side moldings that open at a touch and automatically complete closures with a power cinch feature a la Mercedes-Benz; available adaptive steering; and a three-mode premium Revel sound system.

Safety and comfort/convenience features are contemporary but don’t break any new ground—no gesture control, for example, and not much that can be characterized as autonomous operation.

But the available inventory does include adaptive cruise control that can bring the car to a stop; pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking; lane departure warning and assistance; 360-degree surround view; blind spot detection; and a new park assist feature that handles both parallel and perpendicular maneuvers.

Infotainment and connectivity includes Ford’s new Sync 3 system, a new rear seat entertainment system, and orchestral audio. Lincoln addresses the serenity issue with, among other elements, active noise cancellation.

Dearborn versus Deutschland

Handsome and elegantly turned out, the Continental will be competing in a market segment monopolized by a familiar Teutonic troika—Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz—as well as a new domestic rival, the Cadillac CT6.

Can a front-drive-based sedan compete in a luxury arena dominated by rear-drive designs with prestige nameplates? Judging by the Detroit show properties, Lincoln’s new standard bearer has the looks and accoutrements of a player. Whether that will add up to cachet remains to be seen. Pricing is sure to be a key factor, but that, too, remains to be seen.


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