Lincoln gave a scintillating glimpse into its near future and paid ample respect to its past with the unveiling of its Continental Concept, a dazzling one-off that will pave the way for a full-size sedan.The Continental name has deep roots with Ford's luxury brand, dating to just before 1940 when the first iteration debuted. The model carried on over the decades but hasn't been seen since the 2002 model year. That all changed when Lincoln lifted the curtains on the Continental Concept.  

Iconic Name, New Image

While its name is drenched in history, everything else about the car is new. Lincoln's full-size sedan concept is based on an all-new platform, utilizes an all-new engine, and features the automaker's most innovative technology. And it isn't a mere design study, according to Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Mark Fields. 

The Lincoln Continental Concept marks a new flagship sedan for the brand, he told a group of select media in a private showing of the car ahead of its debut at the 2015 New York Auto Show. It also ushers in a new mission statement of sorts for the brand: "quiet luxury."

"The concept signals our interpretation of quiet luxury," Fields said. "This will be our flagship and continues where we're going." 

The current full-size sedan in Lincoln's lineup is the MKS. That Ford Taurus-based sedan, while competent and starting at less than $40,000, is priced well below competitors and yet has struggled to stand out against large-sedan rivals from Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. The MKS was also born amid trying times for the Lincoln brand, where it saw market share and buyer consideration decline. 

But things have been looking up for Lincoln as it has reinvigorated its lineup beginning with the 2013 debut of the MKZ midsize sedan, then the MKC compact SUV and the upcoming MKX midsize SUV. When the production version of the Lincoln Continental arrives next year, it will deliver on the luxury automaker's promise to deliver four new vehicles in as many years. 

Standing Out with Quiet Luxury

Amid stiff competition that has resulted from a worldwide appetite for premium automobiles, Lincoln realizes it has to stand out from better-selling rivals. To do that, the brand is taking a somewhat against-the-grain approach with the Continental and its new "quiet luxury" mantra.

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"Luxury at its best is about simplifying and quietly exceeding expectations, rather than being the loudest statement on the road" Fields said. "The Continental Concept showcases the promise of quiet luxury from Lincoln going forward. It also is a strong indication of what's to come next year as we introduce our new Lincoln Continental full-size luxury sedan."

In addition to making a car that is quiet, comfortable and refined, Lincoln is betting hard on making its clients feel like VIPs, from the moment they step into a store to the years afterward in their ownership experience.

Old + New = Elegance

One look at the concept, shaped under Lincoln design director David Woodhouse, is further proof of the Continental Concept's blending of old and new. It's large and rounded, elegant yet stately just like Continentals from decades ago, yet it has the best of today's - and possibly tomorrow's - features. 

Dressed in Rhapsody Blue metallic paint, the big sedan is long and lean with a vast hood, tapered tail and generous greenhouse. In back are full-width tail lamps with a three-dimensional quality, while in front are LED matrix headlights with laser-assist high beams. E-latch door handles allow the doors to open with the touch of a button. And who could miss that new mesh aluminum grille, which aims to be the new face of Lincoln. Where the rubber meets the road, the concept rides on polished aluminum painted-pocket 21-inch wheels. 

Under the hood is a Lincoln-exclusive 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6. The company is keeping mum on power output figures and whether the Continental will be front-, rear- or all-wheel-drive., although rumors persist that Lincoln is working on a rear-drive biased platform with a longitudinally mounted engine.

Inside, the Continental Concept is just as impressive - and surprisingly finished. While we doubt the 4-passenger seating arrangement complete with a pair of massaging rear seats, polished-metal tray table and champagne flutes will make it to U.S. production models, many other interior details appear feasible. The Revel  Ultima audiophile system is already at the door thanks to Lincoln's partnership with Harman, and features such as a 360-degree camera and driving aids that do everything from steer you back into a lane to parallel park the car are already in the here and now.

And we must mention the seats, which are 30-way adjustable marvels in ergonomics. Climate-controlled and covered in Venetian leather, they even have individual adjustment for each thigh, all in an effort to be "the best seat for the widest range of body types," Lincoln executives say.

Eye on China and Beyond

Many of these prospects will be luxury car buyers in China. Like other brands, Lincoln sees big growth potential as more shoppers move upscale in the world's largest car market. Lincoln plans to grow from its current 11 dealerships in the country to 60 stores in 50 cities in China by 2016. Worldwide, the brand seeks 300,000 car sales by the end of the decade, nearly triple its current rate.

In the here and now, though, the Lincoln Continental Concept looks to be another strong shot in the arm for the Lincoln brand, which has slowly gone from ailing to exciting in a few short years. If there's any model that can bring back the magic of Lincoln's past while propelling it into the future, the Continental looks like the proper flagship for the job.


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