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Car and Driver: Lincoln’s Chief Designer: We Don’t Want to Follow the Germans

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2017-Lincoln-Continental-show-floor-PLACEMENT-1It was launched in concept form at the New York auto show last year, and the series-production version was unveiled at the Detroit auto show this week. We are speaking, of course, about the Continental, Lincoln’s new flagship. We spent some time with the brand’s chief designer David Woodhouse, a Brit by birth but who has a deep understanding for American-style luxury.

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Based on a front-wheel-drive platform but decidedly larger than the MKZ, the Continental is designed take on the premium offerings by Audi, BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz. But while Cadillac has—with much success, it must be said—tried to beat the Germans at their own game of building superior performance sedans, Lincoln will not follow that path. You won’t find front splitters, carbon-ceramic brakes, or performance-data recorders on a Lincoln. “We are an American brand and decidedly don’t want to imitate the Germans,” says Woodhouse.

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And he adds: “We want to be very discreet and therefore won’t display engine sizes on our cars.” Instead, the Continental is all about luxury and style, epitomized by the unique chrome door handles which, in his words, “emphasize elegance and ease of operation.” And the company decided to make the rear compartment spacious enough that it, unlike Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, sees no need to create a long-wheelbase derivative for the Chinese market.

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2017 Lincoln Continental

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Woodhouse confirms that one of the new sedan’s most prominent elements will spread quickly among the lineup: “Every Lincoln will eventually get the new grille launched with the Continental, including Navigator, etc. It is our new face. This will happen when a new model is launched or in mid-cycle facelifts, [as already seen] on MKZ, whichever comes first.”

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We also asked Woodhouse about the chances for a return of the fake Continental kit; it was, after all, a trademark Lincoln styling element for decades, and the Mark VIII built from 1993 to 1998 represented a somewhat unfortunate attempt to modernize it. Don’t expect it to return, says Woodhouse: “We have periodically looked at the indicated spare-wheel cover, but every time we have concluded that it is just too old-fashioned. Its time has passed.” The same is true of the bench seat: “There is a good case to be made for a front bench seat, and we have shown a solution on our 2009 C Concept. But there are packaging difficulties,” Woodhouse tells us.

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Design aficionados will celebrate the return of blue interiors: The upmarket Black Label trim will feature an optional “Rhapsody” interior, executed in dark blue, like the Continental concept’s. It’s a daring move: Having fallen out of fashion by the early 1990s, blue interiors have been purged from virtually every carmaker’s portfolio, and survived only with a few low-volume, upper-luxury brands. It will be interesting to see whether Lincoln can give a new lease on life to the color scheme. As to his brand’s future portfolio, Woodhouse remains mum, but he will offer this: “Of course every designer would like to build a coupe, although there are no plans for one at present.” We think that’s a pity.

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2016 Detroit Auto Show Full Coverage

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Looks almost like a cross between an Audi and a Chrysler 300

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