The Lincoln Continental may have been our fifth-place pick for Best In Show at this year's Detroit Auto Show, but it's probably the one we argued about the most. In fact, we're still talking about it. And we'll no doubt be discussing it long after we finally get to drive the new sedan later this year. We do this with lots of cars, all the time.

The Continental is an especially important, high-profile car right now. It has the task of being a torch-holder for the struggling-to-run Lincoln brand, and that's a tough job these days. But did Lincoln do right by its Continental name? Did its Detroit showcar stop us in our tracks, or were we left feeling cold?

In an effort to show you our full discussion, we're trying something different. About a week after the Detroit Auto Show press days concluded, Autoblog's Jonathon Ramsey sent an email around to some editors about the Continental to open a discussion. It got heated, and fast. And while we considered summarizing it, we decided to instead post the whole, largely unedited (adjusted for typos and swear words) chain.

Lincoln Continental

From: Jonathon Ramsey
To: Autoblog Team


Does anyone else think it's a problem that the new Continental looks 85 percent like the MKZ? And another 10 percent of it looks like a Jaguar and a Bentley?

Because I think Lincoln screwed the pooch. The German Three plus Porsche can make cars that look alike – they've earned the right, even if I'd rather they didn't.

The MKZ looks like a car for regional sales reps. Lincoln broke the glass in case of emergency, grabbed the Continental name, then put it on a car that looks a lot like that sales-rep car, but one for regional VPs.

Do we really think this can work? Because I don't.

Lincoln ContinentalLincoln Continental

From: Steven Ewing
To: Autoblog Team


Personally, I'm pretty disappointed in the final execution of Continental. I'm glad Lincoln isn't obsessed with chasing the Germans, but at this point, it's not even chasing Cadillac. I think that introducing the new front end and TTV6 engine on the MKZ before the Continental was a huge mistake. And while I have high hopes for the Conti from a comfort/driving standpoint, my gut instinct is that it's going to be more "better than the MKS" than "best American luxury sedan."

Introducing the new front end and TTV6 engine on the MKZ before the Continental was a huge mistake.

From: Brandon Turkus
To: Autoblog Team


Reserving judgment until I drive it, but after a brief crawl around the cabin, it feels cobbled together and inconsistent in terms of material quality. There are some really gorgeous items, but there are also some very bad touches that aren't hidden at all.

As for the exterior, I agree with Steve. Debuting the new front end on the MKZ was a big mistake.

From: Dan Roth
To: Autoblog Team


This is a tempest in a teapot. Lincolns need to look like Lincolns, so when the company decides to adjust its visual identity, it's expected to proliferate across the model range.

Audi, VW, BMW, Mercedes – they do it with impunity from our criticism, so why should Lincoln come in for critique on the same measure?

Besides – you're not wrong about it being a middle management lease-only sled. What's wrong with that? Lincoln could and should have Lexus in its sights, not BMW.

Lincoln ContinentalLincoln Continental

From: Jonathon Ramsey
To: Autoblog Team


I gotta go with Steve and Brandon on this one: if you're a struggling tadpole (my words) trying to say, "Hey look, we're back!" you need to show off your best new stuff on your best new car. You don't show it on your middle car and then say, "We made a better middle car!" You can argue that Lincoln showed it on the Continental concept first, then on the production MKZ. Still dumb. Timing. They say it's everything. And they say that for a reason.

There are different rules for champs than challengers. I'm not saying it's fair, I'm not saying people will admit it, but that's how people choose. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes can get away with their actions because they're champs. Remember, the doppelgänger approach is a recent thing – for more than 20 years the German trio's cars did not look like one another. It wasn't until around 2005 that their designs began blending in, and even then it was only two of the three cars in each range. In the '80s you never confused a 3er for a 5er. In the '90s you never confused a C-Class for an E. In the early 2000s you never confused an A4 for an A6 (Audi succumbed first, though).

Lincoln wants to be Big Time for luxury buyers in general, not budget luxury buyers, or "American luxury" buyers.

They get the right to do that now because, frankly, they spent 20 years making this whole game. As for impunity from criticism, that's not me. As any editor who has to remove my bile from a post can tell you, I complain about the cookie-cutter every time design is an issue. Every time.

There's nothing wrong with middle management lease-only. If Lincoln said that's what it intended, all would be fine. But ask a Lincoln exec how long the company worked on becoming the lease-only brand for sales reps and see how quickly that interview goes sour. Lincoln wants to be Big Time for luxury buyers in general, not budget luxury buyers, or "American luxury" buyers (and that phrase means, "not-genuine-luxury luxury").

Lincoln doesn't have Lexus in its sights. Lincoln and Lexus are playing different games in different states on different continents. And Lexuses look alike, too – but again, Lexus spent a long time earning the right in the marketplace to sell the same thing in different cuts.

At best, Lincoln is chasing Buick. At best. Buick already sells twice as many cars as Lincoln (thank you, crossovers...), and frankly, if Buick does anything sincere with the Avista concept, the only thing Lincoln will be chasing is its own tail. When the Conti doesn't sell like Lincoln wants it to, the company will say, "Well, we thought we put out a real strong product, but the marketplace blah blah blah blah...."

The Continental was supposed to be a mic-drop moment. But Lincoln couldn't even rely on gravity for an assist.

Lincoln Continental

From: Dan Roth
To: Autoblog Team


Can't say I disagree with you. No Lincoln sedans are compelling – not a one. They don't have to be RWD and all that other stuff that journalists and enthusiasts yammer about, but they must offer a good reason to make people want one.

They are out-luxed, out-looked, and undercut. That shouldn't hinge on styling alone, and if I were trying to reinvigorate Lincoln, you can bet I'd be desperate to erase the last ten years as fast as possible.

Lincoln is right to propagate the new look. The new look needed to be a more extensive break from Ford. And Lincoln should take a lesson from American Motors and 1980s/90s Chrysler: When you ain't got a lot of substance to sell, pile on the luxury and hold down the price. If the Continental feels at all cheap inside, or if you catch whiffs of Fusion, it's a failed execution.

Lincoln has become Mercury, and instead of big sedans, it needs to be birthing an array of crossovers that slay.

My theory, of course, is that Ford doesn't actually want Lincoln to succeed.

Lincoln Continental

From: Jonathon Ramsey
To: Autoblog Team


I think the Continental is an alright-looking car. Nothing special, but nothing out of order, even if it is derivative – on the brand's home page it has a low 3/4-angle of the sedan in red, and that hood/front clip/grille could have been traced from a Jaguar XJ/XF. Even the badge sits in relief, in chrome, just like Coventry's cat. And Donckerwolke wasn't exactly wrong about the Bentley-esque profile.

I agree on propagating this new look. Lincoln does need to do that. But the company did it in the wrong order. It's not enough for everything to work. It has to work in the right order.

I don't think Ford is trying to hold Lincoln back, I think Ford management doesn't know how to make the most of Lincoln.

I don't know how Lincoln's going to keep the price down when an MKS is already $39,000. To give the Continental the luxury space it needs, in terms of perception alone, I figure it has to go to at least $43K, more likely $45K, and I wouldn't be surprised if Lincoln tries to charge more but stay under $50K. But what's the options sheet going to look like? I don't think it's a bad range to be in – you're either loading up a C-Class or struggling to save for an E, and let's face it, a lot of folks buying Lincolns don't want to deal with baggage that comes with the Germans, like cost-of-ownership among other things. If you're looking at a $55K loaded-to-the-gills Continental, hey, who knows. My alarm bells don't ring at that.

My alarm bells do ring at this: How many of those buyers are out there? What's the $45K Continental buyer getting out of? Another Lincoln? That's a tiny sample. Is it the buyer who's been looking for this kind of American offering at this price point? Another small sample. Somebody coming back from a European foray(s)? Hmmm. I'm sure they'll be there, too, but I gotta think that's another small pot. Is there pent-up demand for a luxury sedan that doesn't beat the competition, but succeeds by being an American version that doesn't cost as much? Hmmm again. How'd that work out for the CTS? And the CTS is much more appealing to me than a Continental at this point. How's that working out for the ATS?

The Chevrolet SS is a performance proposition, a really good one, but there aren't many people gunning for that $55K American performance car. Chevy sold more this year than last, but that's still just 2,879 units. Would Lincoln be happy selling 300 Continentals a month?

"Lincoln has become Mercury." Boom. Headshot. I hadn't even thought of that. Now it strikes me as true.

Lincoln crossovers that slay, would slay. Buick is on fire for that reason. When's the last time you heard the word "LaCrosse?"

Mulally tried to kill Lincoln, other forces didn't want that to happen. I don't think Ford is trying to hold Lincoln back, I think Ford management doesn't know how to make the most of Lincoln. I don't even have to guess at that – they've proved it. The guys at US design studios are doing amazing things. Buick Avista. Cadillac Ciel, V16, Elmiraj. The Lincoln MKC concept was a hot little number. Any wacky GMC truck concept. And that's just the stuff we've seen. Then it gets put through the production grinder and you end up with, "Um, wait – but you promised me..." It's why de Nysschen wanted to get away to New York. Now, instead of fighting with folks next door, he has to fight with folks four states away, that's all.

But sabotaging the brand?

  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips


From: Brandon Turkus
To: Autoblog Team


I have a feeling Conti pricing will start at or above $50K. I mean, [ex-Autoblog editor Michael] Harley posted on Facebook that he's driving a $63,000 MKX. I'd be shocked if the Conti didn't beat that (and easily) after adding some options. That makes the questions you ask about the Conti's potential market even tougher to answer. If there aren't a lot of folks out there that'd buy a $55K Continental, there sure as hell aren't a lot out there willing to buy a loaded $70K Lincoln.

The Continental is probably better than you all think it is.

From: Jonathon Ramsey
To: Autoblog Team


Harley's gotta be on that Black Label business – it can get an MKZ beyond $53K before you hit the options screens. I forgot all about that.

But if you think the standard Continental is going to start at or above $50K... whew... I think I need my heart medication. That's E-Class money (at the point-of-purchase, at least). That's going to be Volvo S90 money. I know what I just said about not wanting to deal with Euro baggage, but have you seen those interiors?

I honestly pray Lincoln doesn't do that. I mean, no matter what I say about it, give the car a chance. Just one little chance. At least.

From: Dan Roth
To: Autoblog Team


S90 and E-Class both look and feel special. No Lincoln does, for the same dough.

But I still contend Lincoln is going to do small numbers for a while now. It's getting better, but Lincoln needs to do better still, concentrating on what is selling.

From: Michael Austin
To: Autoblog Team


I agree that Lincoln needs to try harder. A really, really nice MKS with a Continental badge isn't going to turn Lincoln into Lexus (and yes, Lincoln should be chasing Lexus). I'm surprised Lincoln didn't pour more resources into MKZ. Was it just too late to make a difference? All the money is in trucks right now, and I don't see that changing. Lexus is even late on the three-row RX, which is a mistake. Sedans still carry the corporate pride, but SUVs are the best opportunity to get conquest sales and growth.

That said, the Continental is probably better than you all think it is.

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