C is for CAFE: Lincoln Turns to Focus Platform for Latest Concept
By Todd Lassa
Forget the Continentals of your past, or the big, long rear-drive concepts of the early '00s. While BMW has proven that rear-wheel-drive c-segment size luxury works, with its 1 Series, Lincoln is turning next to the 2011 Ford Focus' platform for post-global warming luxury. To prepare us for a CAFE-friendly world, Lincoln rolled out the C concept (for c-segment, and so far, without an "MK" prefix) at Detroit.
Looking much like a Renault with Lincoln's "flying wing" '41 Continental retro cue grille, the C is about the length of the '11 Focus, but about 2.75-inches wider for three-abreast seating via two flat benches. Ford designers cite the '39 Lincoln, '56 Continental II and '61 Continental as inspiration. But the a-pillar is curved much like a Renault Espace's, and the c-pillar ends in a Clio-esque bustle trunk. While there's no tumblehome, a deep shoulderline accents the profile.
The stainless steel-like top is actually aluminum with a metalized paint, and the gray interior wood trim is recycled driftwood veneer.
The Lincoln C has more interior space than a '61 Continental, J Mays and Freeman Thomas proudly note. The engine, theoretically - Lincoln didn't open the hood -- is a planned 1.6-liter EcoBoost four with central direct injection, variable valve timing on both cams and an interesting stop/start system to shut down the engine for red lights and stop signs. Restarts use a fraction of the starter energy required for a cold start by injecting and igniting fuel in the cylinder closest to top-dead-center on the compression stroke. The six-speed, twin-clutch "Powershift" transmission uses more efficient dry clutches (Audi DSG's wet clutches require an oil pump). It gains 9-percent better fuel economy than a conventional automatic transmission, Ford says. Including some key weight savings, Ford expects the EcoBoost-powered C would get about 25-percent better fuel economy than a similar car with a 2.0-liter.
Inside, the C is a showcase for Ford's Microsoft Sync of the future, a two-way voice command system featuring avatar Eva, a kind of female HAL with a British accent and access to the Internet via the driver's mobile phone. Ford expects features like a navigation system that supplies the most fuel-efficient route (for when gas next breaches $4/gallon), restaurant reviews and the like will be the foundation for its future Sync systems. Anyway, the owner will be able to configure it to his or her preferences, much like on an Apple iPhone, and update it regularly with a thumb drive.
Other interior features include no b-pillar (which Mays insists is approaching production viability, even if the "suicide door" feature that accompanies it is only for show), a hubless steering wheel rendered in Apple-computer white plastic, thin-seat technology for better interior room (another near-production feature), hand-drawn floral patterns laser-etched into the otherwise stark white leather seats, weight- and height-sensing power head restraints, and stereo speakers in the headliner, which surrounds a Lincoln-symbol glass sunroof.
Thomas says the instrument panel, which includes a "privacy" screen to allow passengers to look at the Internet without distracting the driver, is "not a lot of separate parts, almost like an iPhone." (Domestic and foreign auto designers have evolved from evoking the translucent iMac in their designs at the beginning of the decade to talking about the iPod, and now the iPhone.)
North America design chief Peter Horbury says his favorite feature, though, is a device in the car's grille that recognizes other Lincoln Cs and automatically "winks" the left headlight, Mini Cooper-owner style. Question is, can Lincoln build a c-segment car with so much appeal that owners "wink" or wave at others voluntarily? We may have to ask that question again when Lincoln markets a c-segment car, in as little as two or three years.