Lincoln surprised the media at the 2009 Detroit auto show with a concept car, the C, an ultramodern, small four-door that's based on the platform of the next-generation Ford Focus.
The C is an unabashed attempt by Lincoln to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional, aging buyer demographic. "It's inevitable that a younger generation of buyers will want something different from a luxury brand," says Ford's global design chief, J Mays, in regards to the C. "A small Lincoln like this will appeal to 30-something urban dwellers, people who live in lofts in city centers like Chicago and New York. Yet the C is consistent with what we've been doing since 2005 with the Lincoln brand. Just look at our design DNA, and look at our consistency. You can put the C alongside our current cars, and it fits in with them, without them being just different lengths of the same sausage."
Although the C could easily be mistaken for a luxury vehicle that you might find in Europe, it's definitely intended for an American audience, Mays indicates. "Right now, we are doing our homework," he says about the Lincoln brand. "We need a successful home brand" before the company has any thoughts of taking Lincoln to other parts of the world.
The C, which was designed under the direction of Freeman Thomas and Dave Woodhouse at Ford's Southern California styling studio, is one of the strongest concept efforts we've seen from Lincoln this decade; it's as striking---and clearly as important to the brand---as the MKR concept from the 2007 Detroit auto show. "It's inspired by the 1939 Lincoln," says Thomas. "Our goal," he continues, was to "work closely with engineers. We understand what they do, and when we look at the platforms they offer us, we become vehicle architects alongside the engineers. So our goal here was to maximize the interior by minimizing the size of the drivetrain, which EcoBoost allowed us to do."
You see, even as Ford is unveiling its new, 3.5-liter turbocharged and direct-injected EcoBoost V-6 for the Lincoln MKS sedan and MKT crossover and the Ford Flex at the Detroit show, the company is unveiling another application of its new EcoBoost technology: a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with direct injection and variable cam timing, mated with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The engine also features a stop/start function, similar to those found on hybrids, to help boost fuel economy. Ford claims that this powertrain offers similar performance to a 2.0-liter engine; a central tenet to EcoBoost, which consists primarily of turbocharging and direct injection, is to offer more performance with smaller-displacement, and thus more efficient, engines.
Inside, the C is all concept-car light and airy, with two bench seats featuring what Thomas refers to as "thin-seat technology, with an ergonomically correct comfort curve. This gives us lighter weight, saves space, and provides superior comfort." Although the C is no longer than the current Ford Focus, it's as wide as a Lincoln MKZ sedan, which allowed Thomas and his design team to fit three-across seating in both rows. "We could easily do four bucket seats with a center console running between them, but we wanted to emphasize the width of the vehicle." The C, Ford claims, is as roomy inside as the 1961 Lincoln Continental.
Mays said that the design team felt that the C's white leather and chrome interior "looked too sterile," so they adorned the seats with a whimsical flower motif, cut into the leather by laser, that was inspired by the work of noted British textile artist Helen Amy Murray. The instrument panel features TV screens on both ends displaying images from exterior cameras, plus all manner of iPhone-inspired devices that promise to provide the next generation of Ford's Sync technology. The dash is covered with gray recycled driftwood (this car came from Southern California, remember), and the white and chrome steering wheel, clearly inspired by the Apple iPod, is thicker in depth than it is in width, a reversal of what we usually see. The roof of the vehicle is composed mainly of organically shaped glass panels that maximize both headroom for all six passengers and their view out. The perimeter of the ceiling glass is lined with a series of climate control vents, to offset the solar effect of all the glass.
Although the C looks like a hatchback, with a rear shape that has something in common with the European-market Renault Megane, Thomas insists that "it is not a hatchback. We are looking a lots of 'premium opening systems' such as sliding trays." It sounds to us like Thomas might be aiming for something unorthodox like a single-hinged swing door or Dutch doors.
Naturally, Ford is tight-lipped about when or if the C could morph into a production vehicle, but there is clearly production intent here. We'd venture that we will see it in production form at the 2011 Detroit auto show, if not earlier.