Lincoln and Cadillac, America’s preeminent luxury brands, are both in the process of reinventing themselves. This year’s New York auto show saw the debuts of the 2016 Cadillac CT6 and the Lincoln Continental Concept, two full-size luxury sedans that are at the forefront of their respective brands’ transformations.
Did Lincoln steal Cadillac’s thunder by surprising everyone with a new Continental? Is Cadillac’s attempt to chase the Germans smarter than Lincoln’s attempt to bring back its glory days? Read on to hear our thoughts on these two different approaches that could define the future of the American luxury sedan.
Just as Cadillac’s current CTS and ATS alphanumerics were starting to mean something to the public, the brand is going down a new, more confusing road with its new naming scheme debuting with the CT6. Lincoln went down this road already, and did not find much success with its MK-, nomenclature (we’re still trying to work out the difference between MKX and MKT). With the Continental concept, the company wisely brings back a legendary nameplate that was hugely important for Lincoln in the 1960s and 1970s.
“The cool, ‘Mad Men’ name that rolls off the tongue” is one of the Lincoln Continental concept’s best attributes, says executive editor Todd Lassa. Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen tried to capture some of this retro marketing appeal by referring to the CT6 as the “Cadillac Touring-6” at the reveal event in Brooklyn, but it’s clear that the new naming scheme is just another way the brand is trying to beat the Germans at their own game.
Lincoln design director David Woodhouse raises similar criticism when asked about the Cadillac CT6’s looks. He thinks Cadillac is trying too hard to look like the German luxury brands, though he admits the CT6 has “nice proportions.” Indeed, the CT6 is less daring than the gorgeous Cadillac Elmiraj concept, but editors who saw the car in person were quick to point out that the CT6 looks like much more than just a larger Cadillac CTS, with presence and flair befitting its high aspirations.
Opinions are more divided on the Lincoln, which critics deride as stealing from everyone from Bentley to Jaguar. Design editor Robert Cumberford even finds the Continental’s grille reminiscent of a Kia. Associate web editor Jake Holmes has more unkind words about the Lincoln’s look. “Bulky, derivative, and unimaginative,” is what he calls it, and a few Bentley designers even accuse Lincoln of ripping off its Flying Spur sedan. But is it so bad for a Lincoln to be drawing comparisons to Bentleys? We’ll have to wait and see if the production Continental, due within the next year or so, will maintain the concept’s undeniable presence and provocative nature.
It’s unfair to put these two cars’ cabins side-by-side, as Lincoln had much more leeway with its not-for-production interior in the Continental concept. With its blue Alcantara trim, generous use of leather and chrome, and extravagant features like 30-way adjustable rear seats, we can only hope that the production-ready Continental can retain some of this decadence and distinctive flavor. If it can, it will have a leg up on the Cadillac CT6, which does not depart much from the status quo of Cadillac’s existing interior designs.
Poking around the car at the show, we notice a clear step up from other Cadillacs in terms of quality and materials, but we’re unsure if the CT6’s cabin does enough design-wise to keep up with the show-stopping interiors of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Audi A8. In the Cadillac’s favor are all sorts of new technologies, like a 34-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system, an enhanced self-parking system, a camera-screen rearview mirror, and a haptic touchpad to operate the updated, upgraded CUE infotainment screen.
The Cadillac CT6 makes it clear that General Motors is pooling all of its best resources into the Cadillac brand, as the CT6 rides on a new platform, is powered by a set of new engines, and uses aluminum and high-strength steel to reduce weight. All versions will weigh less than 4,000 pounds, an impressive achievement when you consider the car’s closest competitors, like the 4,300-4,500-pound Audi A8 that also uses aluminum.
The fact that Lincoln hasn’t yet said much at all on the Continental’s underpinnings isn’t an encouraging sign. Because the Continental is set to go into production sooner rather than later, Lincoln’s new rear-wheel-drive platform won’t be ready yet. As such, the Continental will most likely ride on either a version of the same Volvo-based D3 platform under the current MKS or a stretched CD4 platform from the Fusion; as deputy editor Mac Morisson says, “that doesn’t sound like an exciting driving proposition.”
Both big sedans use 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 engines. The Cadillac’s V-6 is part of a new engine family from GM that will spawn a new overhead-cam V-8, as is its less powerful, naturally aspirated V-6 available on lower trims. The car’s low weight even allows Cadillac to install a turbocharged four-cylinder as the CT6’s base engine. Though this emphasis on efficiency might seem somewhat in conflict with the idea of luxury and excess, new eight-speed automatic transmissions and gas-saving features like cylinder deactivation on the twin-turbo V-6 should give the Cadillac competitive efficiency numbers, an increasingly important criteria for the global luxury market. A plug-in hybrid version of the CT6 is even scheduled to debut at the Shanghai auto show this month.
Once again, we have far fewer details on the Lincoln’s powertrain offerings, but we do know that the Continental’s EcoBoost V-6 will be exclusive to the Lincoln brand. Drivetrain and transmission choices remain unannounced, though all-wheel drive seems like a sure bet for this large sedan. In contrast to the current Lincoln lineup, we can at least expect less overlap with Ford mechanicals as the Continental nears production. Morrison overheard one show pundit saying, “the Continental will benefit from low expectations.”
In the end, our editors’ hits and misses “scorecard” revealed a clear preference for the Cadillac, at least for now. But editor-in-chief Mike Floyd notes that both the Cadillac and the Lincoln garnered more attention than any other cars at the show, and counts that as a win for the overall spirit of the American luxury sedan. “They have different missions given how their brands are positioned, but they’re both full-size luxury sedans with presence and style, the kind of cars that America used to turn out by the bushel full,” he says. Whatever the future holds for Cadillac and Lincoln, we can at least celebrate a rejuvenated rivalry between these two classic American brands.