Could Encouraging Road Trips Help The American Sedan?

Could Encouraging Road Trips Help The American Sedan?
Advertising

What it's like to chase the sun with Lincoln's new Continental as a travel companion

Dave Pinter, PSFK
  • 20 september 2017

In the peaks and valleys of automotive trends, the four door sedan is sliding down in popularity. It has been a staple on American roads for decades, but sales numbers are dwindling. It is the consequence of booming interest in crossovers and SUV’s, their multi-function nature appealing more to the needs in vehicles people have these days. This isn’t to say that the sedan body style is going extinct. The bones of both of these kinds of vehicles are typically the same platform and it is little more than tweaks to the suspension and different bodies that make them different.

With crossovers and SUV’s there’s obvious feature benefits that people are attracted to. They hold a bunch more people and stuff in the back. The higher seating position offers a better view of the road. If there is a snow storm, their taller ride height might avoid it getting stuck taking the kids to school or driving to work. These are use scenarios people can imagine that can help rationalize purchasing one. There’s real life utility projected from SUV’s and crossovers, even the luxury ones, that sedans don’t equally share these days. So is that it for the sedan? We decided to find out and take one of the category’s icons, a Lincoln Continental out on a long drive.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_02.jpg

Lincoln revived the Continental model last year to serve as a flagship vehicle for the brand. It is as traditional as sedans go these days, large size, four doors and a standard V6 engine without a hybrid system. Our idea for a trip was to drive 900 miles from NYC to Southwestern Kentucky to catch the eclipse. That’s 900 miles each way, on interstate highways and rural backroads. It was the kind of distance where you get to know a car pretty well and discover all its quirks.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_08.jpg

The Continental is intended to be the best representation of Lincoln’s ‘Quiet Luxury’ mantra. The focus is on comfort and making a trip more effortless. Starting a drive in a Continental involves opening the doors using handles integrated into trim at the base of the side windows. Overall, the doors are a pretty cool feature of the Continental. The handle position and pull make them easy to open. The latch is fitted with a soft close feature that automatically closes the door. It takes a couple door slams at the beginning to get it out of your system, but after that, not having to push or pull a door closed is the best.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_01.jpg

Leaving NYC behind, the landscape started to open up and become more panoramic through West Virginia. Along the way we made use of the adaptive cruise control system. It can hold speed and distance based on a car or truck directly in front. If there is a sudden stop, the Continental can come to a full stop on its own. The system worked really well and even adjusted to cars merging in from other lanes seamlessly. It definitely made hour after hour in the drivers seat more relaxing.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_15.jpg

Pressing on into Maryland, the hills began to mellow out and expanses of farmland began to appear. The miles went be pretty easily because the seats in the Continental are basically amazing. About a half dozen buttons and switches on the door panel provided a myriad of adjustments, massage, heating or cooling. After nine or ten hours of driving, the normal body aches were pretty minimal. For a road trip like this, the seats were spot on.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_06.jpg

Crossing into Kentucky, it was time to leave the highways behind and explore some backroads. It is a subtle thing but the lower ride height of the Continental versus a SUV gives more of an experience of being in a landscape rather than riding above it. Landscape photographers often set their cameras lower than normal human eye level to put more ground in the frame. There’s a similar effect when looking out the windows of a sedan.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_04.jpg

Heading further west in Kentucky the scenery was sometimes vast corn or bean fields and other times sections of forest. It was difficult to resist turning off on every side road to see where it went out of curiosity. Occasionally it was necessary to stop and chat with the locals about what we should see.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_07.jpg

The day before the eclipse got us to a stay over near Glasgow, Kentucky. That evening we had a chance to scout the area for a good photo spot. We stumbled on a gravel road not on the navigation screen in the middle of some picturesque pastures.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_10.jpg

Here we could have a look at the Continental’s exterior design in near perfect car ad conditions. Originally I thought the exterior styling was a too subtle and did’t pull enough from the Continental’s heritage. But it mostly grew on me over time.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_12.jpg

There’s more of a feeling of familiarity over expressive design statements meaning with some detail tweaks, this generation of Continental could evolve and not look dated. It’s more of a classic than a trendy fashion design.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_14.jpg

Eclipse day started with a drive to the spot we targeted near the center of the moon’s shadow. We ended up on a farm about a half mile from the center point of totality. The weather conditions looked good and all that was left was a few hours waiting in the car away from the 90+ degree temperature. For two minutes and forty one seconds, this is what we saw…

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_09.jpg

The Continental turned out to be a great choice for this kind of road trip. The seats were awesome and it floated along the highway. But was it perfect? Not quite. While the doors gave the impression of a bank vault, more road noise did seep into the interior than there should be. We also have to circle back to the question of the sedan being too functionally ambiguous. Road trips like this might be the answer.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_03.jpg

Piloted sedans are eventually going to compete against driverless ones. The main difference between the two is driverless ones won’t let you explore backroads on a whim. There’s a romantic notion, and as we experienced, real benefit to being able to do that on a trip. There’s the chance to stumble on places that create lasting memories.

lincoln_continental_eclipse_2017_11.jpg

So maybe sedans could evolve to inspire people to take road trips. SUV’s after all aim to encourage sports activities. How about they come with a set of fitted luggage to make packing easier. Is there a way the interior could transform like an airline business seat to allow two people to comfortably take a nap? Could the navigation system have a scenic mode to encourage route diversions to see new places? Features like these might make it easier for people to see the appeal of sedans like the Continental and connect it to what they want to experience.

Thanks to Lincoln for loaning us a 2017 Continental.

All Images: Dave Pinter

In the peaks and valleys of automotive trends, the four door sedan is sliding down in popularity. It has been a staple on American roads for decades, but sales numbers are dwindling. It is the consequence of booming interest in crossovers and SUV’s, their multi-function nature appealing more to the needs in vehicles people have these days. This isn’t to say that the sedan body style is going extinct. The bones of both of these kinds of vehicles are typically the same platform and it is little more than tweaks to the suspension and different bodies that make them different.

+advertising
+apparel
+Automotive
+children
+Design
+Europe
+Fashion
+financial services
+lincoln
+Luxury
+technology
+travel
+UK
+USA
+work

Learn About Our Membership Services

Need Research Help?
As a member you can ask us any research questions and get complimentary research assistance with a 4-day turnaround. Reports inclde stats, quotes, and best-inclass examples on research topics.
Remain Informed & Strategic
We publish several trends reports each month. By becoming a member you will have access to over 100 existing reports, plus a growing catalog of deep topical analysis and debrief-style reports so you always remain in the know.
See Trends Come To Life
Meet your peers and immerse yourself in monthly trend and innovation webinars and discounted conferences.
No search results found.