As the Detroit motor show kicked off, Lincoln marketing boss Jim Farley raised the question of whether the world really needed another luxury car brand, and if so what it needed to stand for.
His answer, inevitably, was that there was room for something new, just like Lincoln, and that the economic crisis and age of austerity had opened up just such an opportunity, as the wealthy increasingly focused on discrete charm rather than overt opulence when it came to choosing their car.
That view seems diametrically opposed to that of the more established luxury brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes, all of which seem to be pouring out edgier, more extrovert and faster nameplates to capture and keep customers.
So which way is the best way? Here are some of the Detroit cars that showcased different ends of the luxury spectrum.
The second model in the brand’s reinvention, with two more to come in the next two years the MKC will be the cornerstone of the brand’s so-called ‘progressive luxury’ approach, appealing to ‘discrete not showy’ customers who like to travel in comfort without feeling the need to shout about it.
Word is that Toyota and Lexus boss Akio Toyoda has told his designers to pull their fingers out and create cars that get noticed, and boy does the IS grille deliver on that message. Question is, is the new IS a potential BMW 3-series beater, or a numberplate away from having its tour de force ruined.
It’s a different look, but then when you’re trying to crack the luxury market with an up-and-coming brand then you have to dare to be different. Hyundai executives echoed the Lincoln view that less is more in this age of keeping spending down, although whether this concept really represents that is open to debate.
Who said less is more? This is one car firmly from the ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’ camp, with its 3.0 V6 that pumps out 349bhp and 346lb ft of torque, why keep it quiet. Lowered suspension adds to the appeal, if you’re the sort of person that needs an SUV that does 0-62mph in 5.3sec.
Many dubbed it the best looking Mercedes in today’s line-up, and I’d tend to agree, but others muttered that it was ill-proportioned and akin to your elderly uncle trying to dress in clothes worn by people 40 years younger than him. Mercedes itself, predicts it’ll open up a massive market of new, younger buyers.
Possibly a third interpretation of what luxury looks like, with its electric four-wheel drive powertrain and far from conventional ‘Falcon doors’. The appeal of silent, instant urge is self-evident, although for all that mouse-like appeal, chances are the car will be such a rare sight on the road that you’ll always stand out.
Here’s one to get your mind working: this article opened by splitting luxury car design between two caps: extrovert and discrete. So where does the Q50 sit? Many would say somewhere between the two camps, which to these eyes at least leaves it looking desirable to neither, either. Proof again that the mid-ground is not a place to be.
Let’s be frank and admit that the current car needed something to make it stand out from the crowd. What Mercedes head of design Gordon Wagoner and his team created is one of the most comprehensive facelifts of recent times. Discrete it isn’t, but you can’t help but feeling it’ll get the E-class noticed.