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2017 Lincoln Continental dressed for global success

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 (Lincoln)

Lincoln is aiming to return to the upper echelon of the luxury ranks with its reborn Continental sedan.

The all-new full-size sedan is loaded with amenities and technology, and was designed to appeal to customers in both the United States and China, the two markets the brand has targeted for growth in the coming years.

It replaces the MKS in the Lincoln lineup, and is scheduled to go on sale in the fall.

For most of Lincoln's 99-year history, the Continental was the pinnacle of luxury, the car of kings and presidents. It was born in 1938, when Henry Ford's son Edsel asked designers to make a convertible he could drive during a vacation to Palm Beach. Thrilled by his friends' reactions, Edsel made the Continental part of Ford Motor Co.'s luxury Lincoln brand.

But Ford faltered in the 1990s. It bought other luxury brands, like Jaguar and Aston Martin, and underestimated growing competition from Japanese and German luxury brands. Lincoln stopped making the Continental in 2002 so it could focus on a newer model, the LS. It eventually sold its other luxury brands. But Lincoln sales fell further.

Lincoln is reviving the Continental as part of a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar comeback. It's a nod to the history that sets Lincoln apart from its rivals. It's also targeted at customers in China, who have a particular appreciation for historic American brands. Lincoln expects to sell around 60 percent of the Continentals it makes in China, where it plans to double its dealerships to 60 by the end of this year.

Continental sales will likely be limited in the U.S. Sales of full-size sedan sales have been plummeting as midsize cars like the Lincoln MKZ get bigger and more luxurious. And while pricing hasn't been announced, the Continental will likely start around $50,000.

The elegant Continental hasn't changed much from the concept version that debuted at last year's New York Auto Show. It has the same gently undulating sides, wraparound taillights and panoramic glass roof. The doors open with very little effort and snap themselves closed, one of many ways designers tried to make the vehicle relaxing and serene.

Inside, there are patented, Ford-designed seats that can be adjusted up to 30 ways. They have separate settings for each thigh, inflating cushions, heating and cooling and a massage function, and they're designed to hug your back if you swivel around. In another nod to China, where many owners are chauffeured, there is a reclining seat in the rear.

The Continental is powered by a new, 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine with 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque.

Kumar Golhatra, Lincoln's president, says the brand's effort is paying off. Lincoln's U.S. sales rose 7 percent last year, faster than the industry average; it sold more than 100,000 vehicles in the U.S. for the first time since 2008. It also sold more than 11,500 vehicles in China.

Quirky ads featuring the actor Matthew McConaughey helped spark interest and lower the average age of Lincoln buyers to 58. That's down from 68 three years ago.

Analysts say Lincoln is making the right moves, but still has a long way to go to get noticed in the cutthroat luxury market. Mercedes-Benz sold nearly four times more vehicles than Lincoln in the U.S. last year.

"Imported luxury vehicles have more prestige," said Jack Nerad, a market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "As good as American luxury cars are, they can't overcome that."

The Associated Press contributed to this report