Scan Robert F. Widmer's business card and it sinks in: with this all-new platform - the long-discussed DEW98 Ford Motor Co. and its Lincoln and Jaguar divisions are deadly serious.

In Mr. Widmer's title, the first word is "performance." Performance/luxury vehicle line director-large/luxury car vehicle center. "Performance" as the primary ingredient for a Lincoln?

Mr. Widmer, along with Helmuth Schrader, chief designer-corporate design, have joined Chief Engineer Charles Repp in an unadorned studio at Ford's Dearborn design center to give us an early walk-around of the completely new Lincoln LS6/LS8 sedans (The cars, with fully outfitted interiors missing from the mock-ups we're shown, publicly debuted at the New York auto show early this month).

Then Mr. Widmer - the guy with "performance" right at the front of his title - floors us. "If we do our job correctly, we're going to out-BMW BMW."

The two Ward's editors glance at Mr. Widmer with that "Aw-come-on-you-can't-be-serious-about-a-Lincoln-outgunning-a-BMW," look we've reserved for the scores of Big Three executives and engineers who've told us over the years their newest machines were going to compete with BMW. Or Mercedes-Benz. Or even Toyota.

They always say it. The execution's never there.

But Mr. Widmer IS NOT joking. As he starts to run down the specification, there comes the glimmer that he and the DEW98 team might not have such an outrageous opinion of their new Lincolns - slated to be year 2000 models - after all.

The LS6 is fitted with a Cleveland-built 3L DOHC Duratec V-6. Although Ford's not saying much about power, expect something in the neighborhood of 225 hp. The big Kahuna, the LS8, gets a new, 3.9L DOHC V-8 adapted from the Jaguar 4L AJ-V8. Jag's 4L makes 290 hp, so expect something similar for Lincoln's 3.9L version.

You can grab an LS6 with a 5-speed manual transmission - the first Lincoln ever with a manual. The LS8 is automatic-only, but it will be a full-go autobox: a 5-speed unit with a sequential-shifting feature that allows the driver to manually toggle between ratios with just a tug of the lever, conceptually similar to semi-automatics like Chrysler Corp.'s Autostick and Porsche AG's Tiptronic. Drive is transmitted, as it should be in cars tilting at BMW, to the rear wheels.

There's fully independent suspension and a disc brake at each corner for the LSs, which sit on a wheelbase just a touch greater than 114 ins. (290 cm). One Ford insider says weight distribution is nearly 50/50. Antilock braking and traction control are standard, a stability-control system optional.

Now look at that wheelbase and the fun starts. A BMW 5-Series rings in at 111.4 ins. (283 cm). The all-new BMW 3-Series, scheduled for U.S. launch this fall, has a 107.3-in. (273-cm) wheelbase. The LS is bigger than both, but Mr. Widmer hints that the LS6 will be priced more like the 3-Series, while the LS8 will be thousands less than the $50,000-plus BMW gets for a V-8 5-Series and the LS6 a bargain compared to the 6-cyl. 5-Series.

The LS team admits its idea of competition, apart from BMW's 3 and 5, is the Lexus ES300, Volvo 70-series, maybe Infiniti I30. Don't mention Cadillac's rear-drive Catera or any Mercedes. "We're almost 180 degrees from Catera," sniffs Mr. Widmer.

More to the point, Mr. Widmer and Mr. Repp both stress that they see the LS cars first as sports/luxury cars - not entry/luxury. That's where Mr. Schrader's design comes in.

"This is a totally different type of Lincoln," he says. "It's close in spirit to the Navigator (the grille, in particular, is meant to carry the familial theme started with the Navvy). It's also closer in design to BMW, especially the sculpted front end, short front overhang and beefy front fender and wheel-well design."

The LS design evokes precious little, elementally, of Ford's New Edge styling theme. Mr. Schrader says that's intentional; customers for this sort of car don't want unproven styling. We'll take his opinion as worthy, considering he's worked both sides of the Ford styling fence: Mr. Schrader had a hand in the original Mondeo, as well as the Edge-ier Ka.

As most by now know, the DEW98 platform also will spawn a new, entry-level Jaguar. But the LS will be the real springboard from which several derivatives emerge. The cars will be built in Wixom, MI, assuming capacity freed by the axing of the Lincoln Mark VIII.

The car will be sold in 30 markets, in both right- and left-hand drive. A European Ford-badged version is certain to replace the much-maligned Scorpio, which Ford has just announced it will drop. So one can see Ford truly expects the new Lincolns to be fully competitive with European stuff. Will they "out-BMW" the Bavarians. Only driving - and maybe styling - will tell. We'll know in the first quarter of next year, when the LS6 and LS8 make it to the showroom.