A luxury sedan worthy of its legacy

I arrive at Los Angeles airport at 2 a.m. after a four hour delay, tired and achey. A brand new Lincoln Continental rolls up to the curb. I tumble into the rear seat and the driver sets off for a Beverly Hills hotel. Exploring a set of door-mounted buttons, I lean back the seat and engage massage mode, then use the console controls to tune in some soothing music over the 19-speaker Revel audio system. This is luxury.

Lincoln's Continental nameplate enjoys a storied history, but a rough transition into the 21st century led to a 15-year cessation in production. Now this flagship luxury sedan comes back for the 2017 model year, showing off a completely new design, modern electronics and a set of new, efficient engines.

At a Lincoln-sponsored press event in Los Angeles, I experienced this new chapter in Continental luxury, both as a driver and passenger.

2017 Lincoln Continental

The new Continental manages to express classic luxury with a modern take in its styling.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

The new Continental looks very good -- a hit in every regard. The grille features notable brightwork, but instead of a vertical posture, it shows a modern cue with a slight lean. The roofline retains its height over the rear seats, eschewing the vogue-ish fast-back styling in favor of headroom. In a particularly nice touch, the door handles blend with the belt-line chrome trim, this styling cue made possible by the car's electronic door latches. Lincoln keeps ornamentation simple on the Continental, maintaining a look consistent with modern luxury.

An optional rear seat package includes power reclining and a massage function, but front seat passengers get even more coddling, as the Continental offers 30-way power adjustment. Fiddling with the controls, I adjust the seat's upper and lower back portions separately, and move the headrest up and down, fore and aft. Seat and side bolsters move in and out, and I can even extend the seat bottom forward, useful for people with long thighs. It's a seat that should fit anyone.

The Continental I drive comes adorned in Black Label trim, the model's high point, loaded with high-end interior decor and optioned with driver assistance features and the most powerful available engine. LED headlamps sit in front, while an LCD instrument cluster lets me choose what information I see while driving. It also works as an interface for Lincoln Drive Control, where I can set the adaptive suspension between Comfort, Normal and Sport.

In the dashboard, I recognize Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system on the center touchscreen, featuring a background theme tailored to Lincoln. Sync 3 gives me navigation, stereo and communications, and supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Sync 3's accessible menus show quick touch response, with maps that allow pinches and swipes for zooming and panning.

Brushed metal speaker grilles announce the Revel Ultima audio system, built by Harman, which includes its Clari-Fi technology, designed to enhance the sound of low bitrate MP3s. Listening to music from my iPhone, I'm particularly impressed when the applause on a live track emanates distinctly around the Continental's cabin, as if I'm in the audience.

As a modern Lincoln trait, the Continental keeps its transmission control buttons in a vertical row next to the infotainment touchscreen, rather than an unsightly big shifter on the console. Those buttons engage the six speed automatic transmission, which seems antiquated compared to the eight- and nine-speed gearboxes popular among the competition.

The 400 horsepower engine idles very quietly. That's right, 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque from the top engine, a twin-turbocharged direct injection 3.0-liter V6. Under heavy acceleration, this engine delivers a more pronounced growl, rewarding heavy-footed drivers. In Los Angeles traffic, I find it effortless to control, with no untoward surging and solid off-the-line response. However, I feel less of the raw motive power you get from a V8, even with the Continental's horsepower.

Lincoln expects most people to opt for the next engine down, a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6, good for 335 horsepower and likely more than adequate to push the Continental along. The base model comes with a naturally-aspirated 3.7-liter V6, making 305 horsepower.

Door-mounted switchgear controls the 30-way power adjustable front seats, and brushed metal grilles highlight the Revel audio system.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

The Continental feels effortless to drive, whether I'm slogging along in Los Angeles' heavy traffic or flogging it through the twisting turns of Malibu's canyon roads. The wheel executes quick but comfortable steering response, its electric assist increasing at slower speeds to make for easy parking lot maneuvering.

Putting it through handling exercises few owners will try, I'm impressed by how well the Continental holds the road. The body remains relatively flat as I slew it through a few turns, and in a few faster corners, I feel surprisingly good rotation. A Lincoln spokesperson later tells me that the 3.0-liter V6 doesn't just bring in an all-wheel-drive system, it also includes mechanical torque vectoring, overdriving the outside rear wheel in a turn to aid handling. In fact, this all-wheel-drive system is the same as in the Ford Focus RS, with different software tuning.

An adaptive suspension system stiffens up when I push the S button on the transmission controls, further aiding handling. During more sedate driving I set the suspension to its Comfort mode, where it generally delivers smoothness. However, over some rough pavement I feel a few hard suspension knocks, showing the Continental's ride quality limits.

Contributing to the Continental's effortless driving experience, I engage adaptive cruise control in moderate traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway, and the car adjusts its speed for slower traffic ahead. Approaching cars at a stop light, the Continental comes to a complete stop without me having to touch the brake pedal. While I don't get the opportunity to try its automated parking, I am assured by a Lincoln spokesperson that the car can parallel park on left or right, and can find its own way into a perpendicular parking spot.

2017 Lincoln Continental

Lincoln makes the Continental a good value proposition in the luxury market, with an array of options and engine choices to help buyers get what they want.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

The 2017 Lincoln Continental looked good when the company first unveiled it at the Detroit auto show in January. On the road, it mostly holds up the model name's reputation for luxury. Outside of those suspension knocks I felt, the car delivers nicely on its promise.

Even more impressive, however, is the price, with the base model, the Continental Premiere, coming in at just over $45,000. That is very competitive for a large luxury sedan, showing well against another value-priced luxury car, the Genesis G90.

Of course, the large delta in pricing means that a well-optioned top trim model, like the Continental Black Label I drove, can push towards $80,000. Still, compared to the Lexus LS 460 and other large luxury cars, that price still represents a value.

And the Lincoln Continental name still carries enough cachet that you can brag about it to your friends.

 

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