The auto industry's definition of luxury is forever changing. Novel features constantly trickle down to models of lower price tags and status, so premium automakers are always on the hunt for The Next Big Thing. The heated/cooled seats and sleek glass showrooms of yesteryear have given way not just to 30-way massaging loungers, but to inclusive ownership experiences with butler-like services.
What's interesting is that in terms of performance, today's luxury sedan market is showing signs it's going back to the future, putting an emphasis on coddling performance over cornering prowess. That may not play well for marketers who love to show their cars hustling over Alpine passes or powersliding on dry lake beds, but it's probably more consistent with the way buyers actually drive, and it's certainly more in line with Our Autonomous Future. If not a total refutation of the sporty Germanic driving character that nearly all luxury automakers have been tilting at for decades, this change is at least a significant development. Need proof this trend has legs? Look no further than new cars like theand , , and this car, Lincoln's reborn Continental.
Yes, Lincoln Continental. It's been a while since we've heard those two names together. In fact, it's been 15 years since Ford's luxury brand offered a Continental, and it's been much, much longer since the famed nameplate wasn't an embarrassing, tarnished mess. This new 2017 model not only aims to restore some luster to one of the great monikers in all of motoring, it's on a mission to make Lincoln relevant again -- not just here in North America, but in China, the world's largest car market, where the brand will have to succeed if it has any hopes of surviving at all.
Spoiler alert: The new Continental is a very nice car.
The chief thing that's been holding Lincoln back all these years is a profound lack of investment. If Ford's now-dead Mercury models offered Blue Oval cars with a bit more content, Lincoln's didn't do much better, slathering on a schmear of chrome frosting and little else. And while this new Continental doesn't ride on its own dedicated platform, it still feels like a clean-sheet execution.
Let's start with this Lincoln's curb appeal, because... it has some. I mean that literally -- the Continental's best, most distinctive view is its profile, the aspect you'd see when standing alongside one on the sidewalk. When viewed from the side, not only can you take in this Lincoln's vast scale, you can see its most unique design attributes: its startlingly clean sheetmetal and improbably enough, its door handles and mirrors.
The former are uniquely integrated into a band of chrome just below the windowline, a placement that necessitated using electric microswitches to activate the release (mechanical assemblies wouldn't fit). The handles look great and feel both substantial and appropriately cool to the touch. My only wish is that the back doors were rear hinged, so that you could pull open both handles like a big Sub-Zero fridge, or, more accurately, like a 1960s Elwood-Engel-era Continental, whose slab sides this new model tries to emulate. But suicide doors would've been a crippling engineering cost and crash-test challenge, so front hinges it is.
I mentioned those side mirrors earlier for a reason. Just look at them -- they're perched like jewelry boxes on delicate chrome platforms. They're the type of ornamentation normally seen on concept cars, but this sort of attention to detail almost never sees production. They're beautiful, and just as importantly, they're not so small as to be useless.
By contrast, the Continental's nose and tail are a bit disappointing. The front end, in particular, is a facsimile of Lincoln's newly facelifted, a strategy that's hard to comprehend. I understand the desire to build a familial look to promote the brand, but this design-by-Xerox approach is absurd. Hewing more closely to the would've helped. While the show car and the production model look outwardly very similar, something has been lost in translation, mostly around the car's lower extremities.
Speaking of the MKZ, this car rides atop a stretched and widened version of its CD4 platform, which it also shares with the luxury cars, the Continental is either front- or all-wheel drive. Don't let those prosaic roots distract you, though. Lincoln may have a long and troubled history of merely dressing up Blue Oval products, but this Continental feels quite different from behind the wheel.and . That means that unlike most traditional full-size
That's in large measure due to the cabin, which is one of the very nicest and most comfortable executions we've seen out of Dearborn in decades. In my top-shelf Black Label test model, chrome-edged wood trim nestled neatly alongside rich Venetian leathers and ornately crafted metal speaker grilles, all of it speaking clearly and loudly of the good life.
In addition to all sorts of bells and whistles, Black Label models are notable in that they are available in three different themes, complete with their own suite of trim choices and leather colors (the rich brown seen in these photos is known as Thoroughbred). The Conti's $1,500 Perfect Position front seats are also worth highlighting, as they come with more adjustments than any other chair on the market. With 30-way articulation, they're the Kama Sutra of car seats.
Second-row accommodations are similarly well done, with loads of legroom and fine detailing. There's even an optional $4,300 rear-seat package that includes power rear seats with massage, heating and cooling, along with a twin-panel moonroof and armrest controls for HVAC and infotainment. My test vehicle wasn't so equipped, but it would've been interesting to see if the reclining seatbacks helped to obviate the Continental's surprising packaging weakness: rear headroom. (Presumably the problem is lessened in non-moonroof cars.)