Reborn flagship is at ease finding its own way to modern luxury.
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 the Genesis G80 and G90, Volvo S90, 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 MKZ, 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 concept car that wowed the 2015 New York Auto Show 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 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKX. That means that unlike most traditional full-size 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.
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.)
On the cabin technology front, Sync 3 handles the infotainment chores, and while it's not as sexy in appearance or feature count as systems from Audi and Mercedes-Benz, the touchscreen interface is intuitive and quite snappy speed-wise. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are on standby if you prefer, too. An available Revel Ultima stereo system delivers 19 speakers of sonic bliss, and the cabin is nicely hushed to take advantage of the excellent audio quality.
Naturally, all those power seat motors, speaker magnets, yards of leather and cavities stuffed with sound deadener add up to a hefty car: over 4,500 pounds. You need a substantial powertrain to motivate that kind of mass, and with V8 engines now out of vogue for most new cars, it's unsurprising that Lincoln has pried open Ford's toy box to get at its better V6 engines. There are actually three six-cylinders available, with the base 3.7-liter the only one not being treated to forced induction. Borrowed from Ford's Mustang, the entry-level powerplant rings up 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.
A 2.7-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo engine dials things up to 335 hp and 400 pound-feet, while the top-trim tester seen here arrived with Lincoln's range-topping twin-turbo 3.0-liter that generates 400 horses and torques. All-wheel drive with a torque-vectoring rear axle is standard with this most-powerful engine, but buyers can upgrade less-powerful models from front- to all-wheel drive for $2,000.
Carpeting the throttle is a satisfying exercise, as the 3.0-liter is plenty muscular, with 60 mph smacking the Lincoln's laminated windshield in around 5.5 seconds. What the Continental's six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission gives up in ratio selection, it repays in refinement.
Having a modern eight- or nine-speed gearbox would likely help this engine's efficiency picture, which isn't great: EPA ratings call for 16 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway, and 19 combined. Those numbers are realistic out in the real world, if only because the Continental doesn't really make any attempt to goad you into sporty driving. Its relatively soft ride and light steering won't encourage you to take back roads home from work, even if the chassis is actually up to the job.
Speaking of ride and handling, if you've got it in your head that the Continental is the same soggy, crestfallen mess as its distant forbears, it isn't. No, it doesn't have trick magnetorheological dampers, variable-ratio steering or high performance rubber, but in everyday driving, it's all the better for it. This Lincoln is clearly tuned to prioritize comfort, and yet its body motions aren't nautical by nature, even when the suspension is dialed to Comfort. There is a Sport mode, but selecting it, frankly, feels a bit beside the point. The default setting is nicely balanced, and most owners will probably set it and forget it, which is the smart move.
Presuming solid handling won't help you avoid accidents alone, the Conti also comes with a range of available active safety features, including 360-degree cameras, all-speed intelligent cruise control, blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assist and precollision warning with pedestrian detection and auto brake. Much of this electronic security blanket is bundled into a $3,105 Technology Package, but it feels like some of the equipment should be standard, especially self-braking. It's also worth noting that rival models have more advanced semi-autonomous drive hardware, which is exactly the sort of tech that would feel at home in a car like this.
As you've likely gathered, none of this comes cheaply. The Michigan-built Continental starts at a reasonable-sounding $45,645 delivered, but low-end models don't feel all that special in terms of power or equipment. If you want to get the full, comfort-first "quiet luxury" experience, you'll need to splash out on an upper-end model. Black Label trims start at $65,840 in your driveway, but my tester was optioned all the way to $77,710.
That sort of pricing ambitiously plants the Lincoln Continental in the thick of offerings from more prominent brands, including stalwarts like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. All of those models offer more compelling cabin technology, but not necessarily the same level of relaxed comfort.
Thankfully, Lincoln knows they're going to have to work extra-hard to earn the attention of luxury buyers, so at least on upper-end models, they're wrapping up the Continental ownership experience in a velvety cloak of premium service. Black Label membership not only comes with things like a four-year/50,000-mile total maintenance plan that includes pickup, delivery and a loaner car, but also niceties like complimentary annual detailing and a Culinary Collection membership to exclusive dining experiences. Indeed, Lincoln isn't so preoccupied with Autobahn supremacy as it is with throne-like seats that effortlessly spirit you away to a private table where dry-aged Wagyu ribeyes and a full-bodied Bordeaux await.
It won't be for everyone, but Lincoln's vision of modern luxury is still a pretty delicious way to go.