LOS ANGELES, California—It’s a historic nameplate that’s been around since 1939, but there’s been no new Lincoln Continental now for more than a decade.
At last, after a tease at last year’s New York auto show and its official debut at the Detroit auto show in January, the 2017 Continental will be sold in dealerships this December.
It’s big, it’s luxurious, and it’s American—but is it worth it?
There’s something different about the Continental when you first walk up to it. The wide grille, perhaps, that’s shaped in a honeycomb of little Lincoln logo shapes, unlike the waterfall grille of other Lincolns? No, that’s not it.
Maybe the “Lincoln Approach” lighting that senses the key fob in your pocket and gradually turns on the lights as you walk up, as well as shining a Lincoln logo puddle light onto the ground beside the door? No—that’s very nice, but not especially unique any more.
What makes the difference are the door handles integrated into the thin chrome beltline immediately below the windows. There’s still a gentle crease in the doors, in line with the “Continental” badge behind the front fender, but the handles themselves are almost hidden in that chrome strip, flowing from the chrome detail on the mirror.
The handles themselves don’t move—they’re touch-sensitive on the inside, with electronic locks and no rods or cables at all within the door. (If the battery should go flat, there’s a backup that allows the door to be opened and closed up to 20 times.)
It’s difficult these days for designers to come up with something truly different on a car that is also functional and intelligent. Every single time a Continental owner approaches the car and opens the door, he or she will appreciate that it stands out in this small way, and that is worth a great deal indeed.
Actually, the Lincoln Continental stands out in many small ways. Inside the car, it’s designed to be both comfortable and quiet. Much has been made of the available 30-way adjustable seats in the front (that’s three times as many back-and-forth adjustments as the standard seats in the base model).
The tester we drove in California had those 30-way seats and yes, they were very comfortable indeed. They’re only available as a $750 upgrade on the most expensive trim level, however, and the 24-way adjustable seats that come with the mid-level “Reserve” trim are just fine, too. The extra six twiddle-abilities on the fanciest seat are all lumbar adjustments, anyway.
There’s lots of legroom front and back – this is the equivalent of a long-wheelbase model, designed to appeal to Chinese buyers – but headroom in the back is limited. My six-foot frame meant my hair was brushing against the roofliner, despite the ceiling being scooped out for greater height over the left and right passengers. The rear seats do recline, which helps.
There’s also a $5,000 rear-seat package option that includes massage, heating and cooling, extra lumbar supports, a centre control console that flips down in the middle seat as an armrest, and extra vents and window shades. It even includes $250 inflatable seats belts, and the lovely panoramic moonroof that’s otherwise a $2,200 option.
Everything inside is of very high quality, all leather and polished wood, but no more than you would expect from a premium car at this price level. It’s a little dark and sparse, like a BMW, but that also helps the whole relaxation thing.
Like most cars these days, the level of technology depends on what you’re prepared to pay for. The Continental’s standard base model comes equipped with a rear-view camera (which will be mandatory anyway in 2018); rear cross-traffic alert; and a blind-spot monitoring system, but you have to upgrade to the $3,000 Technology package if you want more.
For the extra money, you’ll get a 360-degree surround camera that’s very handy when parking—the view on the screen is as if you’re looking down on the car and its surroundings from above. This is very nice, but it should be standard at this price.
You also get active lane-keeping assistance that uses the steering to stay within the lane – not just the left or right brakes like most systems – and automatic self-parking into both parallel and perpendicular spaces. Again, very helpful on such a large car, but it’s the same technology Ford offers on the Edge.
The best feature of the Technology package is the active cruise control. It will use sensors to keep you a safe distance from the vehicle ahead and follow at that vehicle’s speed, like most similar and well-established systems, but it will also slow the car right down to a stop if necessary without the driver touching a thing, and then resume cruise control with the touch of a button. Nice. Only more expensive cars currently do this.
There’s a sport driving mode, which can be set to adjust the performance through throttle response and transmission shift points, and the handling through steering and suspension firmness, as well as adding a bit of growl to the engine. Not too much growl, though—this is not a sporty car. It’s supposed to embody “quiet luxury” or, to use the engineers’ development term, “quiet flight.”
As such, there’s acoustic-damping glass in not just the windshield and front side windows but the rear side windows, too. There’s noise-cancelling acoustics through the sound system, and the tires are developed to kick back as little road noise as possible; opt to replace the standard 19-inch Michelins with 20-inch rubber and the special tires will include foam inserts to help absorb the extra harshness.
There are two turbocharged engines available in Canada and only one AWD drivetrain. Americans also get a naturally-aspirated 3.7-litre V6 for their base model, as well as front-wheel drive at all trim levels.
The 2.7-litre V6 Ecoboost that’s in the base and mid-level Canadian trims is powerful on paper (335 hp and 380 lbs-ft) and is also found under the hood of the MKX crossover.
We only drove the larger 3.0-litre V6 Ecoboost, however, which is a $3,000 upgrade and only available with the bells and whistles found in the mid-level Reserve trim, itself a $3,500 upgrade from base. The 3.0-litre engine makes 400 hp and 400 lbs-ft of torque, which is more than enough for handling hills and curves with a full complement of passengers.
That fully loaded sedan also includes torque-vectoring control, sending more power to the outside wheels when turning to increase overall stability. Again, this isn’t to chew up mountain roads more quickly but to add a level of ease and accomplishment to the ride. This is a car built for comfort, not for speed.
There are paddle shifters on the steering wheel for cutting up and down through the six-speed transmission, but you’ll probably never use them. Like most new Lincolns, the transmission is selected by a row of push-buttons – in this case, on the centre dash beside the display screen – that adds a sense of space to the cabin by removing the centre shift lever. Drivers will just push the ‘D’ button and glide away.
The gauges behind the steering wheel can even be set to “quiet” mode, so the speedometer turns into just a sweeping line of light that turns around an imaginary dial, with a digital count in the centre. Be warned! Try this at night on the highway with the right plinky-plunky music and you could fall into a meditative trance.
We didn’t drive for long enough to test fuel consumption properly, but official Canadian figures seem quite thirsty for an EcoBoost engine: the 2.7-litre claims 14.0 L/100 km in the city and 9.5 on the highway for an average of 12.0, while the 3.0-litre claims 14.4 in the city and 9.7 on the highway, for an average of 12.3 L/100 km.
Lincoln engineers here in California were emphatic that “we don’t want to out-German the Germans. There’s another automaker trying to do that, but it’s not our approach.” They were talking about Cadillac, which claims quick times on the Nurburgring, but the Continental has no such aspirations. It only wants to be comfortable, and relaxing, and a haven from worry.
The base $57,000 MSRP is a good price, even after the $1,900 for stupid Freight and PDI is added on and all the various taxes—it compares very well to the German cars identified as competition, like the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series, and it’s close to other large premium sedans, too. The smaller engine is probably fine in this car. We didn’t drive it, but it performs well in the comparatively heavy MKX.
The price starts going up quickly once you begin adding trims and options, of course – Lincoln’s not special, this is always the case – and there’s little likelihood of getting the extra money back at resale time.
Most buyers will probably elect for the $60,500 mid-level Reserve package; it provides the 24-way seats (and the most important thing is the separate thigh supports, which are a gimmick but look cool) and an upgraded 13-speaker Revel sound system and various other lovely accoutrements.
Good luck seeing anything back from the $5,500 “Luxury” package that adds six more speakers and premium LED headlights – though Audi buyers seem happy to pay more than that for the fancy Bang & Olufsen systems in their cars that don’t sound any better.
The Continental is good value for money, at least in its base trim, and easily delivers on its promise of quiet and stress-free driving. Ford’s premium nameplate should be proud of it.
Just try not to be too tempted in the showroom when the salesperson offers you all the available options and upgrades, most of which will probably “only cost the price of a coffee a day” – they add up quickly.
Above all, whatever you do, don’t let the salesperson sit you in the car, recline the seat a bit, adjust the colour of the ambient cabin light, turn on the seat massager, raise one thigh slightly higher than the other, and start playing Diana Krall on the Revel sound system, as we did here. You may never leave.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.