2017 Lincoln Continental

2017 Lincoln Continental

A brand named after a beloved American president—and which once supplied cars to presidents—is now looking to China for salvation. Following Buick’s proven path, Lincoln sees the Middle Kingdom and its swelling ranks of status-obsessed nouveaux riches as the ladder on which it plans to climb back to market relevance. In China, Lincoln still is associated with Kennedy and Eisenhower and American glamour. There, Lincoln carries no negative baggage from decades of neglect. In China, the new Lincoln Continental hopes to make its—pardon the Lincoln pun—mark.

In the United States, where drivers are perhaps a bit more discerning, the Continental lugs the ball and chain of Lincoln’s more recent history and will have to prove itself against some very formidable competition. In that context, the car turns out to be, like Lincoln itself, a work in progress. The thoroughly fussed-over design, with exquisitely beveled edges and lovely LED light bars in back that give a seamless neon look, makes an imposing statement from any angle. And the interior takes Lincoln to heights that were unimagined when the brand sold nothing but bacon-wrapped Fords. But the car, despite its sales having begun already, is not yet fully finished. A few rough edges indicate that Lincoln is not quite ready to beat Lexus or the German luxury triumvirate, and it even has its hands full with the hard-charging Genesis sub-brand of Hyundai.

Whether you get the base front-wheel-drive $45,485 Premier or the loaded all-wheel-drive $65,840 Black Label, this is a big machine, slightly longer both in wheelbase (117.9 inches) and between the license plates (201.4 inches) than the standard-wheelbase Lexus LS, itself a rather grand limo. Unlike the biggest Lexus (or the biggest Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz), there is only one Continental wheelbase at this point, so you can have any size you want as long as it’s XL. Besides that, Lincoln gives you a choice of three transversely mounted V-6 engines—the Chinese get a fourth engine, a 2.0-liter turbo—and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, unless you pick the most powerful twin-turbo 3.0-liter, which comes only with all-wheel drive. (The other six-cylinders are a naturally aspirated 3.7-liter and a twin-turbo 2.7-liter.)

For our first drive, Lincoln made available only the 3.0-liter—boasting 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque—in the top two trim levels wearing nearly every option, a $74,705 Reserve and an $80,260 Black Label. Besides a full load of features and trim upgrades, the latter comes with experiential extras including concierge service for pick up and delivery and an extended maintenance plan. They both had a full suite of luxury and safety options, including the much heralded 30-way power seats, rear-seat climate controls, self-cinching doors, twin sunroofs, and blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems among the phalanx of electronic safety gadgets.

 

Seat Yourself

Unlatch a door via the high-mounted handle, and the interior is easily accessible through big portals, both front and rear. Once ensconced behind the wheel, you notice immediately the soft embrace of the broadly hugging front thrones, reminiscent of those found in the industry’s current and longtime bucket-seat champ, Volvo. The seats’ many adjustments include two critical ones found on few cars: an independent upper-thorax component that articulates the upper half of the seatback, and a headrest adjustment that puts the soft cushion exactly where you want it. Unlike many modern seats, which curve away from your upper shoulders and neck and leave them dangling in dead space as part of a cheaped-out mechanical anti-whiplash scheme, the Lincoln’s can be configured after a few moments of familiarization to achieve perfect spinal alignment. We only wish the back seats were as comfortable. There’s tons of legroom in back, but the rear bench doesn’t welcome or support you nearly as opulently as the front, and the head of this five-foot 11-inch reporter was almost touching the roof.

The interior trim on these grander-level models, from the broad swaths of wood veneer to the finely perforated speaker grilles, can’t be critiqued without sounding petty. Lincoln no longer wants its products to be thought of as Fords with a different fascia, and the connection to other Ford products through the switchgear is blessedly faint. However, we didn’t see the lower trim levels, and the choice of a deep grain pattern for the material wrapping the dashtop and the seatbacks in the Reserve seems poor. Deep grain has long been associated with cheapness, and a smoother finish should have been selected. We might also have asked for more options in the instrument display screen. You can have a digital speedometer or an analog sweeping pointer, and although the display is legible and conveys the data, none of the options are particularly exciting. Other brands have taken better advantage of the switch from conventional gauges to TFT screens.

 

Conti in Motion

In motion, the Continental is quiet; even the mighty 3.0-liter makes a benign and distant V-6 hum. Lincoln was aiming for surprising performance from this boosted-to-bursting engine, and the Continental delivers, with the slightest brush of the accelerator causing your head to snap. Indeed, the engineers were a bit aggressive on the throttle calibration; the car rockets off with the gas pedal pushed barely a third of the way into its short stroke. And that’s in the standard drive mode. Select the Sport mode by pushing the S button, located below D on the console (this sport setting being the only other drive mode offered), and the throttle jumpiness becomes downright annoying. There’s no way to be subtle in the Continental, no way to merely waft past a slower car. You have to pass them as if you are trying to humiliate them. Hey, some people like that sensation of instant, massive power, but in this age of electronic controls, Lincoln should give the driver the choice of opting out for a more measured throttle-control map.

The six-speed automatic transmission proved another rough spot. It can shift at odd times, and often it doesn’t work transparently, especially on mid-throttle roll-offs from the line. Occasionally it lurched into second gear as if the car were hiccuping; once, it seemed to disconnect from the engine completely for half a second, then slammed into gear as if the car had been rear-ended, eliciting a startled gasp from both driver and passenger. We’re guessing that more elegant power train calibrations will roll out over time as buyer feedback comes in.

The all-wheel-drive system includes a torque-vectoring function that, thanks to a gearset within the power take-off, allows the outside rear wheel to be over-run to help aim the car into a corner. Think of a canoe with two paddlers, the rearmost of which is paddling harder to the outside of a turn, and you’ve got the idea. Thus, the Continental’s steering is lively and quick and definitely un-Lincoln-like, the weighting natural and progressive as it turns off-center. It’s no trouble to place this big car in a corner or to thread a narrow space between, say, a pothole and a guardrail. The fine steering, if not exactly breathing with the tugs and sags of the road, is perhaps the Continental’s best dynamic feature.

We drove cars equipped with both the 19-inch wheels wearing fairly modest Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-season tires and the 20-inch wheels with more aggressive Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric all-season rubber. With either, the ride is quite firm and the roll and pitch well attenuated, but on the 20s, the Conti’s lack of suspension travel wears through any velvet veneer. The suspension clomps against its bump stops over rough pavement that should be cushioned out in this, a somewhat genteel luxury liner. Lincoln eschewed fancier air springs or magnetorheological dampers in favor of adaptive shock valving, a cost-effective and reliable solution but one with somewhat limited capability. Whatever the thinking, at the price point where the Continental is playing, the suspension steps just a little too hard. (There also are available 18-inch wheels that are likely to offer the best ride of all.)

At least the structure—in its simplest terms an upsizing of the Ford Fusion platform, made mostly of various grades of steel with a few aluminum outer panels—is stiff, taking its wallops without shaking the floor or the steering column. But the penalty is weight, with the lightest front-drive Continental coming in at just over 4200 pounds, according to Ford. No doubt that’s one reason the 3.0 manages an EPA combined rating of only 19 mpg. We just tested an all-wheel-drive 3.6-liter Cadillac CT6 that weighed 4138 pounds and returned fuel economy close to what Ford claims for its similar but less powerful 3.7-liter V-6.

The Conti’s stiff ride is perhaps why the center console of one of our cars developed a persistent itching squeak somewhere around the clutter bin. When informed of this, an attending engineer just sighed, indicating that despite what have been (for Ford) obsessive efforts to mitigate squeaks and rattles, it remains a dogging issue in the early cars out of the Continental’s Flat Rock, Michigan, assembly plant.

As we said, the Continental is a work in progress. Some of the basic ingredients are there, including the design, the surfeit of modern amenities such as the fully updated Sync 3 infotainment system—alas, still lacking a center control knob, so inputs are touchscreen or voice control only—and a variety of powertrain and driveline options to suit many needs. It just needs polishing, a process that has taken Cadillac and Audi, two other reinvented luxury marques, some 20 years to pull off. At least Lincoln has finally taken its first steps.

Bram Vreeker

Bram Vreeker

Bram Vreeker is the internationally bestselling author of eleven novels. A pioneer in internet marketing, Vreeker started the first marketing firm for authors and is one of the founding board members of Silly Kitty. Vreeker also teaches an online marketing class to help authors get buzz for their books.


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