In modern times, Lincoln has served primarily as a sales channel for the Navigator luxury SUV, and the ubiquitous fleet queen, the Town Car. Since the discontinuation of the ancient Town Car in 2011 with its circa-1978 “Panther” platform, Lincoln has had some difficulty re-establishing itself as a full-line luxury marque. Lincoln’s other models, the MKX crossover, MKZ Sedan, MKS Sedan, and MKT wagon, were mildly restyled versions of the Ford Edge, Fusion, Taurus, and Flex, respectively. In the hyper-competitive luxury market, buyers have not embraced Lincoln as a serious competitor.
It wasn’t always like this. The first Continental was a one-off custom-bodied Zephyr commissioned by company president Edsel Ford to take on vacation in Florida in 1939. His wealthy friends were so impressed with the car that Ford put it into production immediately upon his return. It was considered to be an ultra-stylish, ultra-exclusive version of the already-luxurious V12 Zephyr convertible. A far cry from the warmed-over Taurus that Lincoln last passed off as a Continental in 2002. In with a bang, and out with a whimper.
The landscape has changed in the intervening years. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Ford sold off the import brands in its Premium Automotive Group (Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin) to raise cash and save the farm. It shuttered the Mercury brand, whose only real purpose was to sell slightly prettier versions of Ford models. It doubled down on quality and content, and the results have been astounding. But there’s a problem: Fords, especially high-spec Titanium models, are now really nice; why would anyone buy a Lincoln?
The Lincoln Motor Company, as it’s been rebranded, hopes to answer that question with the 2017 Continental. Essentially a replacement for the milquetoast MKS, the Continental uses all-wheel-drive Fusion mechanicals, but with no shared body panels or interior parts. Conceived by Jaguar alum David Woodhouse, the new Continental’s styling makes a bold statement about Lincoln’s desire to be a contender.
The reborn Continental made a splash when it was first shown as a concept at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. The production car, introduced one year later, is so true to the concept that most would require a spotter’s guide to tell the difference. On the streets of fashion-forward Toronto, the Continental proved to be a real head-turner. The Burgundy Velvet finish of this test car, with its tinted clearcoat, is particularly luxurious and flattering to the shape. Critics have argued that the design is derivative of Jaguar and Bentley models; that it’s not original. The new Continental is a sexy big sedan and while it has obvious design elements from other beautiful cars, the end result is a beautiful car in its own rite.
I drove the top-spec Reserve model, equipped with just about every available option. Starting at a base price of CAD $60,500, the 400hp Twin Turbo GTDI V6 Engine added $3,000; the Luxury Package (LED Headlamps, Revel Audio System) cost $5,500; the excellent 30-Way power-adjustable multi-contour seat added $750, the Technology Package added $3,000, and the Rear Seat Package added $5,000. The Technology package brings an Auto Dimming rearview mirror, active park assist, adaptive cruise control, 360-degree camera, pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, and lane departure warning. The Rear Seat Package includes power adjustment and recline, seat heating, cooling, and massage, a fold-down center console with audio and climate controls, rear seat air ducts, a twin-panel moonroof, and power rear sunshades.
Including Destination and Delivery, the total MSRP for my Canadian-market tester came to CAD $80,450. That’s rare air for Lincoln, and they’d have been smart to tweak the numbers so that no combination of options could result in a sticker price greater than $79,900. A little consumer psychology goes a long way, ya know? The good news: If you aren’t hung up on the relative status of the badge, the Continental is worth every penny.
The Continental is smooth and silent on the road. Pavement blemishes are vaguely perceptible, absorbed almost completely. Around town, the steering effort is light and the car feels smaller and more maneuverable than expected. Where the newest Lincoln really shines, though, is at speed. The Conti devours kilometer after kilometer of highway and then politely asks for more. Plant your right foot, and the 400-horsepower motor comes to life. The suspension seems to hunker down, the scenery blurs, but everything inside the cabin remains serene and civilized. My mother-in law was very impressed.
The suite of driver assistance features are thoughtfully executed. The adaptive cruise control is calibrated to crawl in traffic, all the way to a dead stop. Simply press the “Resume” button on the wheel, and the car continues to keep pace. It’s the best implementation of this feature that I’ve seen to date. The Lane Departure Warning, which vibrates the steering wheel to simulate a rumble strip when you drift from your lane, is quite sensitive even at it’s weakest setting, but it can be toggled on and off by a button on the turn signal stalk. Many other cars require you to sift through several layers of menus to turn it off. When you’re on a winding highway or one with narrow lanes, this makes a big difference. There’s also an “Auto Hold” feature, which allows you to take your foot off the brake at a stop light, holding the car in place until you press the accelerator.
Inside, the comeback story continues. The dash is a smart composition of stitched leather, genuine wood, and chrome accents. The controls fall intuitively at hand, and Lincoln has done a good job of deciding what gets a physical control, and what is controlled from the Sync 3 touch screen. The 30-way adjustable seats, with their unique split thigh support, are so comfortable that you stop noticing them altogether—Until you turn on the massage function. A grid of inflatable air pockets in the seat pan and back undulate to promote circulation and reduce fatigue. Long-haul comfort is the name of the game.
In the back, there’s plenty of leg room, though the sloping roofline encroaches slightly on passengers over 6’-2”, but let’s be honest: the tall are used to hitting their head on things. The seats feature the same heating, cooling, and massage functions as the front seats, and even power reclining. Part of the Rear Seat Package, the armrest folds down to reveal full audio and climate controls. It’s a great car to be driven around in, which is great news for car service riders. You’ll be getting whisked to the airport in comfort and style soon.
All told, The Lincoln Motor Company has done the hard work of combining memorable styling, solid performance, and top-notch comfort in a package that doesn’t feel like it was stabbed to death by an accountant’s red pen. The 2017 Lincoln Continental is worthy of serious consideration in very competitive field where it faces off against the all new Cadillac CT6, the Volvo S90, and Genesis G90. Each of these cars has a unique perspective on luxury and style; The Continental is flashy and glamorous, the Caddy is futuristic and edgy, the Volvo is minimal and elegant, and the Genesis is substantial and traditional. All four are excellent cars, and each captures the essence of its brand. You can’t mistake one for the other, and that’s how it should be.
If Lincoln can follow this Continental with unique models that bring this new energy and style to other segments, they've got a real shot at reclaiming their prewar status as a premier American luxury marque.