A few years back, a friend involved in Maine’s auto industry for over 40 years and I were commiserating about the state of our respective families at a funeral. He happened to be piloting that day the latest sedan from Lincoln, the MKZ, a Ford Fusion based product that applied an embellished, upscale winged grille to an everyman’s family sedan. When pressed on how he liked the heavily hyped Lincoln, he whispered under his breath, “It’s not as good as it should be.” The buying public came away with the same impression, and sales never met expectations for that early Lincoln revival attempt.
Last year, Ford went back to the drawing board and revamped the MKZ as well as creating a larger luxury sedan labeled with a sacred title from Lincoln’s past — the Continental. Thankfully, this new midsize cruiser is everything that the first MKZ wasn’t: stylish, swift and more luxurious.
Now wearing a face that closely mimics the ultra-premium Bentley grille, the new Continental has returned as Lincoln’s flagship sedan. With only two cars left for sale at Lincoln dealerships — the Continental (starting at $46,000) and the 7-inch-shorter MKZ ($36,000) — the brand is now heavily hewed toward the popular crossover/SUVs that define luxury today.
Where other recent Lincoln design efforts have met indifference, the Continental drew admiration everywhere it traveled. The car has great “presence” from every angle, distinctive yet subtle effects that luxury buyers are willing to pay extra for. Note the spotlight LED headlamps. Out back is a full-width LED taillamp gracefully integrated into the fascia, while the car’s door handles are electric switches placed high on the belt-line at the base of the side windows. Exiting the car is a simple electric push-button, too, just like Chevy’s Corvette.
Inside, the Continental is tomblike going down the road, easily one of the quietest cars we’ve ever sampled. Even at an illegal but traffic-accompanying pace, the Lincoln is hushed, graceful and much more powerful than any previous V-8 engined Continental. While perhaps lacking the panache of the great V-12 Lincolns from the late 1930s, this car is darned quick. The smooth, silent turbo-power flowing from the engine discreetly provided the same effortless enthusiasm that the Germans are known for. Kudos to Lincoln for a great powertrain.
Saving weight and space, the Continental comes only with V-6 engines; the base 3.7-motor makes 305 hp, while a twin-turbo 2.7-EcoBoost creates 335 hp, and the new 3.0-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 spins out a spine-tingling 400 hp. Outfitted in Reserve trim, one of four, the six-speed automatic (with AWD) returned 24.2 mpg for 725 miles — beating the EPA highway estimate.
Most buyers will never summon the power available here, being content to enjoy the 30-way heated, cooled and massaging front seats, just like in the Navigator, while rear passengers will think that the Town Car has returned, as leg room is superb in seats that are also power-assisted at this trim point. Soft leather and real wood trim create a comfortable space, yet the abundance of shiny brightwork also created some periodic reflections on sunny days. All in, with numerous driving aids, 360-degree camera, park-assist, 19-speaker audio, rain-sensing wipers and much more, our Continental Reserve stickered for $70,945. Missing: no sunroof, no power sunshades and no heads-up display.
The trunk is huge, the shifter is a vertical series of push-buttons climbing the dash (long reach), and the driver alert sensor seemed eager to suggest that I stop and rest frequently, yet I suppose that could be the result from the silent cabin and those incredible massaging seats. The miles flow past very quickly when you are coddled as in this car.
Handling dynamics are not German-esque, but there remain many luxury buyers who are interested in smooth, relaxed travel. This car will suit their desires but not fall all over itself when you vigorously twist the steering wheel. The AWD hardware apparently balances the rear drive-biased chassis nicely.
The last big sales year for Lincoln was 1990, when the previous front-drive Continental was in the lineup, and the brand sold over 231,000 vehicles while beating BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Infiniti and the other import brands. Today, Lincoln is still fighting for luxury segment relevance while looking up the ladder to virtually all of its competitors. As our winter review of the Navigator, plus this week’s Continental experience illustrate, Ford’s luxury brand is at least on the correct track. Lincoln dealers are hoping to sway enough customers to at least come and try one of their credible new offerings.