Lincoln made a car called the “Continental” 20 years ago. You don’t remember it. No one remembers it. That’s because it was bad. But now there’s a new Continental, and the 2018 Lincoln Continental is the Lincoln should’ve made a long time ago.
(Full Disclosure: Lincoln wanted us to drive a Continental so bad that we asked for one, a company rep said “OK,” and then dropped it off for a weekend with a full tank of gas.)
Obviously, I don’t mean that Lincoln should’ve made a car in 1998 with technology from 2018, but the new Continental is indeed Lincoln’s first real stab at the global luxury market in a long time.
It’s not just supposed to compete with Cadillac in the American domestic market category of Most Luxury Sadness, fueled up until relatively recently by latent brand loyalty, or a strangely placed sense of “patriotism,” or even worse—fleet sales. It’s supposed to be more than just “this is good, for a Lincoln!”, the same damning faint praise that jaded auto writers give to nearly every almost-there American luxury car that just doesn’t quite measure up to Mercedes and the like.
You see, Lincoln Continentals built from the late 1970s all the way through the 1990s were sad, provincial affairs. Don’t get me wrong, they certainly had some distinctiveness about them. They were enormous yachts filled with a certain sort of style, brimming with fake leather and fake wood, and most people see them as more of a joke now than anything. They were almost entirely unlike the Lincoln Continentals of the 1950s and 1960s, which were considered to be so classy that Presidents were driven and occasionally shot at in them.
“The American market is big enough,” Lincoln’s product planners seemed to think, and even then, their idea of the “American market” didn’t seem to stretch much beyond the confines of Michigan.
In 1997 they’d see whole fleets of misshapen orbs with “Lincoln Continental” badges on the back, with sales seemingly entirely fueled by the endless manufacturer employee discounts that exist in the city, and they’d think “yes, this must mean people are buying them, and that it’s good.”
But the last cars to be called Continental weren’t good. In fact, they were terrible. Their
body-on-frame construction (CORRECTION: they were of unibody construction, as Margin of Error helpfully pointed out. I’m bad and dumb, and apologize for the error. The old Conti was still bad, though.) made everything feel all flobbery, as anyone who’s ever ridden in an old taxi cab could attest. The interior was cheap, filled with plastic. I can’t think of a reason why you’d buy one, other than the aforementioned discount and being significantly into retirement age.
Just look at it:
“But that’s a terrible picture!” you say. “It’s just sitting in some drab, dreary parking lot!” You’re wrong, though. It could have been sitting on a beautiful Hawaiian beach, more gorgeous than anything you could have imagined, and the sheer bleakness of the car itself could trap your brain in a bleak patch of pavement.
There was no way it could hope to compete with anything from the likes of the Germans or Japanese when it came to comfortable cruiser cars.
But this new Continental. Well, it’s different. Much different.
It’s All About Effort
Part of the reason why the Continental of 20 years ago was so spiritually barren was because it was, essentially, the result of the last of a Malaise Era parts bin. That’s not to say that the new one isn’t, in some regard. It’s still based on the Ford Cd4 platform that underpins the likes of the Ford Fusion and Ford Edge. It shares a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 with the Lincoln MKZ.
But I haven’t mentioned yet that the six-cylinder heart pumps out a very stout 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. We’ll get to that later, though, because I want to focus on the interior a bit. It’s where Lincoln’s designers really put in the extra effort to not only make the car distinct, but to make it good as well. The one I drove was fitted with the top-of-the-line “Black Label package,” finished in Lincoln’s “Rhapsody in Blue” color scheme. Because it’s blue, you see.
And despite nothing explicitly jumping out at you as to harken back to the era of Jack Kennedy and Camelot, all the right little styling cues are there. Blue and silver contrast neatly throughout the entire cabin, there’s tons of leather in the right places (including an Alcantara headliner) and none of it in the wrong ones, and the whole thing doesn’t seem embarrassed to be what it is: a large, luxurious getaround car.
There are technological touches, too, with a 19-speaker sound system pumping out noise when you want it, and no noise when you don’t want it. A massive twin sunroof and power sunshades make the cabin as enclosed or airy as rear passengers could want. Radar cruise control this and heated steering wheel that. Blind spot monitoring? Of course. Rear cross-traffic alert? Naturally. Doors with electronic handles that open or close with a touch? Sure.
Sitting there, in somehow felt like a weird-yet-comfortable blend of the classic and the modern.
And if you’re not comfortable in a Lincoln Continental, well frankly, that’s your own goddamn fault.
Yes, the seats heat you and cool you and massage you and soothe you. They recline you and support you and push you and pull you. You can sit like this, or you can sit like that. Or you can sit like some sort of weird hybrid mashup of a pterodactyl and a goat. Really, you can sit however the hell you want in one of these new Lincoln Continentals, and that’s because Lincoln has saw it fit to install a 30-way seat. Thirty (3-0) way seat! That’s almost too many ways.
It’s so many ways, in fact, that Lincoln has also seen it fit to produce a 4.5-minute video detailing the ways:
You will, most certainly, die while trying to adjust your 30-way seat. You’ll be fiddling and fiddling and fiddling and oops there’s a truck smashing into your face. C’est la vie.
But take solace in the fact that your death will either be extraordinarily comfortable, or excruciatingly painful, and that’s because you either have or haven’t found the precise seat position just yet.
Driving It, Or Being Driven In It
Befitting a car with a $50,000-plus base price nowadays, it’s impossible to get a Lincoln continental with less than 305 horsepower, or with anything other than a V6. That’s just where the buck starts, in a 3.7-liter naturally aspirated sort of way.
The next level up is a 2.7-liter turbocharged motor with 335 horsepower, or as I mentioned before, a 3.0-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost-equipped V6 sporting 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque.
This sounds fast until you remember the thing weighs around 4,500 pounds, and it’s not like you’re going to be setting records anyway. But it is smooth and respectable, as the power in a big American luxury sedan should be.
And at highway speeds, the Lincoln Continental is all about that smoothness and respectability. You sort of float above every bump in the road. Oh, you know the bumps are there of course, in the same way you’re vaguely aware that the government must do something by the virtue that you haven’t died from poisoned chickens or something.
But it’s not like it’s obtrusive and in your every day life, either. It’s really what you want from a luxury suspension, with none of that rambling on about “performance.” You want speed? Get a sports car.
On the other hand, the Continental still could use some work, oddly, at slow speeds. We tested it on our favorite cobble-lined street, which you can see in the pictures, and things weren’t so smooth. It was jiggly when hitting those little bricks and the occasional speed bump, in a way that you simply wouldn’t expect from a car that has all its kinks worked out already.
That surprised me. For a car that will most likely be shuttling a lot of people to and from the airport in large cities, you’d think that’d be priority number one.
The Value Proposition
As good and dandy as the Lincoln Continental is, the price point is where I’m struggling. The fully loaded example I drove came out to $78,865.
The problem is that these days, the “$50,000 to $80,000 car” market is extremely crowded. The Continental is right in the thick of it, with the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class, the Volvo S90, the Cadillac CT6, the Lexus GS, the Audi A6, the Audi A7, the Mercedes CLS, I’m sure I’m missing another weirdly shaped BMW, maybe an Acura or two, I guess an Infiniti Q70, and on and on and on. And none of those are bad cars. In fact, most of them are pretty good.
So would you buy a Lincoln? That’s really the question. Who are you, as a person? Do you crave a certain level of mid-century modern styling? Do you yearn for a time of postwar American strength while forgetting all the horrors that came with it? Do you not mind a retro look without being reminded of what came between?
Do you look at all of those aforementioned competitors, and with the Volvo aside, look aghast at how they all seem to go for some commoditized idea of luxury? How apart from the badges, one may as well be another?
Those are complicated questions to ask. But if you can answer them in the affirmative, then you know which car to get.