The 2017 Lincoln Continental Is Bringing Back The Olden Days Real American Luxury Car

REGARDING JOHN MILTON'S masterpiece, Paradise Lost, literary critic Samuel Johnson wrote, "None ever wished it longer than it is." One could not say the same thing about American luxury-car interiors of the past few decades. With a few livery-market or export-only exceptions, neither Chrysler, Cadillac, nor Lincoln has recently offered the expansive rear-seat experience the rest of the world takes for granted in a prestige sedan.
The 2017 Lincoln Continental Is Bringing Back The Olden Days Real American Luxury Car
This new Continental, by contrast, brings to mind a 1956 advertisement for the Lincoln Premiere: "Never before a Lincoln so long . . . and so longed for!" The front half of the car is a derivation of the Ford CD4 platform familiar from the current Fusion, but there's nearly 10 inches of additional length, much of it behind the B-pillar. It has not gone to waste. 



Grasp the massive, polished loop of the electromechanical latch that stands proud on the door, and step into the back seat. Our Reserve-trim test car, which sits below Black Label but above the base Premiere and midtier Select trims, has optional power-reclining rear outboard seats with four-way lumbar support, as well as heating and cooling. The center seat folds down to expose a comprehensive control console. Using that and the door-mounted controls, the Very Important Person in the right rear corner can move the front passenger seat (if vacant), operate the rear sunshades, adjust cabin temperature, command the audio system, and manipulate the opaque fabric shade beneath the massive dual-pane moonroof.




EVAN KLEIN

During my three-day weekend with the Continental, I experienced considerable difficulty getting any of my friends to ride up front with me. Given a glimpse of the first-class cabin behind the driver, each of my passengers demanded that they sit in back while I drove them. One suggested I wear some sort of cap while doing so. The most demanding VIP of all was my seven-year-old son, John. He immediately mastered the full range of rear-seat control possibilities, to my immense sorrow, and pointed out that it is possible to lay the front passenger chair down to serve as a footrest. No Shanghai tycoon was ever a more peremptory or capricious tyrant to his valet, but I was pleased to have him back there, guarded by the vault-thick, soft-closing doors and an airbag-equipped shoulder belt.

Continental owners who insist on driving themselves will find a separate but equal share of luxury. Optional 30-way front seats offer individual adjustments for left and right thigh support, as well as multiple massage settings, but the greatest luxury is the Revel Ultima audio system, also optional, which alternately bellows and whispers through 19 speakers. The decadent-looking machined-metal speaker grilles in the front doors, with a perforation pattern reportedly inspired by George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," would not be out of place in a Maybach or Phantom. This is a hell of a sound system, capable of isolating the marimba part in Vampire Weekend's "Horchata" so that the instrument appears to float in the air above the steering wheel. I found this out because my son played that song seven times in a row, for his sadistic amusement.


EVAN KLEIN

Having gotten his fill of East Village Afro-pop, John turned down the stereo and inquired, "What's that clunk?" It took me a minute to realize that he was referring to the turn-signal noise. It's a solid tick-tock that sounds like a six-ounce weight moving back and forth in the steering column. Another detail thoroughly sweated, just like the climate control's special low-noise auto mode, the real wood in the dashboard, and the way the car "wakes up" as you walk to it at night with the key in your pocket, the front and rear markers sweeping on while crosshair-logo puddle lights illuminate the ground beneath the front doors.

Premiere models are powered by the 3.7-liter, 305-hp Duratec V-6 that we know (and like) from the Mustang. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is a $2000 option. Move up to Select, and the 2.7-liter, 335-hp twin-turbo six from the Fusion becomes available. In Reserve and Black Label, you can get a 3.0-liter variant of that engine. It's unique to Lincoln, rated at 400 hp, and available only with all-wheel drive.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of this new Lincoln is the utter lack of pretense to racetrack or autobahn prowess. For too long, domestic luxury manufacturers have paid lip service to the ridiculous idea that full-size sedans should corner like Corvettes, no matter what the cost in ride, interior noise, or passenger space. The Continental is free of these misapprehensions, so spring for the 400-horse drivetrain; you will not be plagued by spoilers, splitters, SCCA-spec damping, or rubber-band tires. You will simply get proper "Hot Rod Lincoln" thrust.

Which is not to say that the motor overpowers the chassis. Neck-straining launches from stoplights are free from torque steer. Grip and balance are remarkably good, at least for a big sedan with most of its weight up front. Floor the throttle mid-corner, and the outside front wheel will pull you from apex to exit in a manner that reminds me of nothing so much as an old Honda Prelude Type SH.

There are a few rough edges. Lane-keeping assist is not up to the standards set by Mercedes or even Acura, while the collision detection is alternately paranoid and disinterested. The availability of a low-content Continental for $45,485, versus $75,320 for our test car or just over $80,000 for a fully loaded Black Label, is inconsistent with the goal of making it a properly exclusive flagship. So is Lincoln's decision to put a bowdlerized version of this fascia on the smaller MKZ.

But these are quibbles. When properly (meaning expensively) optioned and configured, the Continental is easily the best and most competitive American luxury sedan in four decades. The difficulty will be getting buyers to look past the default German brands, as well as Lexus. In a perfect world, the Lincoln brand would be rescued, or at least burnished, by this fine effort, yet I am reminded of another comment by Samuel Johnson regarding Milton: "Success and virtue do not go necessarily together."




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