It’s been 15 years since the last Lincoln Continental was built, but from every vantage point it appears the wait has been worth it.
Premium appointments, a spacious interior, distinct road presence, plush ride, ample power – these are just a few of the hallmarks of luxury cars that Ford’s upscale brand hopes to meet with the new ’17 Continental.
In addition, today’s top-shelf players must offer superior handling, superb audio and a cockpit chock-full of the latest high-end gadgetry, whether for entertainment, communication, safety or driving ease.
That’s a tall order, but one that Michael Celentino, chief engineer-Continental, attacked with a passion – and it shows in the product he and his team have put on the road.
“I have not felt so much support from the greater corporation to deliver a special product, starting with the moment when (Ford CEO) Mark Fields said, ‘We’re calling this the Continental and this is going to be the flagship,’” Celentino says. “We really had a lot of help and a lot of focus.”
Starting with a clean sheet – just the front floor substructure is derived from the Ford CD4 architecture family underpinning everything from the Ford Fusion midsize sedan to the Lincoln MKX CUV – the team built an all-new vehicle from the ground up, Celentino says.
“We developed the Continental – and nothing against the MKZ – as the best Lincoln has to offer,” Celentino says. “We told the team this has to be smoothest-riding, quietest, best flagship Lincoln we’ve done to date.
“So it’s not incremental over the MKZ. It was a ‘stop and do something all new that is expressive and delivers quiet luxury as a flagship and is worthy of the name Continental.’”
Compared with the CD4-based MKZ midsize sedan, the Continental is longer and wider, has a larger back seat (crucial for the key Chinese market) and rides on a unique suspension with two-stage, quick-reacting dampers capable of mitigating the impact of potholes.
Under the hood is a transverse-mounted 3.0L twin-turbocharged V-6 producing 400 hp and 400 lb.-ft. (295 Nm) of torque. The advanced DOHC engine features direct injection and twin independent variable cam timing.
The Lincoln-exclusive engine is shared with the MKZ, but is specifically tuned for the Continental’s weight, size and drivetrain characteristics and rides on 2-stage active engine mounts to ensure meeting the brand’s “Quiet Luxury” requirement.
Exterior styling, while not groundbreaking, is unique in its take on Lincoln cues such as the high beltline, strong rear haunches and fender kick. From behind the wheel, the broad expanse of the hood split by a subtle centerline crease provides a design element recalling some of the great Continentals past.
Extra attention went into the door handles, which are touch-sensitive pulls mounted at beltline level, making for clean door panels and a special take on the everyday task of simply opening the passenger compartment.
Up front, the prominent chrome-encircled one-piece grille eschews wings and waterfalls for the complex, interlocking pattern of chrome Lincoln-logo vertical outlines introduced on the MKZ.
The rear view features full-width, wraparound taillamps that share their modern appearance with other current Lincolns such as the MKX and MKC small CUV.
Move Over, McConaughey - We're Driving
Ideally, a first drive of the Continental should come at night, where a series of pleasurable events occur before one even opens the car door. On approach, key fob in pocket, the Lincoln lights up with a welcoming brand logo puddle lamp on the tarmac outside the doors, handles illuminate, LED lighting blinks on from the front and rear lamps and the interior glows.
Doors open at a touch and power-cinch close to create an elegant cocoon for the driver settling into the 30-way power adjustable Lincoln-trademarked Perfect Position seat. The seats, adjustable via six internal bladders and featuring unique independently adjustable thigh supports, can be tweaked for that “just right” positioning, with the settings saved in memory.
The seats are a story in themselves, built on a flexible polymer base with a foam layer that allows for a seemingly infinite number of adjustments. Back seats offer ample legroom; our tester included reclining rear seats, with no apparent intrusion on the deep and wide trunk space.
Buttons are in control in the Continental cockpit, from the ignition to the vertical row of shift buttons on the center stack that take some getting used to, but ultimately serves the purpose with simplicity.
The 3-D instrument cluster is reconfigurable – at the touch of a button – to three distinct views: a minimalistic digital speedometer, speedometer/fuel efficiency or analog speedometer and tachometer.
Additional technology includes full-range adaptive cruise control, park assist, a 19-speaker Revel audio system, Sync 3 voice-activated infotainment and navigation and a foot-activated trunk release. One oversight: no head-up display option.
Our top-shelf AWD Reserve tester checked in at $75,320, including $18,480 in optional equipment. Lesser Continentals can be had with either a 335-hp 2.7L twin-turbo V-6 or a 305-hp 3.7L naturally aspirated V-6.
On the road, the 3.0L V-6 provides plenty of refined power, without any turbocharger hesitation and with ample all-wheel-drive traction to handle the prodigious output. The Continental seems to glide over road imperfections, but without a hint of the boat-on-water floating feel that defined its predecessors.
In Drive, the car defaults to factory “normal” settings, but engaging the car’s sportier side is as simple as pushing the “S” button on the shifter stack, which changes transmission mapping and response, engine calibration, suspension tautness and steering ratio and effort. The sportier setting results in a noticeable 25% change in the variables, noticeable in quicker steering, faster engine response and reduced body roll.
For those desiring a softer ride, comfort settings may be dialed in as the default mode when driving in “D” or can be tuned more aggressively as the settings for the “S” mode. Changes are made via the steering wheel toggles.
The Continental went on sale in September with 3,400 deliveries to date, helping continue Lincoln’s record of sales growth each month in 2016 despite a general decline in the luxury segment. The brand posted a 20% gain in 2015.
In addition, Lincoln sales are skyrocketing in China with 14,000 deliveries through June compared with 10,000 units total in 2015. All Continentals are assembled at Ford’s plant in Flat Rock, MI.
[email protected] @bobgritzinger
'17 Lincoln Continental Specifications
|Vehicle type||5-passenger, all-wheel-drive luxury sedan|
|Engine||3.0L twin-turbocharged direct-injection V-6|
|Power (SAE net)||400 hp @ rpm|
|Torque||400 lb.-ft. (295 Nm) @ rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||85.4 x 86.0|
|Wheelbase||117.9 ins. (2,995 mm)|
|Overall length||201.4 ins. (5,116 mm)|
|Overall width||82.3 ins. (2,090 mm)|
|Overall height||58.5 ins. (1,486 mm)|
|Curb weight||4,547 lbs. (2,062 kg)|
|Base price||$55,915 (not including $925 destination and handling charge)|
|Fuel economy||16/24 mpg (14.7-9.8 L/100 km) city-highway|
|Competition||Audi A6, Cadillac CT6, Lexus LS|
|Powerful turbo V-6||Antiquated 6-speed auto|
|Strong road presence||Front-drive-based chassis|
|Top-notch interior||Underwhelming exterior|