Lincoln Takes Luxury On Its Own Terms
At the Ford Motor Company, three legendary nameplates are treated with a hallowed reverence and respect: Ford F-150, Ford Mustang, and Lincoln Continental. The two Ford models have proudly carried the Blue Oval banner continuously since 1948 and 1964, respectively. But the Lincoln has seen better days; going from a Rolls-Royce-rivaling flagship in the swinging ‘60s to a mistreated rental-lot special by the time it went out of production in 2002. Lincoln went cold turkey on Continental—and on any true flagship for that matter—for the next 15 years. But with the new 2017 Lincoln Continental, the automaker is signaling it is taking the luxury game seriously again.
Lincoln’s lineup has been uninspiring since the last Continental went out of production. Truth is, Lincolns have generally been passionless for nearly a half century—lazy in styling and execution, little more than gussied-up Fords. By all accounts the same story could have repeated itself with the new 2017 Continental. As numerous engineers told me, when work began on what would become the new Continental, most thought they were building the second-generation Lincoln MKS, the car the Continental replaces. Cautious conservatism reigned. As an indirect result, no one was happy with the initial product plan. Early concepts performed poorly in both internal focus groups and public focus groups with prospective buyers. Then one Friday afternoon, Jim Farley, the then-head of Lincoln, gathered the team and laid down the law: “Guys, you’re making the next Lincoln Continental here!” With a renewed sense of purpose and full backing from the executive suite, the 10th-generation Continental team got back to work.
After talking to a handful of Continental engineers, it is clear that this Lincoln was like no other in a long time. Standards that were good enough for Ford products were no longer good enough for Lincoln. Money suddenly wasn’t an issue: If the Continental team needed something, such as 30-way power front seats, they got it. No expense was seemingly spared in the attempt to make the 2017 Continental a true luxury flagship.
The effort shows. Realizing that it was never going to have the performance-luxury cred of BMW or Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln pursued what it calls “quiet luxury.”. The Continental is supposed to be subtle and understated, not flashy. A quiet cool that doesn’t blend in, but also doesn’t draw unnecessary attention to itself. Think of it as a more New York air of luxury—stylish and comfortable in its own skin—rather than a more showy Los Angeles sensibility.
With quiet luxury being the theme, Lincoln didn’t see the need to develop a bespoke rear-drive platform for the Continental—instead using Ford’s front-drive-based CD4 platform. Although CD4 underpins everything from the Ford Fusion to the Lincoln MKX, the Continental is most closely related in size to the Chinese-market Ford Taurus, with the Lincoln sporting almost two inches’ longer wheelbase, nearly 5 inches more length, and 1.5 inches more width.
Weighed down by extra length, width, and luxury appointments, the Continental is a heavy car for sure, weighing in around 4,550 pounds (2063.8 kg). Lincoln executives admit the Continental is not meant to be a drag-strip special, but its performance is more than suitable for the segment.
The luxury sedan’s three engines should be up for the task of getting the Continental going briskly. A 3.7-liter V-6 snagged from the Mustang is standard, making 305 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. Two twin-turbo V-6s are optional: a 2.7-liter unit producing 335 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, as well as a Lincoln-exclusive 3.0-liter engine making 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. Lincoln expects the 2.7-liter engine to be the most popular engine of the three. A 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 is standard in China, but Lincoln execs here aren’t yet sure if Americans will drop big bucks on a big luxury car with a small engine.
Each engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The 3.7- and 2.7-liter V-6s come standard with front-wheel drive with available front-biased all-wheel drive, and the 3.0-liter V-6 comes standard with a unique torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, with learnings from the Ford Focus RS, capable of sending 100 percent of the engine’s power to any one wheel.
Although quiet luxury may have been the name of the game, our test car, a loaded 2017 Continental Black Label with the 3.0-liter twin-turbo engine and all-wheel drive, proved more than capable of launching off the line with authority. Stomp on the throttle and the Lincoln squats on its hindquarters and roars forward. Zero-to-60 mph should take Continentals with the 3.0-liter engine about 5.5 seconds. The 3.0-liter V-6 is really a sweetheart; it’s quiet around town and makes a mean howl at full shout. Its 400-lb-ft of torque is available low in the engine’s powerband—meaning the Lincoln is always ready to snake through a gap in traffic. The Continental’s six-speed shifts quickly enough in Drive, and doesn’t hunt for gears. But the gearbox could use an extra cog or three (a nine-speed co-developed with GM will be added within the next few years) as fuel economy isn’t very good; the 3.0-liter is EPA-rated at 16/24/19 mpg (14.7/9.8/12.4 L/100km) city/highway/combined. That said, the current six-speed gets bonus points for rev-matching downshifts in Sport mode.
For its size and heft, the Continental Black Label handles pretty well. The Lincoln never feels heavy on back roads. Steering is light and well-weighted with good feedback (if not actual feel) from the road. Effort firms up a bit with the car in Sport mode, while the Continental’s torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system shuffles power more aggressively through twisty back roads. Rolling on 20-inch wheels (19s are standard on lesser Continentals) and with an electronically adjustable but otherwise completely traditional suspension, the Lincoln rides well. In its default setting, the ride is well-damped, not floaty like Town Cars of yesteryear. The ride firms up in Sport mode and similarly softens in Comfort, but the default tuning is a nice balance between the two.
Although the new Continental drives well enough, once you open the electronically actuated doors via window-line mounted door handles and slip into the cabin, it’s clear that this is where Lincoln spent most of its time and dimes.
The Black Label materials are genuinely luxurious—an order of magnitude better than anything Lincoln has put in its cars in at least two decades. Thick, soft leather is everywhere, set off by metalized accents and gorgeous real wood trim on the dash, doors, and center console. The wood on the center console is particularly impressive as the wood grains and burls of the Chalet and Thoroughbred themes line up perfectly from console to the lightly damped storage cubby and cupholder cover lids.
All of the cabin’s touch points are high-quality; Lincoln has created its own switchgear for the Continental (and eventually the rest of the Lincoln line) with knurled-metal control knobs on the steering wheel and A/C system, and unique turn-signal stalks. Just about the only Ford-style switchgear I could find in the cabin were the window switches on the doors, and the overhead storage binnacle mounted just forward of the optional panoramic moonroof. The Continental comes standard with 24-way power adjustable front seats, though our tester was outfitted with those aforementioned 30-way seats—a $1,500 USD option. Skip ‘em; while comfortable, I spent most of the day behind the wheel adjusting mine to be perfect—and besides, the best seats in the house are in back.
Unlike some competitors, where material quality noticeably dips in places where they don’t think owners will look, the Lincoln is consistent in its execution. Engineers say suicide doors were seriously considered early in the process as a nod to heritage, but Lincoln went the traditional way instead. Still, the Continental’s rear doors open wide and offer up exception in and egress. The $4,300 USD rear-seat package delivers a full-on executive suite: the big moonroof, heated and cooled power-reclining rear seats with massage functions, a center console capable of controlling the Sync3 infotainment system and air conditioning, and a host of other doodads. The back seats don’t have the multi-adjustability of the front, though they’re still comfortable enough for the long haul. It’s spacious back there, with plenty of leg, head, and shoulder room for a 6-foot-1-inch frame—although the middle seat’s headroom gets compromised due to the moonroof. The Continental’s trunk is long and wide, though not exceptionally deep.
Continental Black Labels get outfitted with rich “Venetian” leather, Alcantara headliners and gorgeous wood trim in three different themes: “Thoroughbred”, which is a black-and-brown motif; “Chalet,” which features white quilted leather; and “Rhapsody,” a late-availability blue color that matches the Continental concept.
Poking around the cabin of a Continental Reserve—the volume trim level in the lineup, one trim level down from Black Label—shows cloth replacing the Alcantara headliner and a dialing back of the gorgeous interior themes. But the overall quality of the cabin remains. The Continental’s interior—at least on these two higher trims—is like nothing seen on a modern-era Lincoln currently on a showroom floor. It looks like the stylists took Farley’s pep talk to heart.
Pricing starts for the 2017 Lincoln Continental at $45,485 USD for a base front-drive Continental Premiere with the 3.7-liter engine and leatherette seats. Stepping up to the $48,440 USD Continental Select adds real leather and a handful of other features. The Continental Reserve starts at $54,840 USD, adds the 2.7-liter V-6, and opens up the option sheet to include just about every available feature. The Continental Black Label starts at $63,840 USD in front-drive form with the 2.7-liter engine. The 3.0-liter-equipped Continental Reserve I briefly sampled stickered for $74,705 USD, and our fully loaded 3.0-liter equipped Black Label stickered for $78,510 USD.
There’s no denying the Continental’s pricing is ambitious, considering the brand hasn’t earned that sort of respect yet from luxury buyers. This is serious Mercedes and Lexus territory, and Lincoln hasn’t been in the elite-brand conversation for years. Even so, the Continental’s pricing puts it right in line with other fledgling flagships, like the Cadillac CT6 and Genesis G90, both of which sticker for more than the Continental when similarly equipped.
On its own merits, the new 2017 Lincoln Continental appears to be a solid luxury player. But Lincoln has its branding and conquest work cut out for it as it seeks to sell its “quiet luxury” theme. Although passion for the Continental name shines through on this new Lincoln, subsequent products will be the true test of Ford’s commitment to the Lincoln brand. In the meantime though, it’s nice to have the legendary Continental badge back on a car actually worthy of the name.