The Lincoln Continental is just one of those cars. It really isn’t even a car — it’s an ideal, a dream, an evocation.
Ford introduced the Continental in the late 1930s, and over the decades it was conjoined with American history, most tragically in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas while riding in a 1961 Continental limousine.
Ford discontinued the Continental as its flagship Lincoln luxury sedan in 2002, but the nameplate never really went away. You could say that it haunted Ford.
And then, in 2015, a new Continental concept car took the New York auto show by storm. Ford had considered killing off Lincoln after the financial crisis but decided against it and put billions into a revival of the brand. By 2016 we saw the production version of the big new sedan as it hit the car-show circuit.
Last year, we finally found ourselves behind the wheel of a 2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve with all-wheel drive, stickered at $ 56,000 but then benefitting from about $ 20,000 worth of options, taking the final price up to $ 76,000.
Lincoln usually has something special in store for the New York auto show, which kicks off in about a month. The Continental concept was a star in 2015, but did it live up to expectations — not to mention the lofty reputation of its name — when we checked it out? Read on:
The Continental concept was the toast of the 2015 New York auto show.
The production sedan went on display a year later.
Last year, we finally got a chance to test Lincoln’s flagship sedan.
The color was Burgundy Velvet Metallic, and it was hypnotically gorgeous.
The Lincoln badge proudly anchored the new grille for the marque, which will be used across all new Lincoln vehicles and replace the “beak-y” former design.
Lincoln’s new brand philosophy is built around “quiet luxury” — the idea is to express a premium attitude without shouting. This core value appears both inside and outside the Continental. The headlights, for example, are tucked into a stately cluster of cubes.
As with many luxury cars these days, there are LED running lights.
From front to back, the Continental is one long, taut swoop. It has abundant presence, but it doesn’t look hulking. The lines terminate in a gently upsweeping spoiler lip.
Our tester had some elegantly aggressive alloy wheels.
Very low-key Continental callouts. The mood is reminiscent of the legendary Lincolns of the 1960s, which were cool and conservative — a response to the flamboyant car designs of the 1950s.
The door handles are stunning automotive sculpture, crafted in chrome.
At night, a lighted welcome mat with the Lincoln badge is presented before you get into the Continental.
The interior for our test car was Cappuccino Luxury Leather, and it swaddled me in plushness. The comfort level inside this sedan sets a new standard for Lincoln — and I’ve always had a weakness for Lincoln comfort.
Comfort starts with the seats — and Ford has the best seats in the business. The Continental’s 30-way adjustable rolling thrones, front and rear, are mind-boggling. Note that I have ever-so-slightly extended the right half of the driver’s seat to support my right thigh. These seats massage you. And they’re both heated and cooled. They are utterly magnificent.
Wood trim is subdued, but it exudes quality. You could be excused for thinking you had been transported into a Bentley.
The back seat is incredibly roomy — Lincoln is expanding in markets where limo-duty is prevalent, such as China, so the back seats need to be superb in a classic limo design like the Continental.
Fold down the armrest, and you can take over some vehicle functions.
Entertainment, for example.
Or climate controls.
Two cupholders are neatly stowed in a retractable armrest compartment.
The truck is massive. The Continental can inhale more luggage than many SUVs.
Now we’re going to dive even deeper into the whole “quiet luxury” thing. Unlike some other upscale sedans, the Continental doesn’t have a steering wheel that’s crowded with functions.
But it’s the instrument panel that’s really a game changer. Audi’s “virtual cockpit,” for instance, crams the main cluster with a highly customizable wonderland of digitally modeled information. But not the Continental.
Rather, this luxury sedan’s instrument panel serves up just the most essential info: what you’re listening to, fuel data, speed, proximity to other vehicles, lane-departure warnings, time and temperature outside, and navigation.
More elegant wood trim for a storage compartment.
USB ports and charging.
The Revel Ultima audio system: a sublime sound system built specifically for the Continental.
Read a short review of the Revel Ultima audio system »
There are 19 speakers …
… positioned throughout the car …
… to create a listening experience that comes closer to evoking live performance than anything else I’ve heard in a car. It’s perfect for jazz — you feel as if you’re right in the middle of the combo. But it’s outstanding for pretty much every other type of music as well.
The infotainment system is powered by Sync3, and it’s quite good. The design has a flattened, minimalist look. Satellite radio is available.
As is the usual host of connectivity features, including Bluetooth integration and USB input.
There’s a suite of vehicle-specific apps.
And, of course, navigation, which in my limited time testing the Continental performed well.
The system runs on a touch screen and can be used to control stuff like heating, AC, seats, and massage functions.
But you can also fall back on good old knobs and buttons.
The six-speed transmission is push-button activated.
Some people have complained that on other Lincolns the “drive” button is …
… too close to the “sport” button. I didn’t have any problems.
Our test car came with a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 that cranks out an impressive 400 horsepower …
… and 400 pounds per foot of torque. Other engine options are a 2.7-liter V-6 and a 3.7-liter V-6. That’s right: There’s no V-8 in the house.
Let’s fire it up and drive!
I feel in love with the new Continental. But then again, I’ve liked every Lincoln I’ve sampled in the past two years.
That said, the Continental is something special.
Does it redefine the luxury sedan like the new Cadillac CT6, which also has a turbo V-6 delivering about 400 horsepower and which also costs about $ 80,000? Not really.
Does it drive like a BMW 7-Series, a car we sampled in 2015 year in $ 130,000 M-Sport trim? Of course not.
But the Continental is zigging when those other cars are zagging. Performance isn’t job No. 1 here: A mellow unfurling of luxury is. Lincoln has borrowed a page from the Lexus playbook and refined it, adding a healthy does of American cool.
Not that the Continental doesn’t go when you put the pedal down — it does. In fact, the twin-turbo V-6 on our tester did such a good impersonation of a V-8 that I had to watch it in the big Lincoln’s preferred driving environment, the Great American Freeway, in which it was born to cruise in style. (One small complaint: On acceleration, before you get up to highway velocity, the engine can sound a bit buzzy, but at speed it’s blissfully unobtrusive.)
On several occasions, Lincoln executives have told me that quiet luxury isn’t about technical specs or 0-to-60 times. (The Continental is no slouch in that department, by the way, making the run in around six seconds.) It’s about making the owner and his or her passengers feel relaxed, at ease, freed from the stress of modern life.
On that front, the Lincoln is quintessential. I did test all the advanced cruise-control features and driver-assist technologies, and as with previous Lincolns I’ve sampled, they worked well. But I didn’t want to put the car in cruise control! I wanted to drive it and drive it and drive it some more, down a long American highway, with a little Oscar Peterson or Stan Getz on the stereo.
I decompressed with every minute I spent behind the wheel of the new Continental, and over the hours I was consumed by a Zen-like state of emotional and intellectual clarity. Did I want to sling this big sedan around corners? Nope. But it isn’t made for that. The 7-Series and, to a degree, the CT6 are.
But the Lincoln Continental doesn’t go there. It doesn’t need to. It never went there even before it went away for a little while. This car is for the smooth rollers in life. And if you aren’t a smooth roller, the Continental might make you want to be one.