Lincoln’s on-off Continental has been laying dormant for the last 15 years. Originally built as a one-off prototype for Edsel Ford back in 1939, the nameplate — probably best remembered as the car in which President Kennedy was assassinated (not the sort of association any brand would want but in spite of that tragedy Continentals still remained one of the most desirable cars of the Sixties) was last seen in 2002. Now, the flagship is back with a bang (pardon the pun...) and keen to gain ground in the large luxury saloon segment, a space that’s been hijacked by the Germans since the Eighties, not to mention rekindle the old rivalry with Cadillac and particularly the CT6. Ford’s prestigious arm might have resurrected an icon, but the question on everyone’s lips is if the lengthy spell on the sidelines has done it any good?
Well, considering that it delivers timeless elegance, effortless power and is a break from the norm (i.e. the go-to cars from BMW, Mercedes and Audi...), the answer is a resounding yes. I’m an American classics kind of guy and have been watching the development of this one closely and having spent a week with the newbie, it’s class personified. Its return has been highly-anticipated and hyped and this tenth-generation model has almost lived up to the lofty expectations thrust upon those broad new shoulders. It is a sophisticated and stylish full-size saloon that has ushered in a new era of extravagance for Lincoln and discerning clients wanting a comfortable, relaxing ride would struggle to do better than this Rat Pack-era car which exudes quiet luxury, but the Continental isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination.
The smooth 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 is a terrific performer but sounds a little gruff when you press it into action. This doesn’t exactly meld with the suave image that Lincoln is trying to re-establish. I’m also not convinced by the touch buttons on the door panels; they come across as a forced addition tasked with giving the already sumptuous cabin an even more upscale feel but have the opposite effect. You wonder when they’ll give up the ghost, a concern that’s heightened when you notice Lincoln’s added an emergency handle on the driver’s side door, you know, just in case. However, there are no complaints about the innovative E-Latch handles and their positions on the body, which ensure the Continental’s long, flowing lines remain intact. The beautifully integrated chrome sculptures house an electronic latch system that, with your touch, virtually open the doors themselves. Slamming them shut in a car this elegant would ruin the serenity of it all but you don’t have to worry about that as the soft close mechanisms take care of business.
It is a sophisticated and stylish full-size saloon that has ushered in a new era of extravagance for Lincoln...
The front end is dominated by a large one-piece grille flanked by a pair of adaptive LED headlights (both have a touch of the XF about them) which illuminate in sequence as you approach the car and the brilliant light show is supported by a luminous Lincoln “welcome mat” that appears beneath the front doors. With a distinctive profile that is both sleek and athletic, along with the sweep of the taillights and dual exhausts, it’s clear that this is a nameplate that still resonates.
The exterior exudes class — but the interior even more so. The optional Perfect Position Seats with 30 adjustment parameters along with massage options are ever so comfortable and you can even adjust the thigh support in the front seats individually. That’s a first. Everything is attractively detailed while the instrument panel is deliberately minimalist so that you are not distracted while driving — but you can set it to show all sorts of info if you wish. Those sat in the back enjoy a host of amenities from audio and climate control, adjustable sunshades and reclining, heated, cooled and massaging seats. What’s more, there is a generous amount of rear legroom and headroom, an enormous panoramic sunroof, and as you’d expect from a car going up against the best Europe has to offer, Lincoln has festooned it with materials that have a handcrafted look. From the leather seats, to the marble-like surfaces on the dash and centre console, Lincoln clearly went the whole nine yards with this one and it didn’t cut any corners when it came to tech either. With an intuitive Sync 3 system tailored to the car (it houses the phone, navigation and a lot more), a multifunctional steering, voice commands and a custom Revel Ultima sound system with 19-speakers, the Continental has the lot — and then some. It packs a host of safety features such as Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection (it uses radar and camera technology to scan the road and applies the brakes if you fail to when it detects an object), adaptive cruise control, an Automatic parking system and a camera system with views from the grille, decklid and side mirrors to aid parking a great deal should you choose to do so yourself.
With an all-new V6 for company mated to a six-speed automatic controlled via pushbuttons on the Conti’s dash and with 373 horses at its disposal it isn’t short on firepower — although it is a few cogs short of its competitors which have seven, eight or nine speeds. It isn’t interested in setting records at the Nürburgring — it isn’t that sort of car, not that it’s slow; it can crack the 100kph dash from a standstill in a very respectable 5.5 seconds. It accelerates brilliantly in a straight line, but with its ageing architecture (Lincoln tried its best to hide its common Ford roots, but the CD4 platform — that also supports the front-wheel-drive Fusion — is designed to deliver a cushy ride), it doesn’t exactly relish snappy left and right manoeuvres but sure gives them its best shot. The standard all-wheel drive and dynamic torque vectoring work hard to keep it glued to the road when you tackle tight corners but you can feel the weight slosh around when you manhandle it. You wouldn’t envy the continuously controlled damping suspension — not when it’s carrying 1,915kg but to its credit, it keeps the Conti from displaying as much roll as you’d think it would.
Throwing it around wasn’t in the remit and to get the best out of it you need to treat it with far more dignity and respect — that means being judicious with the throttle and slow and steady with the chunky adaptive electric steering. Do that and it rewards you with a wonderfully smooth drive. When you poke it into action it isn’t twitchy, and although it has the power, it isn’t sporty nor does it pretend to be. This is a handsome, fully loaded, luxury saloon — and a darn good one at that.
However, there are no complaints about the innovative E-Latch handles and their positions on the body which ensure the Continental’s long, flowing lines remain intact.
It revolutionised the auto industry in the Forties, was running the show in the Fifties and Sixties, began to fade during the Seventies and by the Eighties and Nineties it had grown out of touch before being consigned to history by the turn of the century. That was an ignominious end to a distinctively American marque but after some much needed self-reflection, it has returned better than ever and may once again be the choice of kings and presidents. The segment leaders have a brilliant new contender and that showroom rivalry with GM is about to heat up again. Welcome back, old-timer. We sure missed you.