Los Angeles, California. Over the last decade or so—since the time of the last Lincoln to wear the Continental moniker, actually—Lincoln has really gone from a brand associated with top-flite luxury sedans to one focused on SUVs and crossovers. Ever since the Navigator arrived, those types of vehicles have kind of been Lincoln’s bread-and-butter to the point where its bestselling models in Canada are currently a pair of crossovers.
That’s all well and good, but many luxury automakers will tell you that you need a full-size sedan to hang your hat on. Lincoln needed something to define its brand, something to remind people of the presidential limos of days past, something that says “This is the new Lincoln. Here we are, Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus. Take your best shot.”
In short, Lincoln needed a halo car.
Styled to catch the eye, not to blind it
“Quiet Comfort” was one of the buzzphrases bandied about during the launch of the new 2017 Lincoln Continental in Beverly Hills, California. Lincoln wanted a car that would draw the eye, but that didn’t mean it had to scream; it had to be well-detailed so you’d get an idea of what it was all about upon closer inspection. It’s a stark contrast to what’s going on over at Lexus, for example, where the controversial “Predator” grille has been making headlines since it debuted five years ago, and has gotten ever more brash over time.
Instead, Lincoln has chosen a front fascia that may be a little closer to the downmarket MKZ sedan for some, but nevertheless features some pleasing details, like the grille inserts shaped like the Lincoln Star logo. Other notables include the optional LED headlights, the full-width taillights, and the 2-tone wheels that are available in 18” and 19” sizes depending on the trim level you choose—Continental Select 2.7L ($57,000), Continental Reserve 2.7L ($60,500), or Continental Reserve 3.5L ($63,500). It is, in fact, a properly handsome-looking car that won’t bore your eyes.
Just wait until you step inside…
That’s where the real magic happens, especially if you’ve selected the Rear Seat Package, which adds a boatload of niceties to what is already a well-appointed cabin. It will cost you $5,000 to get it, though, and we’ll expand on why in just a moment.
First, the basic stuff: Leather, of course, is available at all trim levels, but you won’t find any form of synthetics here, just genuine leather sourced from Scotland. Wood is also available at the bottom of the ladder, which is nice to have.
Then there’s technology, which starts with the wonderfully intuitive and good-looking SYNC3 infotainment interface and ends with the fantastic—and I do mean FANTASTIC—19-speaker Revel audio system. The latter was developed from the get-go to work within the confines of the new Lincoln Continental’s cabin in particular so as to provide the best possible audio. In addition to the speakers, you get three distinct sound modes: Traditional Stereo, On Stage, and Audience. They really do work as advertised, especially the last one, where you can easily close your eyes and pretend that supple Scottish leather seat you’re sitting in isn’t a car seat, but a booth at your favourite jazz bar. It will cost you an additional $1,250, but that’s a bargain considering just how high-quality this sound system is. You can control it via the 8” touchscreen also used for your SYNC, Apple CarPlay, or Android Auto needs.
Less of a bargain is the aforementioned Rear Seat Package. Your $5,000 gets you an upgraded centre console with climate controls, seat controls, and even media controls and display for your passengers, plus a seat massaging system (that works surprisingly well) and inflatable seatbelts. Limousine companies may go for it, but I can’t foresee that many single-use buyers doing the same thing. Really, I feel that the existence of the package is to at least give Canadian buyers a taste of the high(er)-class Black Label models that the U.S. will be getting at launch, to see just how well they will be received if they do happen to land in Canadian showrooms. Indeed, if enough people are willing to drop that kind of dough on a package, then perhaps the likelihood of a Black Label model working here would increase.
A better investment is the $750 it takes to upgrade your front seat to a 30-way power adjustable perch, with both the upper and lower halves of the seatback essentially getting their own individual controls. I challenge any driver who says they can’t find a comfortable seating position behind the wheel of the 2017 Lincoln Continental.
The rear seating position poses a bit of a problem, however. The optional moonroof affects headroom, meaning that taller passengers are going to have to work a little harder than expected to feel at ease back there—by full-size sedan standards, of course. Luckily, legroom is very good, allowing you to sit lower in the seat. Still, that’s not something we taller folks should have to do. The seats themselves include a reclining function and airliner-worthy headrests if you select the Rear Seat Package, which makes matters better.
Electronics for more than just media
The new Lincoln Continental being a top-flite luxury car means the inclusion of all manner of electronic driving aids. A $3,000 Technology Package adds active park assist for parallel and perpendicular parking, active lane keep assist, pre-collision assist with passenger detection, a 360-degree camera, and more. That’s a lot of kit, and likely a package that many buyers will opt for.
I guess the only issue here is that the competition is changing. As advanced as adaptive cruise control and automated parking systems are, they’re technologies that most rivals have already adopted, including the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Volvo S90. Beyond that fantastic audio system, nothing really sets the 2017 Lincoln Continental apart in the tech and gadget department like we see with the S90’s signature iPad-esque display, or the E-Class and BMW’s heads-up display systems. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but worth noting. Oh, by the way, SYNC 3 remains one of the best infotainment systems in the car business.
Try driving it
This is where the Lincoln Continental sets itself apart, and in a good way. Two engines are offered: a 2.7L EcoBoost V6 rated at 330 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, and a 3.5L EcoBoost V6 producing 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. The only drivetrain available in Canada is a 6-speed automatic with all-wheel drive, which makes the large sedan a surprisingly able handler as speeds increase and a smooth operator in most other situations.
We had the chance to put the car through its paces along California’s Pacific Coast Highway as well as the foothills just outside of Los Angeles, and it impressed both myself and my drive partner, especially in the latter conditions. There, when you hit the “S” instead of the “D” transmission button (located to the left of the infotainment screen along with P, R, and N), the Lincoln Continental’s decreased steering ratio and firmer dampers (adaptable dampers are standard) transform it into a much different animal. No longer is it a mini-limo designed to transport dignitaries; instead, it becomes an actual sporty sedan that nicely hides its size as you continue to push it. I’m not going to say it feels like a real performance sedan in the form of a Lexus GS F Sport or Cadillac CTS VSport, but there’s a lot to like about the Continental’s handling.
Having said that, the steering can be a little too nervous, a little too direct in “S” mode even on winding roads. I found myself having to think a little harder to not overdo it, creating an uncomfortable ride in the process. Dial it back a little, however, and the Continental is comfortable, confidence-inspiring, and well-suited to the task of, well, crossing the continent with “Effortless Power,” which was another buzzphrase used by Lincoln throughout the product launch.
You’ll have the power on tap to do so in quick fashion, that’s for sure. Peak torque with the 3.5L turbo engine arrives at just 2,750 rpm, ensuring that vibrations and noise are reduced as you accelerate. It is unfortunate that we weren’t given the chance to sample the 2.7L unit; I’ve done so in other Ford/Lincoln models and I really would have liked to see how it fares in this latest platform. My guess is that it performs well, to the point that I think many buyers—especially at the fleet level—will seriously consider it over the 3.5L. On the other hand, with the low fuel prices we’re seeing, it would be tough to ignore the bigger mill, too.
The bottom line
After our long drive in the 2017 Lincoln Continental, I emerged feeling relaxed and looking forward to stepping back in and experiencing all that sumptuous comfort all over again… as long as I am in the front seat, anyway. That really should be the hallmark of any luxury car: the desire to get back in, and the pleasure that comes from simple drives to the airport or opera.
Sure, I didn’t spend a huge amount of time with the new Continental, but when I do get the chance to conduct a proper road test next year, it will be interesting to see if it continues to grow on me as it already has begun to do.