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2019 Lincoln Continental Review: The Enigma

In 2015, Ford unveiled the concept version of what would become the newest iteration of the Lincoln Continental. The setting was the New York auto show, and by general consensus the car was a show-stopper. For many, it announced the return of the legendary luxury brand.

Wind the clock back further, and the first Continental appeared in 1939, as a new nameplate stuck on the Lincoln Zephyr. Edsel Ford, son of Henry, returned from a trip to Europe with ideas of producing a modern, stylish car like he’d seen on the Old Continent. From the outset, the early Continental was a success, that first generation lasting until 1948. After a short hiatus, it returned in 1956 as a high-prestige personal saloon car, but that experiment lasted but two years.

The Continental name stayed active, however, being attached to the highest-end Lincoln variants. In 1961, The Continental was presented with modern contours that were surprisingly modest; absent was the overt exuberance that marked several of the model’s competitors. This new iteration came to be known as the “Kennedy Lincoln”, the model being the favored choice of the American president.

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Over time, the Continental name gave way to another, as the Town Car was born (actually reborn, as it had previously designed a specialized version of the Continental). The Town Car lasted until 2002.

Not long after presenting the new concept in 2015, Ford decided not only to go to a production version with it but also market it as part of a new division, the Lincoln Motor Company. This version is the one we see today, and it survives despite being almost completely out of tune with the times.

Surviving is not thriving, of course. In the U.S., the Continental sold only about 12,000 units in 2017, and even dropped precipitously in 2018, to 8,758 units. Last year only 369 Canadian buyers signed on the bottom line to acquire a Continental. Meanwhile Mercedes-Benz sold over 50,000 units of its E-Class in the United stated in 2018!

This is not really a shocking development. For starters there’s declining interest in North America for sedans, luxury or otherwise. And it’s not like Lincoln is uniformly producing mediocre products; its SUVs like the impressive Navigator are enjoying some success. Even Bob Lutz, former top executive at GM, recently acknowledged that current Lincoln products feature better designs that those of the brand he used to represent!

The styling of the Continental is quite appealing, in my view. The big luxury sedan is based on the CD4 platform that also underpins the Ford Fusion, which is disappearing after this year.

Lincoln also recently produced 80 extended-wheelbase versions of the model that feature rear suicide doors, like those found on 60s versions. Those were snapped up quickly enough that the company is planning to produce a slightly larger number in 2020.

Photo: Lincoln

In any event, what’s relevant to know is that the current Continental is nearly identical to that prototype presented in the Big Apple four years ago. The silhouette is at least moderately evocative of the popular Continental cars of the 60s, those “Kennedy Lincolns”.

A stunning interior
While the exterior is impressive, it’s on the interior that you ultimately judge the Continental. And well, it has already taken home a few awards from automotive organizations for that interior, which features a judicious mix of leather, wood and chrome.

The dashboard is well-designed but it is fairly busy. The digital instrument panel is well-placed in its niche in front of the driver. This year Lincoln has added the head-up display, an appreciated additional drive-assist feature.

The centre of the dashboard harbors the screen that gives access to the Sync 3 system, audio system, backup (and forward) camera and navigation, the latter relatively easy to use. It’s also where you go to adjust the front seats, including the massage function. The design also makes that the dashboard flows down to the console where there are several more commands, including the climate control system.

Incidentally, don’t look for the gear shifter, because there is none. Instead, Lincoln opted for a push-button keyboard on the dashboard to change gears. To be sure, the system is just slightly more evolved than the ones found in the 1958 Edsel, which had similar commands but placed on the centre of the steering wheel – quite an innovation at the time! Above the windshield sit the commands for the big glass power sunroof.

The upholstery of the Lincoln is remarkable, frankly, as are the seats they cover. There’s that massage function, but the front seats are also 30-way power adjustable using the commands in the doors (note the absence of physical door handles, replaced by electric commands… in the style of the 40s-era Lincoln Zephyr that had buttons instead of handles both inside and out.

Our test vehicle included the option for power adjustable back seats as well, which also get a central console for the infotainment system that connects to a 19-speaker Revel Ultima audio system. Fold down the console and you get an opening through which to place skis and the like via the trunk. On the console are individual commands for the climate control and the vented seats.

Speaking of the trunk, it can be opened and closed via a swipe of the foot under the bumper, like with SUV liftbacks. It’s also without question one of the most cavernous to be found in the segment.

The mechanics
The Lincoln Continental comes with a choice of three V6 engines: a 3.7L naturally aspirated V6 working with front-wheel drive, a 2.7L twin-turbo V6 and the 3.0L twin-turbo unit under the hood of our Continental Reserve tester, which makes 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque.

Combined with a 6-speed automatic transmission (is a 7- or 8-speed unit really required?), this modern engine is in this configuration also connected to an all-wheel-drive system, and we all know how useful that is when winter comes to Canada.

For its part, the suspension is adjustable to an electronic command available inside to the driver. This of course refers to the three models, Comfort, Normal and Sport. The latter, it should be said, really does impact on the level of comfort, which is sort of the raison d’être of the Continental. Comfort mode meanwhile makes for an overly soft ride though, so like with Goldilocks the middle setting is just the right one.

The factory tires on the 2019 Continental are Goodyear Eagle low-profile tires on 20-inch wheels; these make for a very quiet and smooth ride. A previous test drive during the cold months was carried out on Toyo Observe winter tires, which were noticeably louder but every effective.

On the road
Despite its vocation as a luxury “town car”, the Continental does feel like it was conceived to be driven. Our tester with the 3.0L engine was able to do 0-100 km/h in under six seconds, and passing was a breeze. The driver can if the mood hits use the paddle shifter behind the steering wheel to add a little more sportiness to their experience; I would then suggest switching to Sport mode for the firmer suspension.

In normal driving the car is very silent once launched up to speed, but accelerations do generate some noise from the V6. It’s far from noisy but it is audible. Otherwise, even in Regular mode the Continental displays excellent dynamics on the road (I would recommend Comfort for certain urban driving situations where the road surface is troubled. And while this is no sports car, its stability on winding roads is impressive, as is the crispness of its steering.

Once the driver has found their sweet spot with the power-adjustable seats, they can spend hours at the wheel of the Continental without getting sore or fatigued. Although not really, because they’ll have to stop to refuel. And this is where you find the biggest fly in the ointment of this impressive car. It is downright uneconomical in its use of fuel compared to some others in its class. My weeklong test resulted in an average of 12.2L/100 km, while the onboard computer indicated 11.7L. It’s notably worse in winter, during which period I obtained an average of over 15L/100 km.

The car, it should be said, weighs in at over 4,700 lb. Ford might want to apply some it expertise in aluminum-based construction, put to good use in the F-Series trucks. A lighter Continental would surely be a more efficient one!

Pricing
The Lincoln Continental Reserve AWD comes with a starting sticker price of $68,265. Our tester had the optional 3,0L engine that adds $3,000 to the bill. Then there are the front LED headlights ($2,800), 30-way power-adjustable seats ($750) and power-adjustable and reclining rear seats ($5,000). Those nice big alloy wheels add another $750, while the Revel audio system adds $2,700, the ceramic pearl paint finish $700 and the additional carpets $150.

Don’t forget the $2,000 in transport and preparation fees and the $100 A/C tax. All of brings the total damage to $86,215 – plus taxes, of course!

In addition to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the main rivals of the 2019 Lincoln Continental are the Cadillac CT6, Lexus GS300 and Volvo S90.

Motorists not having drunk the SUV kool-aid yet and who want an attractive big sedan that’s got some discreet panache and offers a truly distinctive and elegant interior environment will want to take a close look at the Continental.

Note that this sedan has already earned several notable mentions including the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick, a Five-Star rating from the NHTSA and an Initial Quality award from J.D. Power.