The Lincoln Continental flagship full-size sedan, first launched in the WWII days and discontinued in 2002, makes a very welcome return.
With its broad horizontal design, the Continental is sculpted into something both smart and sexy. There is a metal honeycomb grille within a stretched hourglass form that rises up and out over the raised hood, then down to the rear of the car.
The space where the door panels meet the windows might be the most subtle and interesting design element. It helps make the body one smooth, clean line with nothing but a chrome-plated Continental badge mucking up the flow.
It looks good – elegance without ostentation, sophistication without smugness. The design falters at the boxier rear, which looks indistinct except for the huge trunk it houses, big enough to fit two hockey bags or a half-dozen mob informants.
The test model in Reserve trim came with 10-spoke, 19-inch wheels – the 20-inch wheels with seven dual spokes stand out more, and are worth the $750 upcharge. Base price is $55,915; as tested, $69,480.
Approach the car with fob in pocket and from eight feet away the doors unlock, side mirrors extend and accent lighting appears, from the logo projected on the ground by the door to the door handles shining blue. LEDs light up on the front and rear. Soft interior lighting illuminates the instrument panel and cup holders, as the start-stop button gently pulses.
Other luxury brands have what Lincoln calls “approach detection,” but not this subtle and not standard at this price point.
The real charm of the Continental is the natural placement of things, such as door handles. The doors close with a soft kiss, and opening them from the inside requires just a press of the button on the door handle, where the thumb would rest if you were to grip the handle to push it and get out. You don’t need to push the door, just the button.
Seat controls are on the door panel, as are seat massagers, so no need to access the touch screen. Touch screens are not a luxury, they are a nuisance; hard to reach, clunky to engage and unsafe to utilize.
We prefer a control dial in the console to access the info screen, a la the Germans, but most models sold in America don’t want to sacrifice coveted cup space.
The only good things to come out of a touch screen are a bright map and a government-mandated backup camera. Self-parking and camera buttons flank the 8-inch touch screen, and 360-degree backup camera.
On the left side are the electronic gear buttons. It’s an odd touch for everyone but Lincoln, which has been placing gear buttons on the center stack to clear space in the console for a while now.
Redundant steering wheel controls that project the most used information on the wonderful dynamic instrument cluster are all within easy range of thumb motion. Overall, the cabin utilizes a smart, ergonomic layout that underscores the attention to detail necessary for a premium product. It makes simple subtle, and smart sexy.
The control panel beneath the touch screen isn’t as sophisticated, using red and blue buttons for hot and cold, with a basic font and design that are a sign of parts sharing. One nice touch is a rectangular slot beside the cup holders for a smartphone.
The all-wheel-drive Reserve came with the upgraded and most powerful of the three engine offerings, a twin turbo V-6 making 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque.
The power plant isn’t going to take your breath away from a standstill, but once the turbo hits the sweet spot just under 2,000 rpm, it puts a smile on your face.
Hitting it from a stop the six-speed automatic momentarily feels unsure if the dynamic all-wheel drive is ready to deliver torque to all four wheels. Stab the throttle and the insecurity returns, a sort of lurch and surge that is smoothed out by flooring it.
On the highway, the front wheels take over to improve fuel economy. We averaged about 22 mpg combined.
The steering leans toward the lazy in comfort mode, and is a bit more responsive in sport mode. It still handles like a full-size American sedan, albeit a modern one. The Continental is built more for comfort than for speed, but has enough performance chops for nonlinear moves.
This new Continental appeals not just to patient Lincoln fans, but to a new class of buyer who doesn’t need luxury and performance in equal parts.