Lincoln Continental delivers comfort and technology in a stylish, full-size package. Packed with technology, computer electronics are applied to nearly every facet of the driving experience.
Advanced electronics allow Continental drivers to tailor suspension dampening and steering effort to their personal taste and driving style. An optional Memory Profile System allows two drivers to personalize settings for eleven features. A few of its appointments may be perceived as mere gadgets, but many represent genuine innovations. The sum total is a thoroughly modern luxury sedan that's quick and maneuverable yet supremely plush.
The Lincoln Continental costs considerably less than Cadillac and Lexus luxury sedans and it compares well with the Buick Park Avenue. The design of the front-wheel-drive Continental is dated, however. It will be phased out in the fall, at the end of the 2002 model year. Incentives may be available.
Continental ($38,010); with Driver Select ($38,615); with Personal Security ($39,600); with Luxury Appearance ($39,720)
The Lincoln Continental makes a distinctive design statement. A rounded interpretation of the Lincoln waterfall grille blends with the headlamp clusters to sweep into a brightly trimmed front fascia, while massive tail lamps wrap around into the muscular rear quarters. The overall impression is round, organic, yet solid and impressive.
Front fenders, hood and deck lid are made of a sheet-molding compound that is more resistant to dents and dings.
The large door handles use the lever-style design that requires flipping your hand over. I can manage to pinch my pinky in them because I'm clumsy and often in a hurry. The driver's door is fitted with a keypad for unlocking the car without a key; many longtime Ford buyers like this feature and it's being used on the latest 2003 models, but we think it detracts from the appearance of the car.
The trunk boasts nearly 19 cubic feet of cargo capacity, considerably more than the Cadillac Seville, comparable to the DeVille and Buick Park Avenue Ultra. The trunk lid raises high and out of the way, while a low lift-over height makes loading and unloading a lot easier.
Raising the hood reveals an attractive engine compartment. The washer fluid container, oil filler and other necessaries are out in the open, and the cooling system is maintenance-free.
The Continental's interior is handsome. The design of the instrument panel, the real wood accents, and the leather work together to provide a pleasant atmosphere.
The seats in the Luxury Appearance Continental are swathed in two-tone Connolly leather. The hides in our test car were medium and light gray and, combined with light-colored wood trim and premium carpeting, lent an open, airy feeling inside. Light coming in from the moonroof and windows added to the bright, open ambiance.
Electronics aid driving and comfort. Switch on the ignition and a blank area where the instruments should be lights up with seemingly three-dimensional gauges. The instruments are lit from behind, and the red pointers for the tachometer, speedometer, and fuel and temperature gauges appear to float above the instrument faces. It looks slick, and yet it's highly legible.
Mounted on the dash just to the right is a set of controls used to adjust ride quality and power-steering assist to the driver's preference. In the same cluster is a trip computer that calculates miles-to-empty, average mpg and instant mpg, among other road-trip data. Push the Check button and it displays the status of various systems.
Owners can program a myriad of other functions, such as whether to have the doors lock when the car moves forward, or to have the horn chirp when the remote locks the doors, or to have the rear-view mirrors dip when the transmission goes into reverse. Moreover, all of that can be stored in a pair of memory buttons, so two different drivers can have the car set up for their individual preferences, eliminating potential trouble between drivers. It's easy to program: Simply push the driver ID button; select 1 or 2 and all your (automotive) desires are remembered.
Continental's standard front seating is a split (50/50) bench. Comfortable front bucket seats and a full-length console are listed as a no-cost option. Either way, there's lots of rear-seat legroom. Three adults can sit in back with reasonable comfort, and shoulder belts are available at all three positions.
A passive anti-theft system depends on matching an encoded radio frequency between the key and the ignition. It's capable of generating 72 quadrillion codes, making it virtually impossible to be beaten by even the most persistent bad guy.
The Continental delivers on the promise of comfort, ride quality, handling and performance.
The 32-valve V8 provides plenty of power to move this big sedan with authority. Merging on to the freeway is easy. Passing on two-lane roads is never an issue. The double overhead-cam engine produces 275 horsepower and 275 pounds-feet of torque. The ignition system has a coil for each plug for reduced maintenance and a cleaner appearance. Knock sensors mean premium fuel is no longer required, although it is still recommended for maximum performance.
The engine drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission linked electronically and mechanically to the engine. A constant dialogue between engine and transmission means shifts are remarkably smooth. Traction control and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard.
In spite of its size, the Continental does not feel heavy, unwieldy or sloppy going down the road. The semi-active suspension should appeal to owners who want more control and driving excitement. The driver can select soft, normal or firm settings for the rear shocks. On the highway, we preferred the firm setting for a more controlled feel. On rough roads, we liked the plush setting for absorbing bumps, potholes and vibration. The front suspension is independent with MacPherson struts. Ford's short- and long-arm independent rear suspension is designed to maximize control of wheel movement for better ride and handling.
Speed-sensitive power steering offers driver-selectable settings for low, normal and high effort. The change in effort is most noticeable in tight maneuvering, such as turning into a driveway. On the highway, the steering automatically increases effort for improved road feel.
Overall, the Continental is tuned toward traditional American tastes. It does not feel as taut as a BMW or Mercedes-Benz. Nor does it offer the responsiveness of a Cadillac DeVille. But it costs less than any of these.
Flat tires are less of a concern with the Personal Security Package, which equips the Continental with run-flat tires and an air pressure alert system. The system will tell you when you've lost air, and you can continue home even if you've put a hole in your tire the size of a golf ball. A lamp on the overhead console alerts the driver when the pressure in any tire drops below 18 psi; at 10psi it starts to flash.
Lincoln Continental offers distinctive exterior design and a cozy, integrated interior. It offers plenty of power and nice road manners. The Lincoln Continental is priced lower than the Cadillac DeVille and Seville and large import luxury cars and it compares well with the Buick Park Avenue Ultra.