Doing the Continental

Does Lincoln’s new flagship have what it takes to woo new luxury sedan buyers?

Praise be to Lincoln Motor Company execs. So easily could they have badged their new flagship sedan the MKS-2, or MKU or MK-Whatever. Instead, they called it The Continental.

Bravo, I’m so over all the alpha-numeric nomenclature nonsense. Enough with the CT6s, the G90s, the S90s, K900s, the A6s, the GS350s. I’d lovingly buy a Continental just because it’s a Continental.

And what a beloved name. Just the mere mention of the word  conjures-up such nostalgic imagery of 1940s Hollywood’s A-listers cruising Rodeo in mighty V12-powered Continental Zephyrs, Kennedy in that infamous, suicide-doored Continental convertible,  Elvis in his chrome-laden 1960 Mark V.

This new Continental is a big gamble for Lincoln. A gamble that younger buyers, despite the efforts of a suited and booted Matthew McConaughey, will have the remotest interest in a cushy-riding boulevardier that nicely-equipped can carry a $75,ooo-plus sticker.

And Lincoln’s timing for the return of a new Continental is pretty dreadful. Not only are traditional luxury sedan buyers switching their allegiance to big, luxury SUVs, but competition in this sector of the market has never been stronger. Newcomers like the Genesis G80, Cadillac’s CT6 and Volvo S90 are tough adversaries.

Yet see the new Continental in the metal and it certainly looks impressive enough. Stretching 201 inches nose to tail, it’s a whopper. And its sleek lines, high waist, and tapered rump will turn heads in any valet line.

But while that eye-poppin’ honeycomb front grille has all the necessary sparkle and bling, to me it gives the car a slightly sad, grumpy face.

And you can argue that the car’s flagship status is dramatically devalued by the fact the more humble, mid-size MKZ shares the same grille design. In my week with the Continental, I lost count of the number of times I saw an MKZ and mistook it for its big brother.

That said, the Continental does have some gorgeous detailing. Like the huge door handles that make door-opening a special occasion. Instead of grabbing the handle and pulling, you simply reach behind and tap a button and the door gently opens.

More than anything Lincoln wanted this new Continental to showcase its new, single-minded focus on quality, craftsmanship and luxury. That’s easy to see the second you slide inside.

This is a big, comfy, cosseting five-seater with rear-seat accommodation that’s huge. Check the option boxes and you’ll get reclining rear La-Z-Boys with heat and cooling.

And the driver is well looked after with the option of 30-way front seat adjustability that lets you move the seat every which way. There’s even separate under-thigh adjustment for each leg to keep the blood circulating.

Yes, it’s a gorgeous cabin, with buttery-soft leathers, sexy matt-finished wood and impressive fit and finish. But somehow the yards of shiny chrome that seemingly edge every feature of the cabin cheapens the overall effect.

While you can take your pick of three V6 powerplants, it’s really the 400-horsepower 3.0-liter twin-turbo that should be at the top of your wishlist. Unlike the base 305-hp 3.7-liter and 335-horse 2.7-liter, the 3.0 comes standard with all-wheel drive. Otherwise it’s a front-wheel driver, which hardly screams flagship.

As you’d expect, with 400 ponies the Continental is feisty-fast, galloping to 60 from standstill in 5.0 seconds and delivering strong, muscley mid-range thrust for fast passing and slingshot freeway merging.

It’s not a particularly quiet engine either, especially when revved hard. And it’s fuel economy is up there with a U-Haul van.

But the real weak link here is the car’s six-speed automatic which, while silky-smooth in its shifts, seems reluctant to downshift, and has to be coaxed hard to avoid shifting well before the redline.

Full marks however for the nicely-weighted, communicative steering, and the electronic damping which lets you select between Comfort, Normal or Sport. Comfort is perfect for cushy olde-time Lincoln riding, while Sport reduces body roll and livens the steering and throttle response.

Who’s buying this new Continental? I suspect traditional Lincoln supporters, maybe moving up from an MKZ or trading their old MKS. Or maybe Lexus or Buick buyers wanting to try something different.

As for pricing, the base car kicks off at around $46,000 with an all-wheel drive Reserve starting at around $56,000. But begin adding a few options, like the big engine and the fancy Black Label package and you’re looking at $75-80,000. That’s a lot.

Oddly enough, the Continental may face its biggest challenge this fall when Lincoln starts selling its all-new, chrome-laden 2018 Navigator. High-luxe sedan or High-luxe SUV; now that’ll be a tough choice.

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