The Lincoln Continental has accomplished its mission for 1999: That mission, according to Lincoln-Mercury, is to provide "exemplary comfort and ride quality in a highly maneuverable sedan with distinctive styling." The Continental does all that and does it with its own interpretation of what a luxury car should be.
That interpretation includes the latest in electronic technology: Suspension damping and steering effort are controlled electronically by the driver. A high-tech instrument panel provides improved legibility, while computer controls allows owners to tailor their Continentals to their driving style and environment. These whiz-bang electronics are not intrusive, however, as owners can choose to use them or ignore them, relax and enjoy the cruise. Either way, driving the Continental is a satisfying experience.
The Continental is available in just one model. Last year, it received a minor redesign that reduced the amount of front overhang-the distance between the front bumper and the front wheels. Headlamps and turn signals were redesigned with a single, thinner lens and the grille was enlarged.
Massive Lincoln taillamps sweep around into the rear quarter panels. Front fenders, hood and decklid are made of a sheet molding compound that is more resistant to dents and dings. This material will also allow Lincoln to revise the styling more often to keep the Continental in step with evolving aesthetic trends. Overall, the Continental looks rounder than before and makes a distinctive design statement.
The trunk lid raises high enough to not be a head-bumper for all but the tallest. The trunk boasts nearly 19 cubic feet of cargo capacity and a low lift-over height makes loading and unloading a lot easier.
Raising the hood reveals an attractive engine compartment filled by a 4.6-liter V8. Washer fluid, oil filler and other necessaries are out in the open and the cooling system is maintenance free. The 32-valve double overhead-cam engine produces a healthy 275 horsepower at 5750 rpm--up from 260 last year--and 270 foot-pounds of torque at 3000 rpm. The ignition system has a coil for each plug for reduced maintenance and a cleaner appearance. New knock sensors mean premium fuel is no longer required, though it is still recommended for maximum performance.
The engine drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic 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 all standard.
The front suspension is independent with MacPherson struts. Ford's short- and long-arm independent rear suspension is designed to maximize control of wheel movements for better ride and handling. The rear shocks have soft, normal and firm settings that can be controlled by the driver. Speed-sensitive power steering offers driver-selectable settings for low, normal and high effort.
Flat tires are less of a concern with optional "run flat" tires that can go 100 miles after losing all of their air pressure. The Michelin MX4ZP tires are part of a system called SecuriTire that includes an overhead console lamp that lights when the pressure in any tire drops below 18 psi; it starts flashing at 10 psi in case the driver didn't notice the light.
A passive anti-theft system uses an encoded radio frequency between the key and the ignition capable of generating 72 quadrillion codes, making it virtually impossible to be beaten by even the most persistent bad guy.
Another type of security comes in the form of Continental's four-year or 50,000-mile warranty, which is longer than the standard 3 years or 36,000 miles.
A new option this year includes 16-inch, six-spoke chrome wheels, a wood-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, two-tone seat trim and special floor mats.
There is much to see and do inside a Continental. The luxurious interior covered in leather, wood and premium carpeting features a plethora of electronic doo-dads and high-tech instrumentation.
Even everyday instruments offer surprises. Switch on the ignition and a blank area where the instruments should be lights up with instruments. But with a difference! The numbers are lighted from behind, while red pointers for the tachometer, speedometer, and fuel and temperature gauges seem to float above the instrument faces. It sounds gimmicky on paper, but we applaud the technology because it makes the gauges very easy to read.
Mounted on the dash just to the right is a set of electronic controls. This is the fun center. Variables for ride quality and power-steering assist can be dialed in to the owner's preferences. It also calculates trip information, such as miles to empty, average mpg and instant mpg. Push the check button and the status of various systems is displayed.
Owners can program a myriad of 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. And all of that can be stored in a pair of memory buttons so that different drivers can have the car tailored to their preferences, eliminating potential trouble spots between spouses. Simply push the driver ID button, select 1 or 2 and all your preferences will be selected.
Our test car came with comfortable bucket seats covered in handsome leather. Both seats offer power adjustments and the driver's seat has a two-position memory. We liked the seating position and visibility was good in all directions. With lots of rear seat leg room, three adults can sit in back with reasonable comfort. The interior can hold six when a front bench is selected. Either way, the leather is standard.
The Continental comes standard with dual front airbags and side airbags. An optional Remote Satellite Cellular Unit, called RESCU, is automatically activated if the airbags are deployed. The cellular unit uses satellite tracking along with a voice-operated system to reduce the amount of time it takes for assistance to arrive. The options package also includes the run-flat tires, an upgraded sound system and a garage door opener.
The Continental delivers on the promise of comfort, ride quality, handling-and performance. The 32-valve V8 provides plenty of power to move this 3,868-pound sedan with authority. Merging on to the freeway is easy. Passing on two-lane roads is never an issue. The Cadillac Seville still has an edge in the acceleration department, however, with 300 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque at 4400 rpm.
In spite of its size, the Continental does not feel heavy, unwieldy or sloppy when going down the road. And while it is roomy inside, the design of the instrument panel, the real wood accents, and the leather work together to provide an intimate interior that we found most pleasant.
The semi-active suspension with adjustable ride should appeal to owners who want more control and driving excitement. 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. Adjusting the steering effort between high and low effort is most noticeable in tight maneuvering, such as turning into a driveway. On the highway, the speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering automatically increases steering 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, but the adjustable steering and suspension allow an owner to dial in some of that European feel.
The Lincoln Continental is a luxury car in every sense of the word. It offers a distinctive exterior design and a cozy, integrated interior. There is plenty of power available and its over-the-road manners are impeccable.
If more luxury car shoppers would take a Continental for a test drive, Lincoln would sell more of these cars.
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