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If driving a BMW makes you a member of the country club, then driving a Lincoln Continental means you don't feel like you have to join a club. At least that's how Lincoln sees it. The Continental delivers luxury American style, providing comfort and ride quality in a highly maneuverable sedan with distinctive styling.
It comes with the latest in electronic technology: Suspension dampening and steering effort can be controlled electronically by the driver. A high-tech instrument panel provides good legibility. Computer controls allow 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 makes a distinctive design statement. Massive Lincoln tail lamps 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 allows Lincoln to revise the styling more often to keep the Continental in step with evolving aesthetic trends. A minor redesign in 1998 reduced the amount of front overhang - the distance between the front bumper and the front wheels. Headlamps and turn signals were redesigned also with a single, thinner lens and the grille was enlarged. Overall, the Continental looks rounder than before.
The door handles are a dated design, however, and can pinch your pinky if you're not careful. The Continental also comes with Ford's keypad for unlocking the car without a key; many longtime Ford buyers like these things, but they detract from the appearance of the car.
The trunk boasts nearly 19 cubic feet of cargo capacity. 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 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 Continental's interior is handsome. The seats are swathed in two-tone Connolly leather. Medium- and light-gray leather on our car with light-colored wood trim and premium carpeting gave it an open, airy feeling inside. Light coming in from the moonroof and windows adds to the bright, open feeling.
The design of the instrument panel, the real wood accents, and the leather work together to provide a pleasant interior. Electronics aid driving and comfort. Switch on the ignition and a blank area where the instruments should be lights up with instruments. The instruments are lighted from behind with red pointers for the tachometer, speedometer, and fuel and temperature gauges that seem to float above the instrument faces. This results in highly legible gauges.
Mounted on the dash just to the right is a set of electronic controls used to adjust ride quality and power-steering assist to the driver'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. Moreover, all of that can be stored in a pair of memory buttons so two 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.
Front bucket seats are standard. Covered in handsome leather, the bucket seats are comfortable. They feature power adjustments and the driver's seat has a two-position memory. We like the seating position and visibility is good in all directions. A front bench seat (split 50/50) that holds three people can be ordered at no extra charge, which permits seating for six people. Either way, the leather is standard.
There's lots of rear seat legroom. Three adults can sit in back with reasonable comfort and shoulder belts are used in all three positions.
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.
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 32-valve double overhead-cam engine produces 275 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds. 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.
In spite of its size, the Continental does not feel heavy, unwieldy or sloppy when going down the road. 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. 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 soft, normal and firm settings controlled by the driver adjust the rear shocks.
Speed-sensitive power steering offers driver-selectable settings for low, normal and high effort. 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.
Flat tires are less of a concern with optional run flat tires that can go more than 100 miles after losing all of their air pressure. A Personal Security Package ($750) 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. An overhead console lamp alerts the driver when the pressure in any tire drops below 18 pounds of pressure; it starts flashing at 10 psi in case the driver didn't notice the light.
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. More people would by a Continental if they took one for a test drive.
Continental's four-year or 50,000-mile warranty is longer than the standard 3-year/36,000-mile warranty.
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