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High-tech equipment is a requisite for a luxury sedan these days, but Lincoln's Continental is on the cutting edge with computer electronics applied to nearly every facet of the driving experience. We're not talking about gadgets here, although the Continental offers a reasonable share of those, we're talking about the innovative use of electronics to provide comfort and ride quality in a highly maneuverable sedan.
Suspension dampening and steering effort can be adjusted electronically by the driver, allowing owners to tailor their Continental to their driving style and environment. These whiz-bang electronics are not intrusive, however, as owners can choose to use them or ignore them. Either way, driving the Continental is a satisfying experience.
The Lincoln Continental makes a distinctive design statement. 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. In the Continental's current incarnation, a rounded interpretation of the Lincoln waterfall grille blends with the headlamp clusters to sweep into a brightly trimmed smile, while massive tail lamps wrap around into the muscular rear quarter panels. The overall impression is round, organic, yet solid and impressive
The door handles are a dated design, however, and can pinch your pinky if you're not careful. The door is fitted with a keypad for unlocking the car without a key; many longtime Ford buyers like them, but we think 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, the 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 Luxury Appearance Package ($1,105) Continentals are swathed in two-tone Connolly leather. Medium and light-gray leather on our test 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.
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 lighted 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 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 preferences. 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 the status of various systems is displayed.
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 spots between spouses. Simply push the driver ID button; select 1 or 2 and all your preferences will be selected.
Continental's standard seating arrangement includes a split (50/50) front bench seat and soft leather upholstery. Comfortable front bucket seats and a full-length console are listed as a no-cost option, but they can be ordered only with the $605 Driver Select System and $575 Alpine stereo.
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 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 3,848-pound 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 pound-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 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. The soft, normal and firm settings controlled by the driver adjust 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 movements 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 speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion 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, 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 run more than 100 miles after losing all of their air pressure. A Personal Security Package ($640) 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 buy a Continental if they took one for a test drive.
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