After five years of yeoman service in a segment where Ford hadn't played previously - front- drive luxury cars - and five years of new Japanese competition, the Lincoln Continental has been jettisoned in favor of a new entry: a vehicle with a different worldview. The 6-cylinder giant economy car that was the Lincoln Continental has been replaced by an entirely new luxury automobile, one with the same moniker but a new transverse DOHC V8 engine, a new transaxle, a much trimmer body design, and a visually exciting and incredibly talented dashboard and instrument panel. Lincoln-Mercury product planners and marketing executives flatly state that their goal was to create the best front-drive luxury car in the world and, further, that the new Continental measures up to their goals. This is a pretty ambitious assertion. Even with the front-drive proviso, which limits direct comparisons with the superb Lexus LS 400, the Continental will still be measured against the more powerful Cadillac Seville and Seville STS, as well as the bigger Cadillac DeVille and Concours. So it's hard for us to endorse Lincoln's best-in-class position. But it's easy to call the new Continental better than the car it replaces. It's smoother, it's far more powerful and it offers a level of electronic sophistication that few luxury vehicles can match. Our model, with aluminum wheels and a 6-disc CD player located not in the trunk but in the console, had an estimated price of $42,125.