American presidents proudly rode in Lincoln sedans for decades. Frank Sinatra drove a 1955 Continental Mark II that cost more than a Rolls-Royce at the time. Babe Ruth, Elvis Presley, and James Brown also figure on the list of famous Lincoln owners. The brand’s future looked brighter than the chrome trim on its cars through the 1960s, but it lost its way in the 1970s and continued its decline during the following decade. It let competitors like Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz get ahead by releasing a whole series of dull, uninspiring cars with too much Ford-ness that appealed largely to AARP members.
Luckily, someone at Ford remembered Lincoln’s more glamorous days and decided that enough was enough. The firm released the Continental in a bid to climb back up in the automotive pecking order and re-capture its former allure. Digital Trends spent a week with one to find out if it deserves a spot next to the popular Navigator SUV at the top of the Lincoln lineup, or if the company phoned it in.
The base Continental starts at $46,145 before options and a mandatory $925 destination charge enter the equation. The trim level hierarchy includes three additional models named Select ($49,945), Reserve ($59,710), and Black Label ($70,045), respectively. For our test, Lincoln gave us a Black Label model loaded with 30-way adjustable front seats, the rear seat package, the Continental technology package, and the twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter engine. All told, it cost $81,620.
Lincoln’s new beginning
Lincoln took a while to find itself. For years, it experimented with an awkward split-wing front-end design and three-letter nameplates like MKZ, MKX, and MKT that made little sense to anyone outside of its marketing department. With the Continental, it wiped the slate clean and started everything from scratch.
The front end wears a wide grille with chromed inserts, and headlights with LED accents that give the car a digital stare. The roof line gracefully flows into a rear end that’s neither overwrought nor boring, a balance many companies struggle to find. Our favorite part of the Continental is its profile, though. The mirrors look like they’re right off of a concept car, and integrating the door handles into the belt line adds a unique touch of elegance to the overall design. Our tester wasn’t one of the 80 examples fitted with suicide doors, a heritage-laced feature we think the Continental should have had all along.
From a design standpoint, the Continental is stately the way a Lincoln should be.
Even with standard, front-hinged doors, the Continental is stately the way a Lincoln should be. It’s a shame, then, that the MKZ looks so strikingly similar to the Continental when viewed from the front. This approach to design forges a family resemblance, which is likely what stylists sought to achieve, but it also dilutes the Continental’s image. We’d bet the heated seats that, when looking at both cars from the front, the average car buyer can’t tell an MKZ and a Continental apart.
The door handles beam puddle lights onto the ground to greet the passengers as soon as the Continental detects its key. Once inside, it’s immediately evident that every part of the interior was developed with a deep-rooted obsession for comfort, a trait shared with every previous Continental. You won’t find aggressively bolstered seats or gaudy carbon fiber trim on the dashboard. Instead, the front passengers travel on 30-way adjustable chairs that are heated, cooled, and massaging. These seats – which are optional – stand out as one of the Continental’s most noteworthy features, and they’re among the best we’ve experienced in any new or late-model car.
The dashboard’s layout is straight-forward; everything is where you expect it to be, including the touchscreen and the HVAC controls. The door handles are more unexpected: they’re buttons. It’s a neat touch that gives the Continental personality. Rest assured, Lincoln hid regular, mechanical handles in the door panels to allow the passengers to get out in the event of an electrical failure. You won’t spend your weekend getaway trapped inside the Continental if the battery goes flat.
The build quality is average; it didn’t strike us as particularly good or particularly bad. Cheaper materials appear in places the occupants wouldn’t normally look, like on the bottom part of the door panels, but we can say that about any car. All told, the Continental largely looks and feels like a proper luxury car.
Not basic but under-teched
The eight-inch touchscreen embedded in the center stack runs Ford’s familiar Sync 3 infotainment system. It’s a Lincoln-specific version of the software, but it’s a generation behind the infotainment technology offered by the Continental’s European and Japanese rivals in terms of design and resolution. At least it’s fairly easy to navigate. Icons arranged in a row on the bottom part of the screen give the front passengers quick access to features like phone, navigation, media, and settings, and most of the menus are shallow. Sync 3’s learning curve is gentle.
Annoyingly, Sync 3 is one of the infotainment systems that doesn’t allow the driver to type an address into the navigation system while the car is moving. We understand the thinking behind this decision; the driver should keep eyes on the road and hands on the wheel at all times. This is well and good in theory, but in application a driver locked out of the navigation menu will simply reach for a smartphone, which is arguably even more of a distraction. Besides, what if the passenger wants to type in an address?
Electronic driving aids like blind spot detection and adaptive cruise control work as advertised. The head-up display deserves a special mention because it presents information in a very clear and concise manner, and it’s easy to read regardless of light or weather conditions. We particularly appreciated having speed limit information directly in our line of sight.
Clear and concise also describes the digital instrument cluster. Designers crafted a speedometer with a few simple lines and placed it front and center. It’s a layout we would expect to find in a Swedish car that flaunts Scandinavian design, not in a Lincoln. And, finally, the last part of the interior that’s clear is the optional, 19-speaker Revel sound system fitted to our test car. We turned up the volume, and it sounded like every member of Flogging Molly was sitting on the back seat playing a private set for us.
In a sea of serenity
Lincoln offers the Continental with three different engines. The entry-level unit is a 3.7-liter V6 rated at 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Next up is a twin-turbocharged, 2.7-liter V6 that produces 335 hp and 380 lb-ft. of torque. Finally, the range-topping unit – which our test car came with – is a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 tuned to deliver 400 hp at 5,750 rpm and 400 lb-ft. of torque at 2,750 rpm.
The 3.0-liter sends its power to the four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission that the driver shifts into gear using buttons located… well, not exactly where you would expect to find them. They’re not on the center console, and they’re not on the steering column. Keep looking.
Lincoln stacked them, totem-style, on the left side of the touchscreen. It’s a little bit of an oddity at first, but it’s a layout that grew on us during our time with the car.
The V6 audibly makes its presence known under hard acceleration, like when merging onto the highway or passing a truck, but it quiets down considerably when cruising at freeway speeds. We carried a conversation with our passenger using normal indoor voices, even while traveling at 75 mph. The 20-inch alloy wheels should make the ride choppy but the adaptive suspension filters out bumps to give the Continental a ride that’s outstandingly smooth and compliant. The ability to cruise for miles on end in complete serenity is an important trait in the composition of the Lincoln character, and the Continental doesn’t disappoint in that department; it lives up to the badge on its grille. It’s a supremely comfortable car. Turn on the heated, massaging seats, and sit back as the miles fly by.
Comfort first: Lincoln’s flagship offers a ride that is outstandingly smooth and compliant.
Quick, think fast: name a Lincoln model known primarily for its handling qualities. That was a trick question. There isn’t one. The Continental isn’t one to break with tradition. It’s sportier than its predecessors, but it’s not a car that likes swiftly changing directions, largely because it wasn’t engineered to be one. It keeps up with the bends on a twisty road – torque vectoring helps – but the only feedback provided by the quick steering and the chassis is that the car would really rather be going in a straighter line. Somewhat puzzlingly, the Continental comes with shift paddles and a sport mode. We didn’t use either. The transmission fires off well-timed shifts on its own, and the sport mode attempts to turn the sedan into something it’s plainly not. It’s best enjoyed in its softest, most comfortable setting.
It hustles, though, even in comfort mode. The throttle response is sharp, the Continental feels like a 400-hp car with the pedal mashed to the floor, and its all-wheel drive system never fumbles for grip as it transfers the six’s power to the pavement. Our time behind the wheel took us to Columbus, Ohio, during a snow storm, where we experienced another, more warrior-like side of the Continental. It’s sure-footed on the slippery stuff. All-wheel drive and the various electronic driving aids like traction control work together to keep the front end pointed in the direction of travel. We applied the basic rules of driving on snow and the Continental soldiered on admirably, even up snowy hills.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the Continental at 16 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway, and 19 mpg in a combined cycle. It’s not the kind of car that encourages lively driving, so we cruised with a light foot and beat the EPA’s highway estimate by one mile.
Inside or outside the box?
The Continental competes in a segment of the market that’s shrinking faster than a Norwegian glacier in Saudi Arabia. Realistically, its biggest rivals are car-based crossovers like Lincoln’s own Aviator. Buyers who remain committed to sedans have a number of options to consider, including the usual suspects from Germany (the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the BMW 5 Series, and the Audi A6) and Japanese models like the Lexus ES. That’s if you compare on price alone; in terms of size, the Continental lands closer to S-Class territory. Odds are those shopping for a Lincoln want to think outside the box, however. Viewed in that light, the Continental’s main competitors are the Cadillac CT6 and the Volvo V90.
Like the Continental, the CT6 ($50,495) spearheads its manufacturer’s renaissance. Cadillac offers more diverse engine options, including a four-cylinder and a twin-turbocharged V8, and the CT6 handles better than the Continental. It’s not as smooth, though, and the Continental is more comfortable. The V90 ($48,100) also champions comfort at the expense of driving engagement. Its interior is nicer than the Continental’s, both in terms of design and in terms of material quality, and it boasts much better tech. Its ride is firmer, which can be a pro or a con depending on your perspective.
Peace of mind
The Continental comes with a four-year, 50,000-mile warranty, and Lincoln stands by the powertrain for six years or 70,000 miles, whichever comes first. Buyers who splurge on the Black Label trim also benefit from a four-year, 50,000-mile premium maintenance plan, service pickup and delivery (within a 30-mile radius of the nearest dealership), and an annual detail, among other perks.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the Continental a five-star overall crash test rating. The list of standard safety features includes front, side, curtain, and knee airbags for the front passengers. Our tester came with inflatable rear seat belts. We didn’t get to test them, thankfully, but they added peace of mind when we carried four passengers. It’s a forward-thinking feature we’d like to see on more cars regardless of brand or market segment.
How DT would configure this car
If we were configuring a Continental, we’d start with the mid-range Select trim and add all-wheel drive. It comes well equipped with rain-sensing wipers, navigation, and adaptive cruise control. We’d happily pay $1,500 for the 30-way adjustable front seats, which are heated and ventilated, and we’d spend $225 on inflatable rear seat belts. Lincoln would send us a bill for $55,360.Our Take
The Continental is the most convincing luxury car Lincoln has released in decades. There is room for improvement, notably in the tech department, but it’s quick, it offers passengers a comfortable space to travel in, and it’s happy to cruise from coast to coast – and back – if needed.
On a second but more lasting level, it shows Lincoln is on the right path.
10 years ago, we thought Lincoln, the car company, would join Lincoln, the former American president, in history books. It very nearly did, but Ford saved it from the chopping block at the last minute. At the time, we weren’t alone in wondering why. After spending a week driving the Continental, we have a much better idea of the direction the brand is taking, and we’re giving it two thumbs up. Lincoln isn’t trying to be BMW, Mercedes-Benz, or even Cadillac. It doesn’t want to be Lexus. It wants to be Lincoln again.
Should you get one?
Not the way we drove it.
Loaded to the gills like our tester was, the Continental reaches a price point that places it in a segment it can’t compete in. This isn’t the Lincoln Sinatra drove around Las Vegas. Frankly, brand loyalty is the only reason to spend $80,000 on a Continental instead of driving home in a nicely-optioned Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Go easy on the options, lop $25,000 off the price, and it becomes a serious contender on the shopping list of buyers who place comfort and serenity above performance and brand recognition.