I spent the day cycling in and out of Continentals equipped with the top-of-the-line, 3.0-liter, 400-hp biturbo V-6, which is gratuitously powerful and exceptionally satisfying to use. Mash the throttle, and the Continental comes to life, making satisfying noises as it goes through its six forward gears. Optional all-wheel drive, which uses a system related to that on the Ford Focus RS, keeps torque balanced, and you’ll never want for passing ability, what with copious, instant power available on demand. Less satisfying is the Continental’s fuel economy, at 16 mpg city and 24 highway for the most powerful engine. The two lesser V-6 powerplants, a 3.7 and a turbocharged 2.7, are slightly more efficient. We’re more than familiar with these two engines, but did not have the opportunity to drive them at this launch event. A turbo four will launch for the Chinese market, and it’s unclear whether that engine will eventually make it to the U.S. market.
Despite the abundance of power, no matter which powertrain you select, the Continental is most at home on boulevards and freeways. Spend just a few minutes behind the wheel of the Continental, and your thoughts turn to finding time on the calendar for long drives. With the seat massage enabled and the volume up on the optional 19-speaker Revel Ultima stereo, the Continental is at peak relaxation chamber. Opt for the rear-seat package ($4,300) and two rear outboard passengers can also benefit from heat, cooling, massage, and an adjustable backrest. The ride is pillow-soft, regardless of drive mode settings, just the way Lincoln’s engineers wanted it. The Continental is a grand tourer par excellence, not a canyon carver, and that’s perfectly okay.
The most interesting part of driving the Continental is feeling consumed in the user experience, which is comparable to business class airplane travel, devoid of surprise pat downs and occasional turbulence. All that’s missing to complete the experience are personal video screens and vanity mirrors, as well as an adjustable seat cushion. Lincoln insists that the Continental will not be pushed into livery service in the United States (RIP, Town Car), but a button to slide the front passenger’s seat forward indicates otherwise.
Is this the height of luxury? For most people, it certainly is. That’s both the benefit and the penalty of the Continental: It so clearly hits targets set for refinement and comfort without exceeding expectation. Over a day of driving the Continental through the environs of Los Angeles, from ritzy Malibu to artsy Culver City, the overwhelming sentiment was low in individuality, and high in competence. Lincoln’s newest flagship feels engineered to deliver a premium experience without as much as a hint of personality. Like a colleague who can always deliver a stellar presentation, but leaves you cold in the way he does it, it’s difficult to fall in love with the Continental.
It’s difficult to imagine a more direct Continental competitor (on paper, anyway) than the Cadillac CT6, which exists to accomplish a similar task at a comparable price, but its ethos is performance-driven above all else. The elephant in the room is the superb Volvo S90, which offers real character, in addition to similar performance, build quality, a relaxing driving environment, significantly better fuel economy and class-leading, semi-autonomous driving capability. Like the Continental, the S90 is an outlier, intended to capture buyers who have tired of Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, and even the German luxury sedans.
For now, the Continental is an enormous step forward for the brand that seems to be stuck in endless cycles of stagnation, and a positive indicator of variants that might follow from the Continental. If Lincoln can put forth this kind of effort—and more—across its lineup, there’s hope yet that the brand can succeed.
The 2017 Lincoln Continental is on sale now, priced from $45,485 with shipping.