The concept of a luxury car has often meant completely different things to people. If you keep the twin British luxury marques out of the equation for a moment, the bulk of the modern luxury car market is targeted on a significant and growing volume base. While the same holds true even for Rolls-Royce and Bentley, the need to get volumes isn’t as focussed as it is in the premium and entry luxury segments. Here, you have mainstream production techniques being used to address an increasingly affluent customer base, delivering cars that stand out from the mainstream, but which aren’t quite in the league of the handcrafted, tradition-laden marques.
The Continental represents a whole new breed of Lincoln Automobile, with a very focussed approach to Luxury. It serves to highlight the best of available technologies and ideas
Over the decades, some elements have remained entrenched in the concept of luxury – wood veneers, leather upholstery, large engines and good NVH levels. But that wasn’t enough for the American luxury badges of Lincoln and Cadillac to hold back the onslaught of the premier German brands – something was missing and this became a challenge for the brands even in their home market.
At the same time, the huge financial crash of eight years ago served to bring to a head the issues that plagued the American car companies. Ford, particularly, went through a major restructuring that was designed to help rebuild the company without needing to declare bankruptcy. But what happened in this is the existing structure of the three home brands – Ford, Mercury and Lincoln, saw Mercury being dropped. In the graded approach to features and luxury trims that these brands presented, the step up to Lincoln was now more evident, but the message itself was of a Ford with a plus package on it. That really didn’t work anywhere but in the US home market and the Middle East.
The new Ford approach then evolved to seeing Lincoln as a stand-alone luxury brand that was able to address global markets, distinct from Ford’s products. We have seen this approach gradually evolve over the past few years – with a unique electronic gearshift treatment, styling that is markedly edgier and distinct and a push towards more luxury options and technology. The first signs of this were seen in the MKS and the new MKC and it solidified under the MKX. But the real differentiator will be the Continental and the soon to arrive new Navigator.
The Lincoln Continental is thus tasked with the role of being the bellwether for the company’s foray into the luxury segment ruled by the Germans. The Lincoln Motor Co. has lived up to the aim behind being hived off to an almost standalone operation and the task is now moving towards an endgame.
The Continental is based on the group’s CD4 platform and is limited by the architecture – front lateral engine with a front-wheel drive bias. Of course, the car also then takes the availability of an all-wheel drive power split and a choice of engines to attend to the needs of power and performance. But we’ll come back to that later. Since it’s first viewing in 2015 the major thrust has been on the exquisite new styling approach – using the long wheelbase, new lighting technology and some quite new concepts for the brand – like minimalistic handles.
The Continental marks a distinct territory for itself in the styling department. Like its name, it chooses to eschew the hybrid design of the MK series, with the prominent nose flanked by headlights with five LED projector elements each in addition to the sweeping LED turn indicators. This grille is made as slim as possible – though we would love to have seen a deeper grille and a more prominent prow on the car. It is the attention to the finer details that make the car’s sides and rear interesting – the design otherwise wavers towards subtlety. The profile enjoys the look of a large cruiser, with just a hint of a crease carrying back from the chromed garnish to the rear of the front fender and a busy skirtline with a full chromed bar sitting between the negative detailing. The focus on chrome takes us back to the heyday of the Continental, although here the chrome elements are also used to imply flight (around the lower airdam, below the mirror, around the glasshouse, with deeper C-pillar treatment and back to the tail).
The hidden keyslot, the tapered and formed handles and the presence of the new auto-cinching device that allows you to open the car door (and shut it) by just a touch add to the feel of luxury.
Once you are inside, the car comes across as an amalgam of old-world luxury and a thoroughly modern cabin. You immediately notice the Lincoln signature gearshift treatment with the controls on the dashboard, only this time they have been snuck into the centre console area to balance the large display. The chrome on wood and leather of the interior more than matches the exterior’s focus on chrome. Full marks for the choice of materials too – the textures are really well thought out, as is the gleam of the clear coat finish on the wood. But it’s really the chrome that serves as the draw to the eye, surrounding the IP, centre console, a/c and sound controls and setting off the door inlays. The doors also get a large part of their surface dedicated to the Revel sound speakers, with the associated brushed aluminium feel and spiralling bores.
The Continental’s cabin seems to be benchmarked on the S-class, with a focus on a really good seat experience. The seats look like they are multi-layered, with the cushions sitting upon the tech base. Of course, the number of ways the seats can be adjusted has gone up as well, with the front seats getting independent thigh support adjustment for either leg, sculpted lower back support and heated and ventilated airflow. The rear seats are deeper seat, sculpted around the corners and feel rather substantial, while the legroom is certainly top of the class for a car that is offered only in one wheelbase size (2,994mm). You can also independently adjust the outer seats in the 40:20:40 layout, while the middle section folds down as a convenient armrest and controller base. On cars equipped with Active Motion massage seats, the front two seats and the outer two rear seats set the ability to toggle between lumbar and seat base massage functions.
The instrument panel takes the path of using a completely digital display that can be tailored to various screen readouts, with a focus on a minimalistic HUD sort of layout also available along with the more traditional twin dial. And the steering wheel uses the Ford approach of two input pads on the right and left to offer either drive-related or infotainment-related choices, although the design and feel of the wheel, along with the artistic use of chrome inserts has made the wheel a piece of art in itself.
In summary, the cabin is certainly befitting of the luxury tag, although there are a couple of hiccups – like the manual sunshades on the windows.
The car comes to town with the 3.7-litre V6 engine as the base offering; with the Reserve getting the top-of-the line 3.0-litre GTDi V6 engine with the provision of AWD as well. The base unit is already rather powerful at just under 310PS and 379Nm of torque. But the catch is that the luxury segment is increasingly being pegged on output, so the turbocharged Ecoboost technology on the 3.0-litre with its 373PS and 575Nm of torque is the engine to aim for in this car.
Our test car was the top of the line unit, equipped with the new Ecoboost engine and the AWD. The benefits of this combination should be obvious – the Continental is rather a large car and if there is one area Lincolns have trailed German luxury car makers in it is outright handling and performance. You cannot really take a front-wheel biased platform and expect the car to beat its competition. The closest you can get is to try to iron out the gaps by some clever engineering. Like other new Lincolns this car too gets noise cancellation built in, especially with the Revel full complement. So don’t go by the engine note – it stays a little muted even when you are trying to push it.
There is an innate feel about the Continental in that it feels more like a cornice cruiser than an autobahn champ. Yes, we know that it has the wherewithal – especially with the grunt on the new engine and the six-speed gearbox, you actually get to feel the shifts in the mid-range. But the car has a kerb weight of just over two tons and if it wasn’t for the AWD moving some of that torque to the rear, you would definitely get torque steer. As for drive modes, the gearshift selector allows you to toggle between Drive and Sport and the car then decides the damper rates so as to even out your ride for the calculated mode. Again, the torque distribution is also dependent on your driving habits, so the harder you push down on the accelerator, the more torque is doled out to the rear, with an electronic ‘differential’ also apportioning the split between the inner and outer rear wheel to induce torque vectoring.
Steering feel is altogether still as muted as you would expect on a Lincoln – it doesn’t quite match the current Cadillac focus on handling feel and dynamics, with the car’s weight shift being as noticeable as its tendency to understeer at speed. But the increment over any other Lincoln chassis is quite noticeable, with the combination of a tighter body structure, hardworking all-wheel drive and variable response to damping making for a more engaging drive.
The thrust on promoting the Ecoboost engines sees the Lincoln Continental launch with the new 3.0-litre V6 turbocharged unit, that is tasked to offer the power and performance of a V8, while hitting all the tickboxes of efficiency and low emissions
The car even takes the wider slalom of a mountain switchback well. You are able to keep the engine revved above 3,000rpm in S-mode, so you don’t really miss the lack of a manual override. In that zone, the torque stays in the favourable 500Nm plus band, while the gears stay in the third or fourth. Pick up is remarkably quick and the car gets a hint of its possible competitiveness. We do foresee future versions getting a proper paddle-shift and perhaps an eight or nine-speed box, but till then the turbocharger is really put through its paces.
Lower speed manoeuvring is quite comfortable despite the car’s girth. The car gets a 360-degree camera view; with the ability to toggle as well as zoom and also gets the newest generation of auto park assist (both parallel and perpendicular). BLIS is by now ancient – the car brings a degree of autonomy to the board, with lane keeping and adaptive cruise control that brakes the car to a halt, starting it off the moment the car ahead moves. The tricky bit is getting the distance setting right as we noted the lowest setting is still too far, Muscat traffic has a habit of finding the gap and causing the Continental to brake further.
The Lincoln Continental has taken its time coming back to the flagship position and will serve to be the most important single move by the brand, perhaps only beaten by the upcoming Navigator (especially for the region), It’s task is to somehow move from the point of affordable luxury that most American upmarket brands offered towards a truly luxury spot. The elements are in place, with the touch and feel of the cabin, the styling elements, the new generation lighting and the use of smaller, boosted engines. But does the whole come together into a class-leading package? In some ways it does. The top of the line Reserve offering has one of the classiest rear seats, matched by a cabin ambience that could challenge anything from Germany. But, and the big but here is the premium that the brand is charging on the package in the Middle East. It is a completely different price point from that offered in the US, albeit to a different customer. However, it is almost an admission that the brand is not looking at a volume target – at the plus-30,000 Rial price point it competes with some really capable and established hardware and brands and somehow we don’t see customers shifting to the Continental in droves.
The new customers the Continental gets will be people who are ready to challenge the norm, who value the bits and pieces of the package for their uniqueness and who are steeped in the Ford family feel. We guess there are quite a few of them in the region. Anyway, we would really suggest that you check out the car yourself.
The Lincoln Motor Company heralds the return of its flagship – the all-new 2017 Lincoln Continental – an elegant, effortlessly powerful, serene full-size sedan that delivers quiet luxury to the industry’s most discerning customers. Continental embodies a timeless definition of beauty, balancing strength and elegance, power and control. The design is thoroughly modern, with Lincoln’s […]