For too many years, the Lincoln Continental has struggled with its identity. After all, the car started out in 1940 as an elegant expression of European-inspired styling. (And that model is a classic today.) Since its successful introduction, it has striven to live up to its initial styling success, and failed more often then succeeded. Since 1988, it's been largely a stretched version of Ford's successful Taurus/Sable front-wheel-drive platform. While it's tried to be a European-style car, the 1988 version could only be considered such to someone who had no concept of what a European car was. This is especially true given the underpowered six-cylinder engine it was saddled with. In 1995, it saw a rather anonymous redesign that couldn't match other Euro-styled competitors, such as the Cadillac Seville. Flash forward to 1998, and Ford has waved its stylist's wand over the sheet metal, with a healthy dose of inspiration from now corporate sibling Jaguar. The result is a beautiful transformation that borrows some important Jag styling cues and bumps them up into the extra large size. Up front, Lincoln's traditional chrome grille gets chromier. The stand-uphood ornament is banished, replaced by a badge neatly housed along the top of the grille. Out back, the horizontal tail lamps that have been a signature of the car since 1988 have been replaced by neat corners that scream XJ6. Take a look at those great aluminum wheels -- they're borrowed from the Coventry-based marque as well. If all of this seems like hopeless mimicry, it makes sense,, since Jaguar occupies a higher station in the automotive world than Lincoln. But there's still enough Lincoln here to keep the Continental's identity intact while giving the car a unique look. It was distinctive enough that I was asked -- twice -- about the car by total strangers. In the last couple of years, Ford has fitted the car with its best engine, a double-overhead-cam 4.6-liter V-8, good for 260 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque. This will clear the cobwebs out quickly, especially when you hear the burble of the dual exhaust. This is truly a hot-rod Lincoln, albeit a very refined one. Put your foot in it and this car moves with refined grace. The four-speed automatic snicks off the shifts with silent precision. You'll never guess what gear you're in. The suspension has been revised this year. The electronically adjustable version (or Driver Select System in Lincolnese) is optional, not standard. The standard setup is a soft one, with gas-charged shock absorbers at all four corners. The test car was fitted with this bit of optional gimmickry -- it's the only way to get a firmer ride than the standard gear. The handling can be tuned to plush (lots of bouncing and diving), normal (less of it) or firm (snubbed down with little body lean). The last setting proved the best, even though it transmitted some suspensio n joint thumping. There's little rear axle hop, and cornering grip was surprisingly high. Traction control is standard, and it allows just enough wheel spin to chirp the tires on initial acceleration. Despite all this, you'd never classify this car as a sports sedan -- it's too plush for that. Body lean is present enough to snuff out any such aspirations. Despite the electronics in the suspension, the ride and chassis stiffness isn't world class, even if the rest of the car approaches that mark. But the soft ride and lack of sportiness is true of some others in this class as well, such as Acura, Lexus or Infiniti. For most people, optimum handling isn't a concern; rather, it's luxurious comfort and lots of features. And on that score, this car delivers more pampering than anyone except your mom. Headlights bothering you at night? The electrochromatic mirror tints it darker. The doors lock automatically. The headlamps come on automatically as well. The aut matic climate control will heat and cool things nicely, and the heated front seats will toast you quickly. The trip computer will endlessly entertain you with driving info, such as miles per gallon or distance to empty. The optional CD changer is mounted in the center console between the bucket seats, as is an optional cellular phone. The radio volume increases automatically with speed. If the air bags deploy, the car automatically relates that information and your location to a global positioning satellite and emergency response is notified. Lincoln even offers run-flat tires, capable of running without air for up to 100 miles. So it's easy to see that you're well taken care of, but what's is it like as the miles pile up? The seats are soft, yet supportive -- a feat few automakers can match. The car is quiet for the most part, but tire noise does intrude a bit at highway speed. The ergonomics function well, but there's no place to put a turnpike ticket and the change holder is placed inconveniently. Despite the generous 18.9 cubic foot trunk, there's no cargo net, a touch found on cars half the price. And the trunk hinges eat into cargo space. There are designs that avoid this faux pas, but Ford opted not to do it. Finally, the new interior is nice, especially the chrome bezel around the transmission lever. But the genuine maple trim seems tacky and fake. Kudos to Ford for the suede dashboard top. It prevents the windshield from filling with bothersome reflections. Ditto the quality feel of the controls, something Cadillac hasn't fully mastered. And the best part of all is, this car usually has a nice discount on it, meaning it's a good deal in the luxury car field, yielding decent handling and great new looks for a good price. Maybe now, the car finally lives up to its heritage. 1998 Lincoln Continental Standard: 4.6-liter double overhead-cam V8, four-speed electronic automatic transmission, keyless entry, dual heated outside mirrors, 16-inch aluminum wheels, front overhead console, five-passenger leather seats, automatic climate control with rear seat air ducts and air-filtration system, anti-theft alarm, automatic parking brake release, delayed accessory power, automatic headlamps, automatic power door locks, power windows with driver's side express down and child lock, message center, two power points, AM/ FM four-speaker stereo cassette player, dual air bags, four-wheel power disc brakes with anti-lock, cruise control, variable assist power steering, automatic load-leveling suspension, all-speed traction control, intermittent windshield wipers. Options: RESCU Package (voice-activated cellular phone, JBL audio system, programmable garage door opener), Personal Security Package (run-flat tires, tire-pressure alert sensor, programmable garage door opener), power moon roof, heated front seats, highly polished aluminum wheels, Driver Select System, comp act disc changer. Base price: $37,830 As tested: $44,820 EPA rating: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway Test mileage: 19 mpg
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||April 26, 1998|
|George Moore||IndyStar.com||February 1, 1998|
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||November 6, 1997|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||October 10, 1997|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||October 1, 1997|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||June 29, 1997|
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