1991 Lincoln Town Car

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The `91 Lincoln Town Car sports a new, more powerful 4.6-liter V-8 engine, but that`s only half the story for the new model year.

Sure, the big luxury car acclerates more quickly and more quietly than it did for 1990, when a 5-liter V-8 provided the power.

You notice the difference in stepping away from the light or pulling out to pass. You`ll get a greater appreciation of the added punch from the front suspension system that also has been revised for 1991; larger shocks and larger, 16-inch tires have been added.

For `90, Ford focused on appearance with its rounded sheet metal Town Car. For `91 it paid attention to performance, with the new engine and a suspension system to complement the design.

The 4.6-liter engine means you`ll be propelled from a standing stop quickly enough to run even with or perhaps pull ahead of most Yellow or Checker cabs after the light turns green.

The new suspension means that you won`t rock or float as you accelerate nor will you sway when you switch lanes to jockey for position with the hack. And when the light turns red and the cab keeps going while you apply the optional ($936) antilock brakes to pull to a quick, straight stop, you`ll stay in your lane and not straddle the white line.

The impact of the 4.6 is not to be underestimated. It boasts 190 horsepower, up from 150 from its 5-liter V-8 predecessor. The new engine gives the Town Car a 0-to-60-mile-per-hour acceleration time of 10.5 seconds, 2 seconds faster than the 5-liter`s 12.5.

More importantly, at 17 miles per gallon city/24 m.p.g. highway, the 4.6 delivers almost 2 more miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving.

Stop and think about that a moment-more power and higher mileage at a time when pump prices have risen.

In the post-`73 oil embargo days, folks cruising in big luxury cars were distained for wasting fuel in an emergency, though admittedly their ranks were fattened by politicians heading for the airport and the next taxpayer-financed foreign fact-finding mission.

Today you can drive a `91 Town Car and enjoy the size and room and comfort and safety, yet be considered a conservationist.

We had the opportunity to put the Town Car through its paces here on Ford`s twisting, winding suspension test course and its high-speed open test track.

To appreciate the changes for 1991, we first drove a `90 Town Car with the 5-liter, V-8 and then the `91 with the 4.6 and doctored suspension.

It felt as though we were driving cars separated by a decade of technology rather than only 12 months.

The `90 is a bit noisy from a standing start. You seem to get lots of hashing and thrashing when, after traveling at a steady 65 m.p.h., you ease down to 50 m.p.h. and then punch the pedal again.

On the straightaway, we induced body roll by turning the wheel side to side. The `90 Town Car wandered lane to lane.

On the twisting pavement, the car and driver leaned into and out of turns. The tires squealed to maintain traction at speed.

Then we switched into the `91. Initial acceleration was noticeably quieter. There didn`t seem to be as much busy work when backing off from 65 and kicking the pedal again at 50.

On the straightway, we moved the wheel side to side and the car held to its lane without rocking the driver. In sharp corners, we felt only a gentle lateral movement in the driver`s seat and only slight pressure as the back eased against the side bolster to keep the body in place behind the wheel.

There was less lean in the corners and the tires didn`t yelp in trying to grab a toehold.

With the `91, you feel that wheel input and body movement are more in harmony than with the `90, in which the two feel out of tune.

There`s more power with the 4.6 and more precise handling and a firmer ride, without harshness from the suspension. You sit flatter in corners and turns, giving you better control of the car.

Ex-racer, now Ford consultant, Jackie Stewart was at the track. Stewart noted that when motorists accustomed to the lively ride and precise handling of a Thunderbird Super Coupe or Taurus SHO sedan graduate into a luxury Lincoln, they find the vehicle performs like an air mattress floating on the water.

At a time when an older person`s reflexes have slowed, he or she ends up in a big luxury car that magnifies physical limitations rather than compensating for them with more sure-footed ride and responsive handling.

The `91 Town Car is a welcome change from that.

``A big car needn`t be a boat,`` Stewart said. ``When the more mature people move up into a luxury car, we need to give them something to compensate for any loss of skills.

``Typically, big American luxury cars haven`t been known for their handling, but we are making our cars more driver friendly.``

If the Town Car has a shortcoming, it`s in the rounded aero styling, a Problem magnified when Ford unveiled prototypes of its 1992 Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis at the `91 model preview here.

The Crown Vic and Grand Marquis will go on sale in March, sporting sheet metal that makes them design cousins of the Taurus/Sable, T`Bird/Cougar, Continental/Town Car.

In moving from the wedge shape look of the `80s to the rounded aero design of the `90s,Ford became a styling maverick.

Wedge-shaped cars looked alike, which was one reason Cadillac appeared to be a clone of Oldsmobile.

The aero cars are starting to look alike at Ford. You need to take a closer look to determine which is which, count doors to ensure its a Sable or Grand Marquis and not a Cougar, or step around back and glance at the name.

Family styling cues are admirable, but when it becomes difficult to tell the $30,000 luxury car from the $18,000 family sedan, you have to wonder whether aero is going to run into the same problem as the wedge.

>> 1991 Lincoln Town Car
Wheelbase: 117.4 inches. Length: 218.8 inches. Engine: 4.6 liter, 190 h.p. V-8. Transmission: 4-speed automatic. Fuel economy: 17/24 m.p.g. Base price: $31,540 Strong points: Peppier engine, suspension that would be at home in performance or luxury car. Weak point: With company wide aero styling, hard to tell the $30,000 from the $20,000 cars. >>

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