Lincoln's Continental is the first Ford product I've driven all year that left me slightly under whelmed.

It's not that it isn't built well. The Continental is put together with first-rate materials and the care, skill and quality that is found in all Lincolns.

And like other Lincolns, it is quiet, comfortable and loaded with nearly every option and accessory you could want in a luxury car.

However, what I found distressing was the car's lack of power and its sometimes awkward road manners.


What are your priorities in a luxury car? If you want performance then chances are you are going to be disappointed in the front-wheel-drive Continental. There is only one engine available, a 3.8-liter V-6 that makes 160 horsepower. This engine just doesn't have enough ponies to move the 3,700-pound sedan down the road with authority.

Loaded with six passengers and a trunk full of luggage, the Continental seems embarrassingly slow. A Continental was clocked from0 to 60 mph at almost 11 seconds recently in a road test conducted by an enthusiast magazine.

Similar Cadillacs and many import luxury models make the 0-60 mph run in about 8.5 seconds or less.

However, there is a benefit to the Continental's lack of performance. If you want a large luxury car that delivers exceptional gas mileage, you may not be able to find another that is more fuel efficient than the Lincoln. The Continental may be the biggest car on the road with the smallest appetite for gas. It is EPA rated at 17 miles per gallon city and 24 highway. The car's computer showed 27 miles per gallon at a steady 65 mph. And that was confirmed at the gas pump. That is amazing for a car the size and weight of the Continental.

If you don't mind relaxed acceleration, the engine won't be a drawback. It's smooth and quiet. The Continental comes with a four-speed automatic transmission, which changes gears nearly imperceptibly - except when downshifting from fourth to third during a pass. The engine has to work hard to gain speed at 50 mph.


This is another area where the Continental could stand improvement.

The test car had two annoying traits: The suspension system was extremely soft and the rear tended to squat upon hard acceleration.

Again, it is a matter of priorities.

The soft suspension provides a very nimble, supple ride on flat surfaces and gentle curves, but a speed bump or dip in the road set off a cycle of bouncing and shuddering. I found out later that this is not normal for the Continental. The test car had a fault in its complex suspension system, which consists of nitrogen-gas-pressurized hydraulic struts, air springs with automatic leveling and damping control.

The steering and braking were excellent. The speed-sensitive variable-assist power rack and pinion steering offers almost immediate response and has a nice weighted feel. Th e 38.4-foot turning radius allows the Continental to make U-turns in places where similar sized cars would get stuck.

The anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes are terrific. The ABS doesn't engage until much pressure is applied to the pedal, but the brakes are so good that one probably only rarely would use the ABS.


This is where the Continental excels. The interior is superb. The leather seats have built-in inflatable lumbar supports and numerous power adjustments. They are sofa like in terms of comfort.

Even the tallest and heaviest rear seat passengers should have no problem getting comfortable. The big bench seat is on the firm side of soft.

Fake wood is not one of the things that I care for in $35,000 cars, but give Ford credit: The fake wood in the Continental could pass for real. It looks good.

Switches for most of the power accessories are built into the driver's door panel. They are nicely arranged and many can be o erated without taking your eyes off the road.

The test Continental featured the optional ($1,540) moonroof - a nice touch that adds a bit more class to the car. There is not much wind noise with the roof open cruising at highway speeds.

The air conditioning system is one of those set-it-and-forget-it affairs. The fully automatic system cools almost immediately, and the fan is powerful enough to keep passengers in the back cool.

There are no gauges. Information is displayed in a digital readout. The fuel gauge is a bar graph that also tells the driver how many gallons are left. The speedometer readout is in easy-to-read large, green numbers.

As with other Lincolns, the trunk is simply cavernous. Lifting items in and out is easy on the back because the lid extends almost to the rear bumper.

If only the Continental had more power and a stiffer, more European ride. The styling is right on target. It is aerodynamic, elegant and well-thought out.

The rumor mill says the Continental is due for an overhaul late next year. We'll have to wait and see.