The Continental Mark VII is the latest in the series of personal/luxury cars from Lincoln and, besides being the smallest and most aerodynamic Mark of all times, it is a Mark that might have the broadest base of appeal.

Although it is an expensive car – but what luxury car isn’t? – it is a much more youthful looking and acting Mark. It is also the first of this series to be offered in a sports/performance version driving enthusiasts.

The Mark VII is a completely new car that bears very little resemblance to the Mark VI it replaces. With a wheelbase of 108.6 inches, overall length of 202.8 inches, width of 70.2 inches, height of 54 inches and curb weight of 3,625 pounds, it is 13 inches shorter, 1.5 inches lower and 350 pounds lighter than the Mark VI. And, where the Mark VI was distinguished by its linear styling, the Mark VII has soft, contoured and flowing lines.

If you checked any Ford Motor Co. cars lately, the aerodynamic styling will not surprise you. The Mark VII bears a very strong family resemblance to the Ford Thunderbird and was mistaken more than once for a Thunderbird. Since the Thunderbird has a lot of eye appeal that is no drawback. However, the Mark VII is a bigger car than the Thunderbird and can easily be identified by the spare tire bulge on the trunk deck. The spare tire and (later) the spare tire bulge are Lincoln Continental trademarks date back to 1939.

Although smaller than other Marks, the VII provides quite good passenger compartment room. It is not as spacious as the Mark VI, which was a full-sized car, but is roomier than it looks from the outside. Front seat room is excellent and should accommodate drivers and passengers of all shapes and sizes. The back seat can easily fit two with space for three in a squeeze. Surprisingly (for a coupe), it does have decent leg room. Even with the front seats extended all the way back, there is still a minimum of 36.9 inches of leg roomin the rear seat.

The trunk is not one of the Mark VII’s most outstanding features. The test car had a full-sized spare tire and was the best argument I have ever seen for a compact spare. The trunk is rated at 15 cubic feet with the compact spare. With a full-sized spare it is reduced to about 10 cubic feet and a very shallow 10 cubic feet at that. As you have probably guessed the spare tire bulge in the trunk deck is a styling, not a functional feature.

Like some other cars this year, the Mark VII is very heavy on electronic equipment. In addition to the full electronic instrument panel (permanent- memory display odometer, digital speedometer, digital fuel gauge), electronic message center (a trip computer system with a 12-button keyboard for access to trip miles remaining, average speed, fuel level, estimated time of arrival, day and date), overhead electronic module and electronic tuning radio, the Mark VII is the first car in the world to have electron ically controlled air spring suspension as standard equipment.

This system is built around air springs and incorporates automatic constant front-to-rear and side-to-side self-leveling. Combined with nitrogen- dampened shock absorbers in the rear and nitrogen-charged MacPherson struts up front, the computer controlled air spring system offers a combination of ride and handling. The real beauty of this system is that the driver doesn’t have to know anything about it or do anything to it to make it work.

The test car also had another electronic feature – this one an option – that at first I thought was a bit much but proved to be quite useful during the nasty weather the Mark VII was driven in. This was a thermometer/compass unit that gave a digital reading of outside air temperature and told the direction the car was heading. The thermometer was the more useful of the two. It is worthwhile to know the temperature when it is around the freezing mark. Here th difference of a couple of degrees can make the difference between a wet road and an icy road. This proved to be useful more than once. Also, the thermometer has an ice alert – it flashes the word ice between temperature readings when the conditions were right for ice.

The LSC version of the Mark VII differs from the three other Mark versions (the standard Mark VII and two designer models, the Bill Blass and the Gianni Versace editions) in that its air spring suspension system is calibrated to be 40 percent stiffer, has larger front and rear stabilizer bars, higher air spring rates, quick-ratio power steering, wide, 15-inch cast- alloy wheels with high performance P215/65R15 BSW tires and a 3.27 axle ratio for increased acceleration. Also, all Mark VIIs have four-wheel disc brakes.

The result is a tight-handling car suited for the luxury car buyer who also is a driving enthusiast. It is not a sports car, but it is way above the average personal/luxury car.

The test car had a fuel-injected 302-cubic-inch V-8 and four-speed automatic transmission. Both were very smooth, but if you can’t get smoothness out of a Lincoln, it is time to move on. The engine is rated at 130 horsepower and provided above average performance for all Lehigh Valley driving conditions. Since the Mark VII is relatively light and has an overdrive gear in its transmission, fuel mileage isn’t all that bad. The test car averaged 13 miles per gallon in city driving and 22 mpg over Lehigh Valley highways. These figures could probably be increased somewhat with warmer weather and/or better driving conditions. (EPA figures are estimated at 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway.) The gas tank filler cap has a hidden release that is really hidden. If you don’t know where it is you’re not going to find it.

The 302 V-8 is the standard engine for the Mark, however, there will be a 140-cubic-inch, six-cylinder, turbocharged diesel engine available which is ratedat 114 horsepower and has an estimated mileage rating of 25 mpg city/31 mpg highway.

Base price for the Mark VII LSC is $23,706 which includes a lot of standard equipment such as automatic air conditioning, tilt steering, power windows and locks, leather upholstery and a very high level of trim and appointments. The test vehicle had a bottom line of $25,769 which included a delivery charge of $524 and some $1,500 worth of options including dual power front seats, $416; Traction-Lok, $96; cassette player, $170; power pulldown decklid, $79; premium sound system, $206; compass/thermometer, $191; dual illuminating vanity mirrors, $156, and dual heated outside mirrors, $49.