Test Drive: 2017 Lincoln Continental
After following the design journey of this new flagship we finally take it for a spin
We’ve had the opportunity of being among the first to follow the new Continental’s journey—from its concept reveal to a design studio visit and its official début at the North American Auto Show in Detroit. We were likewise among the first to get behind the wheel, taking it from Manhattan to towns along the New Jersey shore and a visit to Bell Works, the new incarnation of Eero Saarinen’s iconic modernist campus for Bell Labs which opened in 1962 and after many dormant years is coming back to life as a collaborative work space and event location.
Lincoln has been on an aggressive path to reinvent itself as the “quiet luxury” brand, introducing several new and redesigned models over the last few years—the MKZ sedan, the MKC and MKX crossovers, and the new Navigator concept, its production version arriving in 2017—with several other new models in the works. Like many other luxury auto manufacturers they are trying hard to reach new and younger consumers and marketing to them with commercials featuring Matthew McConaughey and having Annie Leibovitz shoot the new Continental’s launch campaign, her first automotive work.
Lincoln’s flagship Continental arrives with design and engineering details big and small. The optional 30-way adjustable seats (that were in the car we tested) were reimagined from scratch, with all of the work being done internally. They even include split thigh support. A huge investment—especially since they are currently offered as an option in only one vehicle for now—that required the design and engineering teams to get approval from the company’s CEO. “We broke a lot of rules on the Continental” said Michael Celentino, the Chief Program Engineer on the car, laughing. Also new to the car is acoustic glass, used throughout the cabin to reduce outside noise, advanced all wheel drive with torque vectoring, a new 3l engine created for the Continental but also available in the 2017 MKZ, lots of leather, wood and metal in the interior cabin, 3D digital instrument clusters, new stalks on the steering wheel, and many practical innovations, like a new structural adhesive that increases rigidity and provides best in class torsion for the glass roof.
The calming interior impresses for both its fit and finish and quality at this price point. It’s a substantial evolution for the brand, and one that delivers an experience that’s more often seen in cars a class or two up. The rear seat is among the most luxurious you’ve seen in an American car, clearly designed with pleasing Chinese customers in mind. The super quiet cabin comes to life with Lincoln’s impressive Revel sound system which is developed and tuned for each new model, its speaker grilles here featuring a sunburst pattern that interior design chief Soo Kang was inspired to draw after listening to “Here Comes the Sun” on her way to work one grey Detroit morning. Celentino says the focus was to create “interior serenity” and it is indeed a quiet and calming place. This Continental is about the journey.
Performance is ample and the car is easy to drive. The 30-way seats make even long journeys comfortable, and the car features all of the driver assistance technologies you’d expect. Quiet luxury is not the same as competing for fastest or tightest on the Autobahn, and the Continental has pursued, successfully, a path that’s more about being in the moment than about arriving there before anyone else. Acceleration is frisky, steering is nimble, cornering tight (we drove the optional all wheel drive version) and the ride adjustable to suit your mood.
One of the Continental’s finest moments are the door handles and mirror, all neatly integrated into the car’s belt line, bringing an elegance to the car’s long and wide stance. From the new Lincoln grille on the front to the full-width tail light in the rear, the Continental is graceful and flowing. For those seeking to make a statement without shouting, the Continental shows what Lincoln can do and where the brand is going. Three V6 engines are available—a twin-turbo 2.7l, a naturally aspirated 3.7l and the twin-turbo 3.0l (which we tested). The 2017 Lincoln Continental starts around $45,000 but really comes to life in its Black Label edition, which fully kitted out can reach nearly $80,000. At that price it has a lot more competition, but it holds its own. All new Continentals come with Lincoln’s Concierge Service, which will pick up and drop off your car when it needs to be serviced.
Images by Josh Rubin