FIRST DRIVE: 2017 Lincoln Continental focuses on luxury

The all-new Continental paces Lincoln’s renaissance as a prestige luxury brand

Published: October 3, 2017, 7:20 AM
Updated: May 1, 2018, 11:59 PM

2017 Lincoln Continental

TORONTO, ON – There was a time, decades ago, when the Lincoln brand, especially its Continental model, was considered the epitome of the domestic luxury automobile market. Along with its luxury rival, Cadillac, these cars were considered a symbol of success, a tangible perk that showed the world their owners had truly made it to the top.

Somewhere along the way, however, the Lincoln nameplate lost its luster. The cache associated with the Ford Motor Company’s prestige product dried up. While the brand continued to exist, it became more recognizable for its Town Car model, the workhorse of nearly every airport limo service in North America. It was a dressed-up version of the Ford Crown Victoria, which populated the vast majority of taxi and police fleets – hardly the type of family connection to make an impression at the country club.

After years of uncertainty as to just where it should be heading, Lincoln management has set its sights on re-establishing the brand as a key player in the prestige luxury segment, ready to challenge not only Cadillac, but the premium European and Asian brands as well.

Leading Lincoln’s renaissance is the 2017 Continental, a truly premium product that resembles nothing else in the Ford family and compares favourably with such luxury brands as Mercedes-Benz and Audi. This is definitely not a dressed-up Ford sedan.

Understated elegance

The exterior design of Lincoln’s flagship model is impressive, with hints of Bentley in its side profile and rear-end shaping. The front end, with its distinctive grille, also has styling cues that remind one of premium European sedans. A large Lincoln badge is the focal point of the grille, while the surrounding chromed mesh has been precision-cut in the outline shape of the badge. Multi-lens LED projector headlamps, which articulate during cornering, provide a classy detail to the front end.

2017 Lincoln Continental

To maintain an uninterrupted flow along the side of the Continental, the traditional door handles have been removed. Access is gained through E-Latch handles built into the chrome trim at the base of the window line. The handle just needs to be touched to open the door and there’s no need to slam shut those big doors – the power E-Latch automatically cinches the door for you. This electronically controlled system makes graceful entrances and exits at the club gate a breeze.

Lincoln has pulled out all the stops in designing the Continental’s interior. It’s hard to imagine anything more luxurious. Supple leather is everywhere – and it’s not just “leather.” The Continental wraps its occupants in Bridge of Weir Deepsoft leather created exclusively for Lincoln by the historic Scottish tannery. It’s not only ultra soft, but free of marks or imperfections. And its aroma is stirs the senses.

Accents and trimmings to complement all that leather are tastefully done in polished chrome and real, laser-cut ash or walnut. Truly a rich décor.

To push the label “luxury” to the limit, you can opt for heated and cooled front seats that are 30-way adjustable. The thigh extensions in the seat cushions are individually adjustable for length, as well as up and down. There’s also a deep massaging function in the seats.

Lest the rear-seat passengers feel neglected, there’s also an available rear-seat package that includes a power recline feature, as well as massage, heating and cooling functions. Having experienced this rear-seat package, I can attest to the fact that it made lounging back there a true joy, especially the massage feature. Take me home the long way, James!

Up-to-date technologies

As expected, the Continental is loaded with advanced connectivity, comfort, convenience and safety technologies, including Sync 3 with voice-activated navigation and the Lincoln Way app that enables you to connect with the car remotely. For audiophiles, Lincoln offers an available 19-speaker Revel Ultima audio system that fills the interior with amazing, undistorted sound.

2017 Lincoln Continental

Powertrain choices are limited to the standard twin-turbocharged 2.7-litre GTDI V-6 generating 335 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque or a 3.0-litre V-6 with twin turbos and direct fuel injection. The latter is standard in the upscale Reserve trim (starting at $60,900) and available in the Select model (starting at $57,400.) It produces 400 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque.

Both engines are paired with a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission with paddle shifters. All-wheel drive is standard on both trim levels, although the Reserve adds dynamic torque vectoring for enhanced driving dynamics.

I found the 3.0-litre V-6 provided plenty of power, with the quick throttle response necessary to move this large (5,115 millimetres in length) but nimble sedan through gaps in traffic and merging and passing moves on the highway.

Lincoln has opted not to have a high-performance version of the Continental dabble in the sport luxury segment, competing with such products as Cadillac’s V-series, AMG variation of Mercedes-Benz models or R-type Audi models – at least, not now. The Continental’s focus is luxury, not sportiness. Still, with 400 horses and stout torque on tap, the Continental offers plenty of responsive performance in its current form.

The total luxury experience

To demonstrate the high level of refinement and sophistication Lincoln has achieved with its new Continental, as well as other models in its revamped lineup, the company invited a small group of automotive journalists and bloggers to engage in a “luxury experience.” We were turned loose on the streets of Toronto with instructions to meet at a few high-end destinations – places Lincoln’s target market of sophisticated, well-heeled buyers might frequent.

The first stop after leaving the new Bisha luxury hotel on Blue Jay Way was Mindham Fine Jewellery, a high-end custom jewellery shop in the classy Yorkville district. Despite street construction, delays and detours on the route, the navigation system in the Continental I was driving worked flawlessly, directing right to the door of Myles Mindham’s unique shop.

2017 Lincoln Continental links with luxury - 2017 Lincoln Continental

Inside, we were stunned by the beauty of the jewelry on display – and the prices. A gold bracelet that caught my eye was a mere $56,000-plus – in U.S. dollars! (Sorry, honey, but it’s not in our budget this month!) Even more impressive, however, was a priceless set of cuffs, designed in Paris during the 1930s by Fulco di Verdura for Madame Coco Chanel. These stunningly beautiful pieces are part of Verdura’s museum collection in New York and were only on display for a brief period at the Mindham shop.

After a tour of Mindham’s “factory” in the basement of the shop, where high-end pieces are custom made for the shop’s discriminating clientele by a small team of talented crafters, I was switched into a 2017 Lincoln MKC, its luxury compact crossover, for the drive to our next destination, NovaJet Aviation Group in the charter flight compound at Pearson airport. Again, the navigation system was quite user-friendly, directing me there without a fuss.

While the MKC has a decent ride and its cabin is reasonably quiet, it couldn’t compare with the Continental’s serene interior and impressive dynamics. In fairness, it’s an apple-and-oranges comparison – a CUV versus a premium sedan, and a $17,000-plus price spread. In its own right, however, the MKC appeared to be worthy of its Lincoln nameplate.

The rest of the lineup

At the airport, a handling course had been set up and we were invited to toss around the products in the Lincoln lineup. I had an opportunity to take a lap in the 2017 MKX crossover, which performed as decently as one would expect for a CUV. The highlight for me, however, was a stint in the MKZ mid-size sedan. Equipped with the optional 3.0-litre V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive and driver sport package, this Lincoln was a real performer on the tight circuit. In fact, I enjoyed myself so much, I turned down a lap in the Continental for another round in the MKZ!

The afternoon was capped off by a NovaJet charter helicopter tour of downtown Toronto en route to landing at Polson Pier on the waterfront – a wonderful experience for me, but one that buyers of a Continental might take as part of their routine business travels.

The day was capped off by a five-course dinner at Minotti, one of Toronto’s most exclusive luxury furniture stores. Its showroom had been converted into a dining room for the evening.

Living the life of luxury for a day introduced me to a whole new world and an opportunity to appreciate the finer things “the beautiful people” routinely enjoy – such as the new Lincoln Continental. With such a refined, sophisticated automobile as its flagship, Lincoln is indeed poised to reclaim its status among the world’s premium luxury brands.