By Eric Peters
Comebacks are never easy – but they are doable.
Not so very long ago, GM’s luxury car division was on the mat, the count at seven or eight. Cadillac had lost its mojo, traded it for Metamucil. Its cars weren’t even gaudy anymore.
Then an ether-fed cold start.
Over the course of about ten years, beginning in the late 1990s with the introduction of the Catera – the first Caddy in decades that zigged rather than shuffled – Cadillac redefined itself as the American luxury-sport brand.
So, it can be done.
Now Lincoln is in the process of trying to do it.
The emphasis is on luxury more than sport.
It is no accident that the new Continental – subject of this review – bears more than a passing resemblance to a Rolls Royce Phantom.
Well, except for the window sticker.
WHAT IT IS
The Continental is Lincoln’s new flagship sedan.
It is cleverly positioned in between mid-sized (and mid-priced) luxury-sport sedans like the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E Class and the much pricier – and only slightly larger – full-sized BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class sedans.
The Connie is only about 5 inches shorter than an S550 (and 7.6 inches longer than an E300) and has more front seat legroom than boththe 740i and the S500 – and the Rolls Royce Phantom, too.
It also has much more backseat legroom – and engine – than the mid-sized 5 Series and E-Class offer.
You can also get a Connie with AWD for less than any of them. Or not at all. The Rolls Phantom is rear-drive only.
Base price is $44,720 – topping out at $65,075 for a Black Label edition with Lincoln’s new 400 hp twin-turbo V6 under the hood and paired up with AWD.
Or you can get into a base-trim BMW 740i for $81,500 ($84,500 with xDrive AWD). The more affordable – but smaller (including about 5 inches less backseat legroom) 5 Series lists for $51,200 to start.
The Mercedes S – only slightly larger than the Connie, with only about 2 inches more backseat legroom – starts at $96,600 for the rear-drive version. With 4Matic all-wheel-drive, the price rises to $99,600.
You could down-shop to the Mercedes E. It’s only $52,150 to start. But for that you get a four cylinder engine, a definitely mid-sized car – and only 36.3 inches of backseat legroom vs. 41.3 for the Lincoln.
The Continental is new – both the car and the name, resurrected after several years in retirement.
In addition to the car itself, also new is Lincoln’s Black Label Experience – a kitchen sink concierge service that includes in-home shopping – a mobile showroom comes to you – a premium maintenance plan that covers even routine wear items like tires and oil/filter changes as well as pick up/delivery of the car at your home or office when service is needed.
You also get a personal liaison you can call anytime to intercede on your behalf to deal with any questions or issues that come up and – finally – privileged access to a nationwide network of exclusive, high-end restaurants from coast to coast .
The only thing they forgot is the Grey Poupon in the glovebox.
Looks rich – but not old.
Makes the BMW 7 (and Mercedes S) look way overpriced.
Not a rebadged Ford this time.
“Serene and soothing” – Lincoln’s ad copy – and it’s not just ad copy.
Someone remembered what a luxury car is supposed to be all about.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
No Grey Poupon in the glovebox.
The Continental is available with three engines – as opposed to the usual two in this class.
And they are all sixes.
Tthe Mercedes E and BMW 5 come standard with underwhelming – given what you are paying – turbo fours; you either have to pay more to get the optional six or pay more for the car – jump up to the BMW 7 or Mercedes S – to get a stronger standard engine.
The Connie’s standard 3.7 liter V6 makes 305 hp – vs. 248 hp for the BMW 530i’s standard 2.0 liter turbo four – and 241 hp for the Benz E sedan’s standard 2.0 liter turbo four. Keep in mind the relative base prices of these cars: $44,720 for the Lincoln vs. $51,200 for the 530i and $52,150 for the Benz E – which doesn’t offer an upgrade engine unless you move way up to the specialty high-performance AMG E 43, which stickers for a staggering $73,325.
Next up is a a 335 hp 2.7 liter V6 with twin turbos. The horsepower bump is relatively modest – 30 more than the output of the standard/no-turbos 3.7 V6. But check the difference in torque output: 380 ft.-lbs. at 3,500 RPM vs. 280 ft.-lbs. at 4,000 RPM.
This is more horsepower and torque than the BMW Seven’s standard 3.0 liter turbo six (320 hp and 332 ft.-lbs. of torque) and the BMW Seven’s base price is $81,500. The Benz S-Class comes standard with a mighty V8 and 449 hp and 516 ft.-lbs. of torque – but neither comes cheap: $96,600 to start.
For $31,525 less than Benz asks for the S (with rear-whee-drive) you could get a Black Label Connie with the top-of-the-line 3.0 twin-turbo V6 and 400 hp (and 400 ft.-lbs. of torque) plus all-wheel-drive. To get that in the Benz S requires ponying up $99,600 – $34,525 more than the cost of the twin-turbo’d /AWD Connie.
The Benz S is very nice. But almost $35k nicer?
All three of the Connie’s engines are paired with six-speed automatics – which is two (or three) fewer gears than the eight-and-nine-speed boxes used in the BMWs and Benzes. A bad thing? By no means. More gears does not necessarily mean a better transmission.
It means a more expensive one.
You ought to look up the replacement cost of a BMW or Mercedes eight/nine-speed automatic transmission if you are thinking about buying one of these cars – and owning it longer than the warranty coverage lasts. Not that the Connie’s automatic would be cheap to replace if it breaks. But it won’t cost you the price of a decent used car to do it, either.
So, how quick is it?
With the twin-turbo six (and lugging around 4,547 lbs.) the Connie gets to 60 in just over five seconds. This is only about half a second off the pace of the V8 S-Class and quicker than the price-remotely-similar BMW 740i.
It blows the Benz E into last year.
The BMW 540i is about as quick – but can’t keep up with the Connie on space (more about this below).
The base and mid-engined Connie’s are not as quick, but they are competitive with the price-similar competition while also beating them handily when it comes to space and size (again, see below) and – the big one – luxury.
If there is a weakness in the Connie’s armor belt, it is that that the car is based on a front-wheel-drive platform – industry speak for the car’s underlying chassis – whereas most of the Players in the premium-car class are based on rear-wheel-drive platforms.
But not all of them.
The RWD-based layout is nominally preferable for high-speed cornering – because the weight of the drivetrain is spread out more evenly, front to rear than in a FWD-based car, which has most of its drivetrain weight over the front wheels. But the FWD-based layout is preferable for traction – especially in the wet and snow.
Which is preferable to you will be based on the sort of driving you do.
Gas mileage is… hungry.
What did you expect? This is a big, heavy – and powerful – car. So, 16 city, 24 highway for the Black Label with the 3.0 V6 and AWD. The FWD/2.7 combo is marginally less hungry: 17 city, 25 highway.
Somewhat oddly, the least powerful/not-turbo’d base 3.7 liter engine is as hungry as the top-of-the-line 3.0 twin-turbo: 16 city, 24 highway.
This is a luxury sedan. Not a luxury-sportsedan.
Finally, at last.
The ridiculous pretense that a big sedan must also corner like a 911 else it is somehow a failure is dispensed with here. Long-wheelbased (117.9 inches) and heavy (it’ll be almost 5,000 pounds with a driver and passenger on board) it rides solid rather than firm.
That doesn’t mean it wallows.
And yet, it floats.
The Phantom does this, too.
Another on-the-road similarity is the secure and lordly feeling you get behind the wheel, lesser cars swimming around you like so many minnows. Also the turbo-boosted thrust of the Black Label’s 400 hp engine. It’s less than half the size of the Phantom’s 6.7 V8, granted – but it makes 90 percent as much power (400 vs. 453) and while the torque doesn’t swell as high (531 ft.-lbs. for the Phantom) the Rolls also weighs about 1,000 lbs. more (5,840 lbs.) and thus, the Connie is actually quicker, should it come to that.
Pass the Grey Poupon, please.
It’s not about quickness, though. It is abouteffortlessness. About the car parting the crowd and leaving it behind like a presidential convoy. This the Connie does 90 percent as well as the Phantom – and better than the BMW 7 or Benz S for the simple reason that those cars have become almost common.
The Connie – like the Phantom – is a rare and special sight.
In further keeping with the luxury idea, the Connie is easy to drive. Technology/gadgetry is there, but demurely in the background.
Putting the transmission into gear does not involve non-tactile toggles or rotary dials but in retro-stead, classic Lincoln pushbuttons for each range. It is both elegant and simple and the two should always be paired together in a luxury car.
There is an LCD main gauge cluster – class-expected – but unlike the others in this class, it is not bewildering. The information you need is there – your speed, for instance – displayed via a large, clock-type dial with a sweep reading from 0 to 160. With fuel, range, outside temperature and a few other necessary details secondarily displayed, bar-graph style.
The rest is not.
There is no tachometer to display engine RPMs.
The Black Label Connie’s twin-turbo V6 does not need to spin like a dervish to move you. It moves you whisper-quiet, too.
And this, also, is a point of departure vs. the Connie’s putative rivals. The four-cylinder-powered BMW 5 sounds wheezy when tasked – while the V8 powered S-Class Benz sounds racy.
Only the Phantom delivers similar, high-speed-elevator-like thrust.
You can put a laptop on the Connie’s pillow-plush (and air conditioned) 30-way front passenger seat and the car doesn’t go berserk, demanding you buckle it up for safety.
It is relaxing to drive this car.
Not just the big power and dead-calm quiet of the engine and driveline. To access a function – any function – is easy. Instead of the usual mouse-menus and related Rube Goldberg-esque electronic Byzantium, most of the Connie’s secondary systems, such as the audio/apps/GPS and things like the massaging seats (available for front and back seats) are readily – concisely – findable in the central Syn3 LCD display. Everything is a swipe or tap in reach, no scrolling through endless “menus.”
To open the door – not that you’ll want to – just tap a button and, presto.
The Connie is a larger, roomier – and more substantial-looking car – than mid-sized luxury sedans like the BMW 5 and Benz E, which are its kinda-sorta price equivalents. And it is nearly as large – and as substantial-looking – as BMW and Benz’s top-of-the-line rollers, the 7 Series and S Class.
The Connie is 201.4 inches long overall and has 44.4 inches of front seat legroom and 41.3 inches of backseat legroom. A BMW 5 is 194.6 inches long overall and has 41.4 inches of front seat legroom and 36.5 inches of backseat legroom. The Benz E sedan is only 193.8 inches long overall and has 41.7 inches of front seat legroom and 36.3 inches of backseat legroom.
The BMW 7 and Benz S are longer overall – but not dramatically so (206.6 inches and 206.5 inches, respectively – so about five inches of difference) and inside, the differences in front/rear legroom are even less dramatic. The Benz S has 41.4 inches of front seat legroom and 43.1 inches of backseat legroom; the BMW 7 gives you 41.4 up front and 44.4 in back.
Keep in mind their MSRPs.
And – more relevant – the things you can get in a Connie that you’d have to step up (way up) to an S-Class Benz or BMW 7 to get. Things like a rear seat executive package with reclining and massaging rear seats. Not available in the Benz E or BMW 5.
How about independently adjustable thigh cushions? Slide one forward; leave the other retracted. A 19-speaker Revel Ultima audio rig with Clari-Fi digital sound reconstruction technology (it makes compressed digital music sound as good as vinyl and other full-spectrum recordings). A two-piece panorama roof that fully opens. Most panorama roofs are either fixed glass or they only open part of the way.
Besides which it is gorgeous.
It looks so good it makes the Rolls Phantom look pretty bad.
Not the car – its price.
In view of this Connie’s.
Why compete when you can end-run?
Lincoln isn’t angling to be what everyone else already is. The aim is to be what everyone else isn’t – and that is a smart move.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A poor man’s Rolls?
No. A smart man’s Rolls.
Eric Peters is the automotive columnist for the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Visit his website for all things automotive at ericpetersautos.com.
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