Car Review: 2003 Lincoln Town Car Cartier L
SEE ALSO: Lincoln Buyer's Guide
2003 Lincoln Town Car Cartier L Base price: $50,700 Price as tested: $51,470 EPA mileage: 17 city/25 highway By Des Toups Indictments, headlines, investors bearing torches. ... It's not a good time to be a corporate fat cat. And it's especially not a good time to pull up to the courthouse in a long black limousine. How fortunate for the new robber barons, then, that Lincoln has found a way to install stretch trappings in a discreet, civilian-issue wrapper, the Town Car Cartier L. The 'L' stands for long, as in long-wheelbase, and perhaps for lavish as well, for rear-seat riders will find lighted vanity mirrors in the headliner, seat warmers underneath their tushes, radio and ventilation controls at their fingertips and a "cigar-size" ashtray at the ready. Not to mention an astounding 47 inches of rear legroom, five more than you'd find in the spacious Cadillac DeVille. Mere mortals watching from curbside might never guess the sybaritic room within. Though the Town Car has been tucked and toned up for 2003, it looks little different from previous models. The new, wider grille is more attractive but less distinctive, and a mildly revised rear end makes the trunk wider and easier to access. Long-wheelbase models are best identified by the well-integrated, 6-inch stretch of the rear doors. Though the L would make discreet daily transport for captains of industry, it's subtle enough for suburban use, just in case families out there are carting around future NBA stars. But the L is clearly aimed at the car-hire, funeral-home and taxi trade, where the Town Car is already a mainstay -- and where such remarkable room and luxuries are likely to receive favorable notice. The hourly-wage jockeys who'll pilot this 221-inch-long beast don't make out too badly, either, sharing with drivers of the standard-issue Town Car such new features as power-adjustable pedals, dual-zone climate control and automatic headlamps. Seats remain wide and flat, comfy and couchlike. Lincoln says storage space in the cabin, in the form of a bigger glovebox, console and map pockets, has been increased by 44%. For the livery trade, there's a bigger trunk with the spare moved out of the way, finally, and a power pull-down. The L models also include a rear parking assist sensor, which might help make up for a yachtlike turning circle of 41.8 feet. Changes beneath the skin include a revised frame and suspension, and more precise rack-and-pinion steering replaces the old recirculating ball. Most of Lincoln's senior-citizen demographic won't notice much change, but those who drive the L for a living will feel far less shake coming through the steering column. They'll also appreciate the reassuring brake-pedal feel, neither spongy nor hard, and so responsive that small changes in foot pressure have a direct effect on stopping distances. (New this year are an electronic brake-force distribution system, which apportions stopping power for maximum effect, and a panic-braking feature, which senses an urgent stop and applies full brake power.) Power rises slightly for 2003. Though acceleration is surely adequate, 239 horsepower moving 4,400 pounds doesn't leave a lot left over for excitement. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn't crash-tested a Town Car or similar Mercury Grand Marquis or Ford Crown Victoria. The federal National Highway Safety Traffic Administration hasn't crash-tested a 2003 Town Car; the 2002 version got 5 out of 5 stars for protecting driver and passenger in frontal crash tests. The Town Car isn't rated for rollover resistance. Antilock brakes, traction control and side airbags are standard. The Town Car is an Ultra Low-Emissions Vehicle and rates a 7 out of 10 on the EPA's air pollution scoring system (about average for large sedans). The Town Car's EPA ratings of 17 mpg city and 25 highway are roughly those of a small sport-utility vehicle. We got 20 mpg in mixed driving, not bad for a dated, two-ton machine the size of a full-size pickup truck. Des Toups is a Seattle free-lance writer whose work has appeared in AutoWorld magazine, The Seattle Times and newspapers nationwide.