New Car/Review

The Lincoln Continental, Much more impressive than expected

by Larry Weitzman

Lincoln
Lincoln Full Line factory footage (3:29) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

The 1999 Continental, while very similar to the 1998, has some new added features, including more horsepower. The original Continental started life as a one of a kind personal convertible designed at the request of and for Edsel Ford, then President of Ford Motor Company. It had a flat head V-12 (it was basically a Ford V-8 with four more cylinders with slightly smaller bores) that produced 120 hp.

Edsel had just returned from touring the Continent (Europe) in 1938 and wanted a special car for his spring Florida vacation (rich or poor, it's nice to have money). The design created such stir; it was put into production for the 1940 model year. It became known as the Continental Mark I, which is now a much sought after collector car.

The current Continental has nothing in common with the original other than the name, which it can proudly carry. The current platform started life in the 1995 model year and is in its second generation. The first generation, introduced in the 1987 for the 1988 model year, was a more formal design with an anemic V-6 of about 160 hp. Although it was comfortable and roomy, it was plagued by poor performance in relation to its competition.

The second generation was derived from a Lincoln show car (first seen by this writer in early 1994). It remedied all of the deficiencies of the earlier model. It came standard with a 260 hp 4.6L V-8 with dual overhead camshafts and four-valve technology. In 1998 the model received a facelift that showed some of the influence of Jaguar which was recently acquired by Ford.

The revisions were seen in a revised grill (with a strong resemblance to the new Town Car), high tech headlamps, new front and rear facias, rear deck lid and taillights. The 1999 Continental is downright beautiful. I love the gorgeous rear end and its overall lines, which reflect its understated elegance. This is a good looking, classy unit and a worthy companion to the Town Car.

The Continental is smaller than the Town Car. It is 5 inches narrow, 7 inches shorter and a couple of inches lower. It also comes with a more powerful engine than the Town Car. Instead of the Town Car's 4.6L V-8 with single overhead cams and 2 valve technology, the Continental has a very high performance 4.6L V-8 with DOHC and 4 valve heads. This year horsepower is up from 260 hp to 275 hp @ 5,750 rpm and torque has been bumped up by 5 lb-ft to 275 lb-ft at 4,750 rpm.

All this muscle makes the Continental into more than just an ordinary luxury car. It is a full blown high performance luxury sedan that borders on the abilities of a sporting sedan. With its big 16 inch alloy wheels and optional, no charge, meaty P225/60VR rubber (the standard rubber is H rated for 130 mph, the optional V rating is good for a 149 mph continuous), the Continental grips far beyond most driver's nerve. Being somewhat lean (it tips the scales at 3868 pounds), the Continental can scoot from 0-60 mph is 7.4 seconds. Passing times are equally as quick, with 50-70 mph acceleration requiring only 4.3 seconds. The Continental's up hill sprints from 50-70 mph averaged 6 seconds flat. This car is very quick. Torque steer was nearly nonexistent, even under hard throttle applications.

The Continental comes standard with four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated in front) with four channel ABS for powerful, straight stopping.

Being a luxury car it is also very quiet, except when burying the go pedal, when the engine makes the satisfying sounds of a high tech, high performance V-8. It doesn't allow any road noise or other sound to intrude on its passengers' comfort. It absorbed just about every road irregularity it encounters. The suspension is fully independent with the addition of microcomputer controlled rear air springs. Both ends have stabilizer bars.

But the Lincoln comes with a nice twist, the shock damping is adjustable from plush to normal to firm at the push of a button. I found plush to be very plush, but firm to be just right for my liking. It didn't seem to take away any of its ability to soak up road punishment while allowing for crisp, confidence inspiring handling.

Ponderosa Road, even with its washboard surfaces and bumpy corners did not upset the Continental's composure. It was incredibly smooth and very planted in the corners. Green Valley Road, Newtown Road, and the roads of Apple Hill were a non event and can be run confidently. The Continental simply grooves in the corners. When pushed very hard, predictable understeer was evident.

Another contributing factor to the Continental's superb handling characteristics is the adjustable speed sensitive variable assist power rack and pinion steering. Another push of a button can dial up low, normal or firm steering effort. Again I chose to run the big Continental in the firm mode. It gave great on center feel and precise directional control. Lower levels of effort may be chosen and desirable, especially if you were to spend considerable time in tight, city traffic. Otherwise I'll take the sharp, controlled feel of firm without harshness.

Highway cruising is simply pure pleasure. Extremely smooth and quiet, this car can swallow up mile after mile of highway without being the least bit fatiguing. The wonderful throttle response adds to the enjoyment as well as the beautiful music that can be made from the optional JBL audio system ($565).

With its EPA rated 17/24 city/highway mileage rating and twenty-gallon fuel tank, you can do it for an easy 500 miles without stopping. At a steady 70 mph, I was averaging about 27 mpg and 20.1 mpg overall mostly on El Dorado County's country byways in spite of my many heavy applications of throttle. I love this engine and transmission.

It's a four speed electronically controlled unit that shifts imperceptibly under normal circumstances and with just right crispness when pushed hard. A very nice balance.

Inside, the Continental will please most anyone. The front seats are soft, leather buckets that are armchair comfortable. They are 10 way adjustable and have two-position memory that adjusts the seats and mirrors. I also like the feature that points the two outside rearview mirrors downward automatically when the car is in reverse to help rearward vision (this feature can be switched off).

The dash is just as dazzling. The instrument panel looks like an electroluminesent three-dimensional hologram just like the Lexus LS 400. It contains a large speedo with a 7,000 rpm tach to the left. The fuel and temp gauges are further to the left. Filling out the rest of the pod and to the right of the speedo is the driver's information center.

Further to the right are the well laid out control buttons for the suspension, steering, switchable traction control (which works quite good), memory seats and trip computer. The center console has a nice armrest with storage and the six-disc CD changer ($595) inside. Twin sturdy cupholders also fold out forward from the armrest. The console mounted leather shifter fits nicely and the vertical part of the console contains the electronic environmental controls and the balance of the JBL sound system.

The doors and full dash are beautifully adorned with highly polished real bird's eye maple wood trims. Very tasty.

The rear seats are sublimely comfortable with plenty of room in all directions. The armrest also has two cupholders. The carpet is thick and plush. There are the usually individual reading lights and rear vents for warm or cool air.

The trunk is huge and fully carpeted. With 18.4 cubic feet and flat floor, the space is wide and deep.

There are two new items one of importance, the other window dressing. Besides standard driver and passenger depowered airbags, the 1999 Continental comes with standard side impact airbags. The other item is optional 6 spoke chrome wheels ($845). They add to the more sporting nature of this Lincoln.

The Continental has a base price of $38,325 up about $400 over 1998, but it now comes standard with side impact air bags. My test vehicle came with some very nice options such as the JBL audio system ($565), the personal security system which includes the homelink transmitter (provides for three different remote switches such as an entry gate, garage door and turning on home interior lights) run flat tires that don't seem the least bit noisy, even on coarse roads ($750), polished alloy wheels ($350), the driver select system for selectable ride control, memory profile and other items (a bargain at $595), compact disc player ($595) and a power moon roof ($1515). Add in destination of $670 and the total is $43,365.

I would order all those items except maybe the moon roof. Either way, the Continental offers a real value in the luxury car market. It performs in a dual capacity as a sporting backroad cruiser or as carriage for a night at the opera.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                              $38,325 to about $45,000

Configuration

Transverse front engine,
front wheel drive

Engine

4.6L, DOHC, 32 valve               275 hp @ 5,750 rpm
V-8                                275 lb-ft of torque at 4,750 rpm

Transmission

4 speed electronically
controlled automatic

Dimensions

Wheelbase                           109   inches
Length                              208.5 inches
Width                               73.6  inches
Height                              56.0  Inches
Weight                              3868  pounds
Fuel Capacity                       20    gallons

Performance

0-60                                7.4   seconds
50-70                               4.3   seconds
50-70 uphill                        6.0   seconds
Top Speed                           Speedometer is calibrated to
                                    only 120 mph, after that you'll
                                    need a radar gun.  I understand
                                    the CHP has several.
Fuel Economy                        EPA 17/24 city/highway.  I
                                    averaged 20.1 during my test and
                                    would estimate 27 plus at legal
                                    highway speeds.

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