1996 LINCOLN CONTINENTAL


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SEE ALSO: Lincoln Buyer's Guide

by Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 41,800
     Price As Tested                                    $ 44,530
     Engine Type                             4.6 Liter V8 w/EFI*
     Engine Size                                 281 cid/4609 cc
     Horsepower                                   260 @ 5750 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               265 @ 4750 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   109.0"/73.3"/206.3
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3969 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  18.0 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                      225/60R16
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/disc-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 95 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            17/25/21
     0-60 MPH                                        7.9 seconds
     1/4 mile (E.T.)                       15.8 seconds @ 90 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                    123 mph
     * Electronic fuel injection

Lincoln recently celebrated its 75th birthday, but the Continental didn't arrive until 1940. That date is disputable, however, as my dad claims the first "Connie" arrived in 1938, when Edsel Ford had one made especially for himself. It was an instant smash hit with Ford's wealthy friends as well, so the Continental project pushed ahead. It's had a checkered history since then, but last year's remake has caused a stir much like that first model did almost 60 years ago.

OUTSIDE - Continental puts out a youthful appearance - an aerodynamic flair to reduce wind resistance (which, coincidentally, virtually eliminates wind noise), along with oversize 16-inch tires and aluminum alloy wheels. The Lincoln's soft exterior lines lack a distinct identity, however, and compared to the traditional raw-edged look of many American and imported luxury cars, Continental quietly melds its way through the myriad of shapes, sizes and contours of other cars in traffic. Its doors overlap the roof line, and a pronounced indentation wraps its waist. Body-colored door handles, bumpers and outside mirrors look at home on Continental, while a chrome grille and prism-like headlamps remind us that this car is built by Ford.

INSIDE - The Continental is available with five or six-passenger seating; with soft, plush leather-covered buckets up front (as our test vehicle was), or a three-across, 50/50 split bench seat. Lateral support could be improved, as spirited cornering sent us sliding across the expansive seat, and though the car is able to capably handle the twisties at a fast pace, its comfortable interior presupposes that this car is best suited for touring, not racing. A trio of full-sized adults are easily accommodated in back, and all will appreciate rear heating and cooling ducts. Its "virtual-image" dashboard display is interesting; the analog gauges feature instrument faces which are projected onto a black panel, with red luminescent needles that appear to float under the numerals. Also, its cabin is awash with buttons, knobs and levers, one of which controls a device that permanently stores memory settings for the driver's seat, steering wheel height and outside mirror positions for either of two drivers. One could spend a pleasant afternoon figuring out all the gadgets inside this Lincoln.

ON THE ROAD - The highway beckons Continental to change from a shy, around-town grocery-getter, to a roaring, high-tech highway cruiser. Under its hood is Ford's "modular" 4.6 liter V8 engine with dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Variations of this same powerplant are used in a variety of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury cars and trucks. Super-smooth yet quite powerful, its 260 horsepower moves the 3900-pound car quickly to a hustle. In adhering to a true luxury car formula, the Lincoln's V8 offers a muted, though noticeable growl reminiscent of muscle car days. An electronic four-speed automatic transmission is all that's available, and rightly so as it changes gears as smoothly as the engine delivers power. Even with muscular V8 power, we were able to average over 20 miles per gallon during our test week, besting most similarly-powered luxury vehicles.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Continental uses electronically adjustable, fully independent suspension with air springs, tubular shock absorbers and thick anti-roll bars front and rear. The ability to preset steering effort and suspension firmness is handy, but we were convinced that all settings at the Normal mode proved best for most driving conditions. Four-wheel disc brakes are controlled from skidding by an anti-lock braking system (ABS), which brought us to a halt from 60 mph in a very respectable 134 feet on dry pavement, with little or no fade. Other niceties include an optional slide-out trunk-mounted "caddy" that makes loading luggage easier, and an umbrella that matches its upholstery.

SAFETY - Dual airbags are standard, as is four-wheel ABS. Side- impact protection is in each door, and traction control is optional.

OPTIONS - Our tester came equipped with the Touring Package, which adds a moonroof, traction control, auto-dim mirrors and a powerful JBL-brand stereo. A compact disc player adds $595.

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