• By: Neil Moore

Continental showcases long-awaited reboot for Lincoln

Photos by Neil Moore / Feature image: The 2017 Continental features Lincoln’s new, one-piece signature grille. Also significant in this makeover is its clean side profile, with a chrome strip that almost seamlessly blends door handles into its high beltline.

When Cadillac launched the CTS roughly 15 years ago, the automaker began distancing itself from those who traditionally favoured the marque. And with each new model, challenging BMW, Mercedes and Audi with more power, crisper styling and sharper driving dynamics, the connection to this demographic became more tenuous.

Which was no big deal, as our well-heeled seniors still had Lincoln.

Ford’s luxury brand was anything but edgy. Ride and handling remained comfy, styling sedate, and the only features that stood out were the oversized waterfall grilles. Some of these were large enough to cool a nuclear reactor, and in my mind, not much to look at.

Enter the 2017 Continental – available here in “Select” trim ($57,400) and “Reserve” ($60,900).

We haven’t seen a new Continental since 2002, and when I heard it was coming back, my hopes were that there would be no “nods” to its previous few generations.

Thankfully, there weren’t any.

The first clue that Lincoln is heading towards a more modern look is its new signature grille. Okay, Continental isn’t the only ride to get this one-piece chrome beauty, which also adorns the 2017 MKZ.

The changes continue rearward, from the long, powerful hood that flows into the sedan’s high beltline, where along its top border, integrated within a chrome strip, are a pair of ‘e-latch’ door handles and the slimline side mirror mounts. Talk about clean and elegant.

Rear seats provide limo-like leg room and a full set of climate controls. With the available rear seat package (shown) my kids were also treated to power adjustability, massagers, and more.

The Continental is even sweeter on the inside with real woods and metals – no tacky plastics and faux bling. The seats in my Reserve tester were wrapped in a perforated, saddle-brown leather. And although I could wax on about the buttery softness of the cowhide, more notable was the available ($750) 30-way adjustability that tailors the front buckets to your backside. You can even individually adjust right and left thigh cushions – or fire up the massagers.

I like the digital instruments – simple, clean and intuitive – but am less enamoured with the pushbutton gear selector. It’s a minor gripe, but it somehow doesn’t harmonize with the luxury-class fittings that surround it.

And while I’m at it, the interior e-handles weren’t immediately apparent as I hunted for a standard door pull on the way out. Hey, it was my first time behind the wheel and I didn’t get the memo. Good thing I hadn’t plunged into a lake and in need of a quick exit…

One mark of a true luxury car is how it treats rear passengers. In other classes, automakers may still pamper front occupants, but ignore those behind, offering subpar seat padding and knee room, minimal adjustability, and no toys.

Not so with this Lincoln, offering limo-like leg room, a full set of climate controls – and a pile of other gizmos if you order the $5,500 rear seat package. This includes heated and cooled, power reclining seats with power lumbar support, and a drop-down armrest that includes almost as much switchgear as the front console.

It’s a nice setup if you have a chauffeur and want to be driven around like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons.  My kids took on that role, and spent time opening and closing the overhead and rear sunshades, and fiddling with the audio system – all while enjoying the built-in massage function.

Modern digital instruments and a large touchscreen blend nicely with real wood veneers and metal appliques.

There are still more luxury amenities, like the power trunk closer which (like the e-door handles) ensures that no Continental driver will be in danger of overexertion. And the $3,000 technology package includes a full suite of driver aids and safety nannies like 360-degree camera, self-parking, adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection and more.

Continental’s base engine is a 2.7-litre turbocharged V6 making 335 hp and 380 lb/ft of torque. Not bad for a car of this size and heft, and comparisons will naturally be made with the Cadillac CT6. But the Caddy’s “entry” vehicle only gets a 2.0-litre turbo four that produces 265 hp and 295 lb/ft.

My tester, however, was powered by the optional ($3,000) twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 that kicks out a solid 400 hp and 400 lb/ft of torque – similar to the topline CT6 engine.

As you’d expect with numbers like these, power is abundant. Plant the pedal, and the Continental quietly rockets off the line. Put it in Sport mode and the effect is more pronounced with a twitchier throttle and later shifts for even quicker acceleration. Not that you’d need it.

But one doesn’t buy a Continental to sprint from stoplights, “row” through the gears with its paddle shifters, or carve corners.

That’s undignified.

So in keeping with this Lincoln’s stately character, I simply kept it in ‘drive’ and let the smooth-shifting, six-speed automatic do its thing while the ‘commoners’ flitted about in traffic.

Has Lincoln finally produced a vehicle that can go head-to-head with the best from Europe, Japan and North America? In terms of ride and handling, that depends on whether you’re looking for dialed-in driving dynamics or quiet comfort. For prospective Continental buyers, I’d suspect the latter.

That being said, it’s no slouch in the twisty-turnies, and has enough power to satisfy most.

If style and interior craftsmanship are higher on your list, the Conti does compete with the top of its class. Either way, it’s worth checking out if you want to stand out from the many Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series vehicles already on the road.

Exhaust finishers are integrated into the Continental’s rear fascia. The taillight strip is an elegant application of chrome and LED lighting.

SNAPSHOT: Ford Lincoln Continental 2017
BODY STYLE: full-size sedan
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, all-wheel-drive
ENGINE: (base) turbocharged 2.7-litre V6 (335 hp, 380 lb/ft of torque); (as tested) 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 (400 hp, 400 lb/ft)
TRANSMISSION: six-speed automatic
CARGO: 473 litres
FUEL ECONOMY: 10.5/7.8/9.3 L/100 km (city/hwy/comb)
PRICING:  2017 Reserve $57,400; 2017 Select $60,900. (starting at $58,000 and $61,500 for 2018) See website for detailed option pricing. Freight and taxes extra.
WEBSITE: lincolncanada.com