Quick Spin: 2018 Lincoln Continental

The Lincoln brand was in trouble. The products were nothing but rebadged Fords or aging rebadged Fords. Lincoln had a choice: die or step-up. Ford wisely chose to put some money into the brand, develop a strategy, and slowly begin to execute.

The true first of the new era of Lincoln was an old model name – the Continental. This itself is a refreshing move from the alphabet soup that was the Lincoln lineup. First shown at the 2015 New York Auto Show as a concept, it quickly drew a lot of cheers. At least until everyone realized that it is based on the old MKZ/Taurus platform known as CD4, which drew some jeers.

So, is the new Conti a good car? Well, after spending some time with it, I need to tell you that that this is the wrong question to ask. The real question is; is the new Conti a good Lincoln?

The people who jeered the Continental for being based on an aging front-wheel-drive platform forgot their history. Continentals were front-wheel-drive from 1988 to 2003. While they were never so-called enthusiast focused cars, their sales were decent, in some cases matching current Lexus ES sales, until the Continental’s rather pathetic death.

Then there was the Continental replacement; the 2000 Lincoln LS. The modern looking chrome-less, if slightly boring, vehicle on paper had what was needed to fight the hot BMW 5-series. Ford and Jaguar engineers developed a new rear-wheel-drive platform. There was the front and rear independent double wishbone suspension. There was the availability of V6 and V8 engines. There was even a manual transmission on the V6 model. And there was the Motor Trend Car of the Year® Award!

Sales of the new LS were initially great, surpassing the 50,000 mark and besting the old Conti’s sales. Unfortunately that did not last. Within a handful of years, sales dwindled to less than 10,000 units. The LS, the enthusiast Lincoln, was discontinued in 2006.

The same people who jeered the new 2015 Continental concept also forgot, or ignored, how shockingly strong the sales of the front-wheel-drive Lexus ES have always been. And the ES is far from being an enthusiast focused vehicle in any way. Plus, the ES isn’t even that much of a sophisticated design, both technically and stylistically, but it still outsells the hell out of its competition.

So there was Lincoln, developing the new Conti, and they had a few choices to make. With the ever-shrinking sedan market, with high costs of developing a new chassis, what was Ford to do for the first car of the new Lincoln?

They chose to do the smart and safe thing. They improved an existing platform. They put in the best engine available to them. They designed the exterior with a modern twist on classic style. And then they went crazy with the interior. The result is a not just a good car, but a great Lincoln.

This begs another question – what makes a great Lincoln?

Looking at other historical bits, a Lincoln has to be roomy. It has to be powerful. A Lincoln has to be comfortable. But not just comfortable, the interior has to be inviting, opulent, and provide the latest gadgets. A Lincoln has to quietly float over road imperfections and pass slower cars with ease. Finally, a Lincoln has to look the part – it has to look like a Lincoln, a classic American luxury vehicle, even if it there is some visible Bentley inspiration. 

I must admit that, while it isn’t perfect, this new Lincoln is a damn fine vehicle. But it is also a great Lincoln. Ignore the naysayers. Ignore those bitching about the chassis. Judge this car on what it is supposed to be, a Lincoln. When you do, you might be pleasantly surprised.

The beginnings of Lincoln’s master plan are clearly visible in the Continental. It is the vehicle that paved the way for the new Navigator and the upcoming Aviator. Its biggest downfall is that people these days don’t want to buy luxury sedans, because that’s what grandpa drove. They want luxury SUVs, which is a damn shame because there are many great sedans on the market, such as this Continental.

[Disclaimer: Ford Motor Corporation provided this Lincoln Continental for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2018]

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20 responses to “Quick Spin: 2018 Lincoln Continental”

  1. 0A5599 Avatar

    Continental might have had FWD in its history, but the FWD ones weren’t particularly memorable.

  2. Maymar Avatar

    I’m not bothered by the new Conti being a big comfy old man car, I just find the pricing out of line for something that comes across as a glorified Fusion. The ES is a decent counterpoint – similar in execution (although the Lincoln does have more premium options and stouter engines), but the Lexus tops out at $50k (not that far above where the Continental *starts*). Of course, this is because Lexus doesn’t expect the ES to play the role of flagship – they’ve got the LS for that, and you can get one of those cheaper than the absolute most expensive Continental.
    I’m sure it’s a very relaxing highway cruiser, but while they want you to think of Kennedy’s Continental, if there was ever a car that should have a Reagan/Bush ’80 bumper sticker as a factory option, this is it.
    Also, as a dark horse contender, I’m not entirely sure what the Continental does that a Chrysler 300 won’t just as well, for much less.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      Isn’t this Continental on a longer wheelbase than the Fusion? It should be. I wonder if it has a closer relationship with the CDx Chinese market Taurus.
      Seeing photos away from motor shows, some proportions of the front and rear styling don’t look quite right to me. The front is a bit melted/droopy and the tail drops down a little too much.
      For a big car where having the tightest turning circle possible won’t be the highest priority, I’d like to see the transmission ahead of the engine to move the front axle forward and improve the proportions.

      1. Maymar Avatar

        Oh, for sure, the Continental is roomier than the Fusion – I’m thinking more in terms of interior components. That said, a big back seat focused sedan is a bit of an odd choice, as this is not a car you buy to get driven in (even if it’d be fine at that job), but I don’t think Ford wants to reclaim the black car market they used to have with the Town Car (or, at least, the Continental isn’t a big part of that strategy).

        1. outback_ute Avatar

          Ok, I see the similarity in the centre stack for example but I wonder if any of the switchgear etc is shared. I used to drive a previous model Mondeo that was not that dissimilar to the Fusion.
          The “glorified Fusion” as a pejorative is something that is a bit irrelevant given that only literally the platform (firewall, floorpan etc) is shared, and is something that all manufacturers do to some degree. It is not like the old MKZ for example.
          For the bigger picture, I understand Lincoln would still be pushing the MKX (?) as the black car and wouldn’t want the Continental in that role. The Fusion & MKZ are paired so the Continental should be providing more room; nobody will be complaining it has too much rear legroom after all. Hopefully the Continental has superior comfort and refinement than the Chrysler 300 given the age of that car.

          1. Maymar Avatar

            I don’t know if I could actively point out specific pieces that were borrowed from the Fusion, but at best, a ton of the switch gear is the sort of stuff befitting a $20k Ford, dipped in cheap plastichrome and shoved in a car 2-3 times the price.
            And you’re not wrong about the modular platform sharing idea, but again, it can’t escape having the presence of a FWD rental car.
            Also, I’m sure the seats are better in the Continental (they’re one of its most appealing bits, and the ones in the 300 are not great), but the Chrysler is smooth, refined, and quiet enough that it would be genuinely impressive for the Lincoln to make an appreciable difference.

          2. outback_ute Avatar

            No worries, it was a bit of a rhetorical question really. Mind you there are several switches shared between a Corolla and a Lexus, and have been for 10+ years – mirror switches for one, I think possibly even power window switches.
            It seems that Lincolns are gradually increasing their separation from Fords. Completely separate platforms a la Cadillac would be the wrong move in the current environment, but I gather their mark would be Needs To Try Harder.

    2. Zentropy Avatar

      Well, the 300 certainly does better rear-wheel burnouts. And it shows off considerably better design proportions. I’m guessing the steering feels better in the Chrysler, but that may be a subjective thing. I despise the steering feel of FWD and AWD cars.

  3. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    Ford will find, people won’t have Lincoln taken seriously if they only sell them in the US. If they want to be taken as world class, rather than the new Mercury, they’re going to have to sell them in the rest of the world.
    Are they the flagship badge or not?

  4. neight428 Avatar

    Seems a good move for the marque, and I’m interested to see how their resale value holds up. If Ford had the notion of killing off the platform prior to green lighting the Continental, then the “stop gap” type feel of having it be a modified Fusion makes some sense. I’m interested to see Lincoln use the Mustang RWD platform for coupes and sedans in the future. Cadillac did this with the Zeta and Alpha platforms that the Camaro has used since 2010. One could even point to the Chrysler LX/Old M-B E-class platform sharing as an analog. Interested to see what they do, the Navigator and Aviator look like they will do well, hopefully they can leverage that.

    1. Zentropy Avatar

      I agree– I want to see a new Mustang-based Mark IX. (I realize there have been a concept 9 and X, but they didn’t reach production.)

  5. Zentropy Avatar

    I’m surprised the new styling language is finding fans. I’m personally disappointed. The MKZ styling (with the winged grille and narrow-bar taillight panel) was, in my opinion, a better direction to follow. The Conti above is just a big amorphous blob.

    1. kogashiwa Avatar

      An amorphous blob with a giant schnozz.
      I think Audi are the only ones ever to successfully style luxury cars with FWD proportions, and even that is a little questionable.
      (Obviously things like the Cord 810 are honourable exceptions)

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        The Cord was indeed beautiful. Volvo’s doing decent design with their cars.

  6. Bruno Balestra Avatar
    Bruno Balestra

    Now, you see, the problem with the chassis is not the chassis itself. It’s the design and proportions it affords. A front drive platform CAN look powerful and rear drivey (look at Volvo), but it needs to be designed that way, which negates the gains of remaining front drive.
    Also, I don’t buy the “couldn’t do RWD on the Continental” for two reasons:
    1) Ford has 2 RWD platforms online now: the one under the Mustang, which is universally praised; and the one under the pickups. I highly doubt that the team in Dearborn couldn’t adapt either, given that the CD4 traces its roots to the Mazda 6/Volvo S80 of the early 2000s. Plus, a BOF luxury sedan would come out as nothing less than utterly confident and diferent.
    2) The same company that claimed not to have the funds to develop a proprietary Lincoln platform is doing just that for the upcoming Aviator, which is a crossover, which traditionally evolves from cars. No reason the reverse route couldn’t be done.
    So, mek Lincoln great again by giving the Continental its due and make it RWD and the powerful looks it deserves. That’s the reason the old ones are still sought after today.

  7. JayP Avatar

    Except for the MKZ 3.0 AWD, there’s nothing I’d even shop at Lincoln. I’m not a GM fan by any means but I’ve been looking at Caddys. And the 300/Chargers.
    GM took Cadillac from a joke in the mid 90’s to a contender in the 00’s. 10 odd years? And a racing program?
    What’s a Ford fan to aspire to move into? I guess I can get a faster Mustang?
    Ford has totally missed it with Lincoln, up and down.

  8. Lokki Avatar

    It looks okay, and it seems like a comfortable gentleman’s cruiser, but I don’t know…..
    I can answer the question, “why did you buy a Mercedes?” and the same for a BMW, or a Lexus. I can even make an argument for a Caddy these days as being a reinvigorated American competitor in the luxury class. Hell, I could even make a case for a Hyundai Genesis as great value for what it offers.
    I just can’t think of a justification for choosing a Lincoln. It falls into a lower tier like Acura or Buick. Nice enough cars, but not quite exemplars of anything.

  9. Rene Curry Avatar
    Rene Curry

    A very high price point for a car that looks like every other bar of soap in the automotive bath tub.

  10. J Ambrose Avatar
    J Ambrose

    I have to agree with the commenters who have criticized the FWD proportions (emphasis) of the new Continental. Now as to why FoMoCo chose a FWD Fusion-sourced platform rather than a rear-drive Mustang (or some other) platform for the Conti’s template might have to do with the fact that the car was created with the Chinese market in mind where wealthy people prefer to be chauffeured-driven. Obviously in that kind of environment having a rear-drive chassis is of no importance- in fact a FWD-based design would if anything be preferred since it generally means more legroom (which the Conti has plenty of), with a smaller hump in the floor pan, etc.
    It’s true that the designers of this car gave it an upscale look (arguable Bentley-esque) with its bulging rear doors/fenders, hidden door handles, broad shoulders, but the one area that really irks me is its short dash-to-axle ratio- at a glance it looks like it could be a $100k+ prestige car until you start noticing the plebian FWD proportions. Why couldn’t they have done what Volvo did with its S90 sedan and at least give it the ersatz look of a sleek, upscale rear-drive car? Even if pushing the A pillars back a notch would have reduced interior leg-room and/or been too costly a modification for Ford, the least they could’ve done was lengthen the fender area behind the front wheel wells by moving the seam for the front doors back an inch or so and giving it more of a straight angle. (this area on the 2015 concept car was better in this regard than the production model)
    Look at the Volvo S90’s wide gap between the front wheel wells and doors to see what I’m driving at… https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f70d36f08ad21e98d7438da6a68ea698d14795a1dd38e290e6ac18756b79d524.jpg

  11. J Ambrose Avatar
    J Ambrose

    As others have said the proportions of the new Continental aren’t befitting a “premium” automobile. At a glance the Conti looks like a high-end prestige automobile with its bulging rear doors/fenders, hidden door handles and broad shoulders, but then seeing the car’s plebian short dash-to-axle dimensions kind of ruins the overall look. I realize cost considerations and the desire for a roomy back seat (the car was designed with the Chinese market in mind) explain the FWD-based design, but the least they could’ve done was given it the ersatz look of a sleek, upscale look of rear-drive car like Volvo did with its S90. Even if pushing the A pillars back would have been too costly and/or reduced interior legroom, simple widening the gap between the front wheel wells and doors (As shown down below in the S90 pic) would’ve given the car more of rear-drive appearance.