Lincoln's long awaited flagship landship, the Continental, is staking the claim that there's room in the market for poshness with a purpose. It's a vehicle that business owners may find useful, especially if they'd rather be working than driving. That's because along with the 2017 Continental, Lincoln is expanding a program that lets you outsource the driving if it suits you. "Luxury isn't a thing," noted Mark Fields, the recently removed CEO of Lincoln's parent, Ford Motor. "It's an experience."
This approach is part of a broader and somewhat controversial strategy by Ford to become more of a transportation services company as opposed to a mere assembler of automobiles. It may, in fact, have cost Fields his job. Investors are more interested in Ford's stock price than a long-term strategic shift. In the short term, it's all about moving the metal.
In Continental's case, there's some very nice metal indeed, and entrepreneurs may find it useful, not to mention elegant. Continental is one of the few cars that you could say is configured for dealmaking. As far as the competition goes, there is, for instance, the BMW 750i, with its optional business-class style right rear seat with a pop-up tablet that lets you control all the car's non-driving systems. But the fully loaded, captain-of-industry Beemer is on the order of $135,000.
Think of the Continental as the scrappy entrepreneur's luxury car at about half the price. The lush and lovely Continental, back after a 17-year absence, lists for about $45,000 for the base Premier model; $48,000 for Select and $54,000 for Reserve. Inc.'s test car was the top-shelf, all-wheel-drive, Black Label version, which lists at about $65, 000.
Whatever the version, there are plenty of options that can make you feel like you're really in command. Our tester included the 30-way "perfect position" seat ($1,500) that has racecar-inspired bolsters and luxe-car-required thigh extenders for both legs, so each of your limbs can feel special. Which is to say that if you can't get comfortable in this chair, it's certainly not Lincoln's fault.
But let's hop into the back--and I hope I'm not being too forward. For most car designers, back seats seem to be something they get to after they've lavished attention on the driver, and the dash, and the console, and then thrown a few bones to the front-seat passenger. Most back seats feel like they were crafted by the same sadists who build coach seats for airlines.
When Lincoln's designers began conjuring the new Continental, there was a catch. They were handed a blank slate but with the stipulation was that this Continental had to be bi-continental--a vehicle that could be sold in China. That's certainly no surprise given how well American brands sell there. But in China, says Lincoln, the owner spends 30% to 40% of the time being driven, as opposed to say, zero in the U.S. (Although being entrepreneur, you're always driven in some way, aren't you?)
In other words, the back seat has to matter. How much? Well, for another $4,300, you can opt for Continental's Rear Seat Package. That would be $2,150 per rear seat, since the two chairs are divided by a center console that allows back-seat drivers to control the climate and infotainment systems, adjust the sunshades and control the dual overhead moon roof. The 4-way power seats recline--yes, a back seat that reclines--and are heated and cooled. And, given that China mandate, there are individual ashtrays. (If pollution levels aren't high enough for you in Beijing, feel free to always light up.)
If you are in the back, then it follows that someone else has to be driving, at least for the immediate future. In announcing its 2018 Lincoln Navigator at the New York International Auto Show (this luxe SUV will debut in the fall) the company also announced the expansion of Lincoln's chauffer/gofer program to about a half dozen cities across the U.S. Want to go to have a client picked up in your Continental and taken to your office? Want to be driven to and from dinner while you talk business with the client? Want to recapture the kids, yet spend another hour catching up? Go to your app and order a driver for $30 an hour. There are clear public safety benefits, from a distracted-driving, drinking-driving standpoint, say, but the bigger message from Lincoln is that owning a Lincoln should entail some bennies. It's car ownership redefined as membership in a brand.
As a design strategy, the Continental is high-gloss without being "in your face, " says director of sales Andrew Frick. The car certainly has a muscular footprint: a 118-inch wheelbase and a length of 201.4 inch. Yet the trip from headlights to tail lights isn't severe--Frick calls it a horizontal gesture as opposed to a wedge. That's a statement the designers have articulated in the door handles, of all places, which are tucked in along the beltline (where the door frame meets the window). The doors open and close effortlessly, given an electronic assist.
The ride is similarly plush yet powerful. There are three engines choices available: the standard 3.7 liter V-6 that puts out 305 hp, a 2.7 liter, twin-turbo engine jumps to 335 hp, while the twin-turboed 3.0 Liter GTFI V-6 ($3,265) tops out at 400 hp and an ample 400 ft./lbs. of torque. Inc. drove the beefier V-6 turbo, and while this isn't something you'd care to race, the important thing is that you can absolutely trust the Continental's passing ability. It's what the company refers to as quiet power. Some of that quiet is tied to an active noise cancellation system and electronic dampening. There's dynamic torque vectoring to hold the corners, and three suspension settings--normal, comfort and sport--that you can tune to your driving or non-driving whims.
Inside, the dashboard and control panels aren't going to overwhelm you, which is a plus. There's a dash-mounted, push-button, shift bar running vertically, and Ford's SYNC 3 touch screen is blessedly noncomplicated. An optional technology package ($3,105) gets you active park assist and adaptive cruise control, among other safety extras.
Lincoln execs say that the new Continental is already making headway in the overcrowded luxury segment, gaining conquests of Mercedes, Lexus and Cadillac owners. For entrepreneurs looking to make a statement without shouting "I'm a really successful entrepreneur," Continental now has an argument to make. Although you can also argue that it's been a really long time in the making.