2011 Lincoln Town Car

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Here’s to the last of its kind, the Grand Dame of American luxury liners – the Lincoln Town Car.

Nearly 19 feet long (that’s more than a foot longer than a 2011 Benz S-Class). Three-across bench seats. A solid axle rear – and a profile as conservative (and frozen in time) as Ronald Reagan’s shiny black pompadour.

I love it, but the market (not counting the limo market) doesn’t. Word is the great liner is soon to be sent off on its final voyage. 2011 looks to be the last year for the old gal.

Better get your ticket soon, if you want to set sail.

WHAT IT IS

The Town Car is a huge – not merely “large” or “full-size” – luxury sedan in the old American style. It’s not the least bit sporty and it doesn’t even try to pretend otherwise. But it will seat six and you could probably stuff a Lexus in the trunk if you wanted to.

Prices start at $47,165 for the regular (read, merely enormous) wheelbase Signature model and top out at $52,835 for the Battlestar Galactica 19-footer Signature L.

Since no one else makes cars like this anymore, the Town Car hasn’t really got any direct competition.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011

Nothing. Not since the ’90s. And we like it that way.

WHAT’S GOOD

A boat like they used to make ’em.

Seats six – really. Comfortably. Plus three more in the trunk.

If you hit another car, it’s gonna lose. Badly.

Simple, proven, rugged – timeless.

WHAT’S BAD

A boat like they used to make ’em. Thing is freakin’ huge. Better have a big garage.

V-8 is barely more powerful than many current fours. Less powerful than most current V-6s.

Slow – and thirsty.

People will think you’re retired (and over 70).

Or run a limo service.

UNDER THE HOOD

All Town Cars are propelled by an ancient (more or less the same as mid-’90s era Mustangs had) 4.6 liter V-8 that chuffs out 239 hp. That was an ok number 15 years ago. Today it’s pretty weak – for a V-8. (Just for perspective the roughly same-size 5 liter V-8 in the current Mustang GT rates 412 hp.)

The TC’s AARP V-8 is paired up with an equally ancient partner – a four-speed automatic transmission that’s got two or even three or four fewer gears than the current state-of-the-art in $50k (and even $30K) cars today.

Still, it moves out ok for what it is: Zero to 60 in about 8.6 seconds for the standard wheelbase version and about 9 flat for the heavier extended wheelbase version. It’s not quick relative to the current “par” for luxury sedans but compared with similar boats from the mid-late ’70s and ’80s it’s not bad at all.

Gas mileage, on the other hand, is horrendous. 16 city/24 highway. For some perspective on that, once again, consider the ’11 Mustang GT. Its 412 hp V-8 manages 18 city, 25 highway.

The 4.6 is “flex-fuel” ready – meaning it can sip ethanol-laced crap gas. So, there’s that.

ON THE ROAD

Serene. Like wafting gently down a lazy stream on a rubber raft. The back seat of this thing is the place to be for an eight-hour trek to the beach. If you still have teeth and haven’t put such things behind you, reproduction is possible – enjoyable – back there, too.

For two couples.

As the driver of this yacht, you may feel you need one of those jaunty little Skipper’s caps with the anchor and gold braid on it. Nineteen feet is a whole lotta automobile and the endless, flat expanse of sheetmetal ahead of you (the hood) adds to the sense of hugeness. There maybe should be marker lights at each corner, or tie-downs for the tugs to hook up to.

If you didn’t grow up with these barges, or at least get to drive them when they were still common back in the ’80s – it will be a new and very different experience. Other modern cars – including other large luxury sedans – have much less metal ahead of (and behind) the axle centerlines. It will take awhile to get a sense for where the car actually ends, which will make parking and driving in traffic more stressful until you do. The steering, too, is old school: Meaning, vague and overboosted. It’s one-finger drivable but if you’re used to the precision connectedness that is now industry standard, it’s gonna take some getting used to.

The TC does not “corner.” If you tried – and if it still came with pop-on wire wheel covers instead of the standard 17-inch alloy wheels (one of the very few concessions to modernity) they’d pop off. The body heaves like the SS Minnow in the trough of a swell. Your six passengers will be clawing for the barf bags that ought to be affixed to the seatbacks, 707-style.

That’s not what the TC is for, though.

What it is for is languidly cruising down the road like the old smoothie it is. Don’t try to make it do what it’s not built for – like taking Grandpa out for a six mile run – and you’ll love it and it will love you.

AT THE CURB

This is an imposing, elegant car – the aging formality of its shape still ageless in its own way, like Liz Taylor (RIP). Sexy, it’s not. But it does carry itself well, a dowager empress that still has its dignity.

The upright profile also allows easy entry/exit, especially for the back seat occupants. The big doors open wide and the step in height is not severe, nor are there bulkheads to duck under or steeply raked B or C pillars to contort yourself around. And once inside – the space. Wow. The Signature L beckons the long-legged with 45.4 inches of legroom, five-plus inches more than the regular wheelbase Signature. The three-across bench-type seats (heated in back in L versions) make both versions feel much roomier than other large sedans with bucket-type seats. Side-to-side (shoulder) room in both versions is about 60 inches in both first and second rows. This is 1-2 inches more than in a modern Kahuna like the Benz S-Class.

The vast breadbox dash and massive pillow of an air bag comfort you with a sense of impervious solidity. All the controls are very ’80s friendly. Speedo, tach, fuel and temp – all analog. PRND21. Column shifter. Whitewall tires.

Seriously.

No mice, no Matrix-esque “inputs.” Just normal buttons and dials, all obvious in their function and simple in their use. Love that.

Also, dig: There’s a huge ashtray drawer just below the AC and heater controls. Try and find that in a current-year politically correct luxury sedan.

Two full-frame .45s will fit in the glovebox. Seriously.

The trunk is 21 cubic feet – larger than the lots that come with some McMansions these days. Tow adult men can fit back there.

Seriously.

THE REST

My main grip with the TC is its heavy price tag. $50k is a lot to pay for a well-padded Crown Vic with a few inches more legroom. Still, the fact is you can’t buy the Vic anymore – unless you’re a cop – and the TC is much nicer than the Perpmobile it shares its hardware with.

And, truly, there is nothing else like it available. Not new, anyhow. To get something comparable, you’d need to go classic – maybe a mid-’70s Sedan deVille or Continental Mark V. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore – literally.

And soon, they won’t make ’em like this at all. Fashions change; time moves on. If I could still buy a car like my ’76 Trans-Am brand-new, seats yet to be farted through, I surely would.

If you’re someone who appreciates luxury the way it was once defined, this may be your last chance.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Your ship’s about to sail. Don’t get left standing at the docks… .

Throw it in the Woods?

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20 COMMENTS

  1. I’m about to acquire a 2011 Lincoln TC Continental Badge Rear Wheel Drive — last of the lineage. I have a perfectly okay 2007 Signature TC. I had a 2004 TC before it. And before that, I drove RWD Cadillac Fleetwoods. But they, too, succumbed to planned obsolescence. I really want just to move up to the last of the line – 2011. I’m infuriated at planned obsolescence, and that is what we’re facing. I don’t think the TC is underpowered. It’s adequate and will get you a speeding ticket, if you insist. And, it’s my “home-away-from-home” when I’m traveling. I can languish therein, and arrive at my destination refreshed and and contented. I just sang in LA, CA last July (concert singer that I still am) and the guy that “hauled” me to/from the Airport drove me in a TC with 350,000+ miles on it, said he, and the major maintenance in all those miles was a transmission replacement, said he. It’s not unusual for me to get 25-26-27 mpg on the highway at 65 mph. If I drive 50-55 mph, I can get 30 mpg. What the hell’s the matter with that?! And the interior room: I love the opulence! And I can stretch out as a 6-footer+ 245 lbs. The smaller cars these days are for contortionists–not for me. I don’t suppose the venerable TC will ever return. Sad. I’m glad to be getting the last-of-the-line. At age 78, it’ll likely outlast me (I probably drive 8-10,000 mi./yr.) So there you have it. Let’s enjoy our TC’s while others in their clueless smug-like arrogance pretend to enjoy their pain and suffering in smaller cars. I watch people driving small cars. They don’t look very happy. Some have a look of pained agony on their faces while they grimly face on-coming traffic. And if you’re not moving fast enough to their liking, though you yourself are violating the legal speed limit, they’ll bless you with half a peace sign as they dart in and out of traffic. But enough: long live the TC for such as we who enjoy a modicum of comfort on the open road and safety in bunched up city traffic.

    • Hi Joe,

      You’re singing my song! I also love big, rear-drive American cars. It’s not lack of demand that killed them off. It’s mostly government fuel economy mandatory minimums (CAFE), which make it hard to sell such cars in large numbers. Which is why that layout – big, rear-drive, V8-powered – is now almost entirely low-volume and very expensive, for the rich only.

      You can thank Uncle for this.

    • Your guess is as good as mine! There’s nothing equivalent that’s also even remotely in the same price range. Limos – most of them – are not going to be Jaguar XJLs or BMW 750iLs, either.

      Probably, limo companies will just refurbish their existing TCs for years to come – just as they used to do with Checkers in NYC.

  2. Speaking as a foreigner, to me the Lincoln TC epitomizes american cars. I’m not a car lover but I *loved* the TC (got to know it well since it’s a staple of limo fleets). It makes everything else feel cramped, even Mercedes barges. And I’m not that old (late 40s). Pity such cars should now be an extinct species, whether it’s due to CAFE or other factors.

  3. The federal government decided to eradicate the true full size american car back in 1976. CAFE has been a threat to the existence of these cars for 35 years. Automakers could not take the risk of expensive redesigns of these cars or introducing new models. Chrysler’s first bailout brought an end to their big sedans. GM pulled the plug on theirs in 1996. Ford continued with the same late 1970s platform year after year. The fact they made it until 2011 says a lot about how this market is difficult to crush. 35 years is a long time for a product to keep going with what just amounts to refreshes on top of refreshes.. especially when the last 10+ or so can be more classified as years of neglect from a product development standpoint.

    Without CAFE these cars would have continually been redesigned, refined, etc instead of just benefiting from technology that could be transferred to them. Imagine how good one would be if engineers could have started clean instead of living with decisions made back in the mid/late 1970s? Imagine a 400hp pillarless RWD four door sedan… a two door convertible version with that almost aircraft carrier like silhouette.

    Also without CAFE there would have been no loss of sales to enclosed luxury trucks. Government interference in the market is to blame for their now long road to extinction. But the government hasn’t won yet. The SUV’s are evolving back into station wagons. Perhaps we’ll see some boats again some day.

    • This is true, but I’d add a qualifier. Large sedans do still exist – but mainly as rich man’s cars. The Jaguar XJ I just got through testing, for example. It’s similar in concept to something along the lines of a 1970 Sedan deVille or Continental, but it’s priced beyond the reach of all except the extremely affluent. This is pretty much the case across the board. In the past (pre-CAFE) large, RWD car with V-8 engines were still mass-market cars that middle class buyers could readily afford and even working class buyers could think about buying. Think, for example, of a car like the ’70s-era Ford LTD or Chevy Caprice. There were dozens of such cars available… (Many of these are featured in my new book, incidentally.)

      That’s all gone now, courtesy of the (as you note) deliberate impoverishment of the American middle and working classes.

      • Yes, I neglected the qualifier that a typical american could afford them. Anyone who can pony up and pay the gas guzzler tax or any make that can just pass on the CAFE penalties will still have them available. Once the penalty gets to be around 1% or less of the purchase price it doesn’t matter so much any longer.

        I agree that CAFE was set up to deliberately impoverish the americans of typical means. If it had not been for the SUV, something our rulers couldn’t see the market shifting to after their handy work, there might have been a whole industry of rebuilding the existing stock. We might see that with the ‘vic though.

  4. I’ve been the owner of a 2003 Town Car since new, and it’s been a terrific ride. I first bought a new TC in 1983, as a Continental Mark VI Town Car. Although I enjoyed that car for about 7 years, it was not up to the standards of earlier Lincolns, ESPECIALLY as regards the automatic transmission my ’83 had (the so-called “Automatic Overdrive” box). Shifts from 3-4 and 4-3 were accompanied by what I used to describe as being “like lightning striking a steel foundry.” Not so good, and it was a problem all the ’80s TCs had.

    The 2003 is a whole different animal. It has been the best all-around luxury car I’ve ever owned, and I’ve owned a number of them, starting with a 1939 Packard. I have now put 134,000 miles on the odometer and it still ticks like a watch. Other than a couple of minor switch replacements, everything has worked perfectly. I have given the car routine service at my local Lincoln dealer, but otherwise it’s not been at all babied. BTW, my gas mileage averages 22 around town and up to 27 on the road…I consider that pretty good for a car this size.

    It’s hard to believe that Lincoln won’t try to do better than call a gussied-up crossover vehicle (the MKT) the equivalent of our Town Car…I await better news from Lincoln.

    • Hi Jared,

      I’m with you… unfortunately, Lincoln has taken the bait and is in the midst of a makeover that amounts to me-too’ing the Euro-Japanese luxury brands, which means making the new Lincolns “sportier” and “edgier” (gawd, I hate that over-used term almost as much as”community” and “reaching out”).

      I think that’s foolish. Lincoln had an opportunity to be be something different – such as an American Maybach. Why not make luxury cars – big, comfortable, quiet. This “sporty” idiocy has gotten completely out of control and I blame Car & Driver for it because they’ve been incessantly peddling the “every car must drive like a BMW” (and every driver must drive like a race driver doing an autocross) line for decades and it has transformed the marketplace. This is why even (so-called) luxury cars have sports car-like gauge clusters, floor shifters and (often) fairly harsh/stiff rides, as a result of superfluously aggressive wheel/tire packages that make about as much sense fitted to a luxury car as the proverbial tits on a boar…

  5. My dealer says may 16 is last day to order 2011 town car . Another source advises. Last 2011s will come
    Off assembly line early September. Who to believe?

    • Hi Ben,

      These are two different things (production date and ordering date). The last cars may indeed come off the line after the “official” final ordering date; but these final production cars may not be available for new orders because they’re already spoken for by the people who placed orders before then. It all depends on how many people want to get their hands on a new TC before they’re gone.

      So, bottom line, if you want a new TC you probably ought to go ahead and get your order in ASAP.

      The 2012s are already ramping up (believe it or not; I know – it gets earlier each year).

    • 2011 is (reportedly) the final production year for the Town Car – at least, in its current form. It’s possible Lincoln will keep the name, but use it on an entirely new model based around an AWD layout.

  6. Eric-

    Thanks for the review! Although I’ve been an Audi owner for over 28 years, I still have a soft spot in my heart for these old yachts…

    Please note however, that even though the current TC is huge by today’s standards, it really isn’t a huge car by historic standards. One of my elderly relatives used to get a new Lincoln every 3 or 4 years from the 60s through into the 80s, and I remember vividly a canary-yellow ’77 Town Car (I think it was a “Cartier” edition) that he brought home 2 days after Jimmy carter was elected in ’76. He was afraid that Carter was going to ruin the domestic car market, so he wanted one last Hurray! Anyway, I seem to think that the late ’70s Lincolns must have had at least 2 feet more in length than their successors. And the trunks would sleep six!

    • You bet – and, heck yes – I remember! My parents had a ’74 Oldsmobile 98 Regency (among others) and I grew up around such dreadnoughts. The Lincoln was among the very last of the really huge ones as GM downsized before Ford swallowed that bitter pill. If memory serves, the ’77-’78 models were among the biggest ever!

  7. To each his own, I suppose. I grew up in the 80’s and learned to drive when these beasts roamed the land. I drove both the old-school Cadillac behemoths as well as the shortened, FWD models that came to prominence in that decade. I drove the huge Olds 98s, a Buick Roadmaster, etc. I’ve also had seat time in Buick Park Avenues, Lincoln TCs, and other automotive barges. Hated almost every one of them, the TC more than the others. The only ones I didn’t get much experience with were Chrysler products, I suspect because they were mostly broken down and getting repaired most of their lives.

    You can look at this as a different perspective from someone who is not much younger than yourself, apparently (mid-30s). I, like you, wish for freedom of choice. If someone wishes to drive a Lincoln TC, I do not begrudge them that. What I personally enjoy is different, but as I said, to each his own. It’s not surprising to me, though, that market choice has driven these to extinction.

    Size: I’m a big guy. I like room in my cars, when appropriate. I also like to drive. Thus I’m not too concerned with how big the back seat is or if there even is one. Thus I was surprised the last time I drove a Lincoln TC (a rental) about 5 years ago at how small the interior felt compared to its bulk. I found the driver’s seat to be too closed in/encroached upon for the size of car. It seemed like a lot of wasted space, essentially. Did I feel cramped? Not exactly. But your average full-sized pickup has much more head room, leg room, hip room, elbow room, etc. The swept-back windshield and the enormous dash take up gobs of otherwise useful space that would have been great to have for my legs and arms. The low roofline meant that there wasn’t a lot of headroom, either. It felt like a Honda Accord with extra sheet metal and plastic in all the wrong places, as if no one actually bothered to sit in one before they started rolling them out the door. The back seat was nice and wide, but the legroom was not great and the C-pillar and roofline made ingress-egress somewhat of a challenge. The only area that was what I’d actually call “roomy” was the trunk, and that was not as much as expected from such a huge car. For example, the trunk space of a C6 Corvette is actually LARGER, at 22.4 cu ft, than the Lincoln TC, though one could easily argue it’s less usable. Overall, from the external dimensions of the beast, the interior is laid out so poorly that it’s sort of like finding out Christina Hendricks is really just a B-cup.

    Engine: This is another area of huge disappointment for me, particularly in the Lincoln. Even in the early 90s, when these cars really started dying off, it was quite easy to find a Buick or a Cadillac with a nice V-8 lump that regularly got over 30mpg on the highway yet put out much better power, and put it to the asphalt more effectively, than the Lincoln. Aside from the PowerStroke diesel, Ford has never been known for its powertrains, and this one is probably one of the most disappointing of them all. You get the gas mileage of a V-8 but the performance of an I-4. What may have been barely acceptable in 1990 is now downright dangerous. It struggles to keep up with traffic on interstates and constantly downshifts just to go up slight inclines. It doesn’t have much passing power, so it becomes a moving roadblock rather than blending in with traffic. At least the other, now deceased giants, had the power to keep up and, at the same time, had reasonable gas mileage. To me, driving the TC was like being put in the penalty box. I would much rather have been driving a minivan or a zippy economy car or anything that could at least get out of its own way. Far from being relaxing, I found the TC to be quite frustrating and almost frightening.

    Ride & Handling: This is probably the most personal of all the factors on a car. There are measurable and objective criteria that cars can be compared to in other areas, but ride quality is not like that. Some would describe the Lincoln Town Car ride as “floating,” a positive connotation. I can appreciate that, and wouldn’t disagree. However, “disconnected” is my preferred description. It’s difficult to get a read on what the car is doing on the road or how slick the road surface may be (rain, gravel, etc.). It’s not confidence inspiring to say the least. If you’re the kind of person who takes a 35 mph marked curve at 20 mph, then you’re OK. If you try to take it at 35 mph, you’re left wondering if you’re asking too much of the car. If you do have to correct or make an emergency maneuver, the steering is so dull and slow that you’re not really sure if/when the car is responding to your command. That’s a plus when all you want to do is drive down to Florida to retire, but it’s a minus when the traffic behind you can’t get past because you’re limo is meandering left and right half-way into the neighboring lane because the steering is so numb. However, this is up to personal taste. I never enjoy this sort of thing, but my mother really likes it. However, the first time she actually drove a Cadillac STS (2005 model), she immediately abandoned her preference for these sorts of moving roadblocks, much to my surprise. This is not the sort of car for anyone with a pulse.

    Style: I like big vehicles. I drive a full size, crew cab pickup as my daily driver. There’s a lot more to work with on a large vehicle, and more things to style and make attractive. The TC is not so much a failure here as it is just not a standout. It’s not what I’d consider classic in the sense of the Parthenon, but old and worn out, in the sense of Detroit. It’s understated and completely unnoticeable. If you wish to be anonymous, this is a good start. There’s a reason that police use Crown Vics. They don’t garner too much attention, even with the lights/paint job, at least until they’re lit up with sirens blaring. This is War and Peace of cars. Long, dark, and boring.

    RIP: I’m not sorry to see this car go quietly into the night. It will not be mourned or its absence even probably noticed by most. There’s a good reason. Full sized SUVs look better, ride better, are more practical, often perform better, and are roomier than the land yachts of old. They may not get the kind of gas mileage of the old barges, and may not look as good with purple fuzzy dice hanging on the rearview, but that hasn’t stopped progress. I like that the option is still out there, but neither I nor anyone I know, including a lot of old people on fixed income, want or can afford to buy one. Economy cars and SUVs have surpassed these relics. I feel for the better.

    • Hey Brian,

      All good points. It comes down to what your preference is. I agree that the number of people who prefer these old boats is declining; obviously so or Ford would not be about to retire the TC.

      I do think, however, that if the price were lowered to around $35k (certainly doable as this is an ancient platform long-since amortized) then sales would tick up. $50k is ridiculous given you can get into a Benz E-Class or similar for the same money.

      But at $35k, wow…

  8. I’m an old fart who owns a 2007 TC, Designer Series with all the options except a sunroof. Bought it new and love it. I agree with this and other reviews of the Town Car with a single exception – the gas mileage. I’ve driven the car 20,000 miles, about 80% of that highway, and have averaged exactly 22MPG – No B.S. It gets slightly better city and highway mileage than my wife’s MKX. And this has been typical of previous years’ Town Cars that I rented – one in the 90s once got me 25MPG on a trip from Charleston to Orlando. I’ve often wondered if the big auto and consumer mags wrote that the TC was a gas hog simply because they did not like it. And ironically, my 2007 TC is E85-compatible and her 2007 MKX is not.
    Prior to 2007, it was possible to buy a Signature every September at model-year-end for $30K even. I paid $42K for the deluxe, loaded model and believe the sticker was $56K. So the touted huge early depreciation of this car was exaggerated for all but the most clueless buyers.

    • Hey Chip,

      I’m with you – and I’m not (yet) an old fart! I like big, stately American luxury yachts, too – maybe because I grew up with them but also because I think it’s not necessary that every car – including luxury cars – be “sporty” or capable of autocrossing like a Porsche.

      On mileage: I went by the EPA figs and agree the car can do better. Most cars can. But in the hands of the typical car writer, they don’t – because we drive them like we stole ’em.

      Welcome to the site, by the way!

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