2020 Lincoln Continental

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It took about 25 years to sink in.

The best-selling Lincoln of the modern era isn’t a car. It’s the Navigator – Lincoln’s version of the Ford Expedition SUV. On the strength of Navigator sales, Lincoln outsold Cadillac for awhile back in the ‘90s.

Until it tried selling cars again.

Including cars like the Continental – a car that was iconic back when JFK was president but hasn’t done as well with Trump as president.

Not because of Trump – but because things have changed since JFK was president.

The new Continental has a lot going for it – including that it’s a much better deal than other high-end sedans. It’s much roomier, more powerful – and costs tens of thousands less.

But the one thing it hasn’t got going for it is that it’s not an SUV – or even a crossover SUV.

They’re selling. Sedans aren’t.

Which is why Lincoln won’t be making any more sedans after this year – including the Continental.

What It Is

The Continental is a full-size luxury sedan that can be compared with both mid and full-sized luxury sedans from rivals like Mercedes-Benz and BMW as well as Hyundai’s recently launched Genesis brand.

It is not quite as large as a Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7 Series but it is significantly roomier than a Mercedes E-Class or BMW 5-Series – while being much less expensive than a Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7 sedan.

It also comes standard with a V6, vs. the fours you get for your $50k-plus in a Benz E or BMW 5.

On the downside, it’s front-wheel-drive (AWD optional) in a segment where RWD is part of the recipe fr exclusivity –  because almost all non-luxury cars are FWD cars.

Prices start at $46,305 for the base trim, which comes standard with a 305 horsepower V6 engine.

A top-of-the-line Continental Black Label with a 400 hp twin-turbo V6, AWD and Lincoln’s concierge services stickers for $75,470 – about $20k below the base price ($94,250) of the Mercedes S450.

Which has a V6.

If you want more than a V6, it’ll cost you six figures.

What’s New

2020 will be the Continental’s final year.

Next year, Lincoln will sell only SUVs and crossover SUVs – ceding the high-end sedan field to Mercedes, BMW and the handful of others still selling them.

Or trying to.

What’s Good

Genuinely luxurious.

A genuine value.

Very large trunk (16.7 cubic feet).

What’s Not So Good

A fraction of the space you get with a crossover or SUV.

It’s not 1963 anymore.

They won’t be making any more.

Under The Hood

The standard Continental engine has six cylinders – vs. four in its price-comparable Mercedes and BMW rivals like the E and 5, respectively.

  It’s a 3.7 liter V6 that makes 305 horsepower – more power than the fours that are standard in the Benz E-Class (2.0 liters, 255 hp) and the BMW 5-sedan (also 2.0 liters but 248 hp).

And without a turbo – which is becoming very hard to not buy in anything luxurious, or even generally.

No slam on the turbo as such. As a power-adder, it’s a wonderful item. A kind of mechanical nitrous oxide injection that summons more engine whenever you need it. But the turbo’s job description has been expanded. It is now used to replace engine. To make up for the loss of displacement and the reduction of cylinders – from six to four – which is being done to placate the foot-stomping demands of government busybodies who insist that they know better than car buyers how much gas the cars they buy ought to use – and insist on it, by imposing regs that demand it .

It’s especially risible when i comes to luxury cars – the buyers thereof being almost axiomatically indifferent to a difference of 3-5 MPG, which is the difference in MPGs between a turbo’d four around 2.0 liters in size and V6 of around 3.7 liters like the Connie’s.

Which also makes 50 or so more horsepower.

Which is a difference luxury car buyers probably care more about.

Optional in the Reserve trim is a smaller 2.7 liter V6 – turbocharged to produce 335 horsepower. Here the advantage of the turbo is torque – which the smaller V6 makes 100 ft. lbs. more of than the larger V6 (380 ft.-lbs. at 3,500 RPM vs. 280 ft.-lbs. at 4,000 RPM).

Black Label trims come standard with an in-the-middle-sized  3.0 liter V6 – turbocharged twice – that makes even more power – 400 – as well as 400 ft.-lbs. of torque.

It’s the bullet of the bunch, capable of getting to 60 in about 5 seconds flat.

All three engines are paired with a six-speed automatic and all except the 3.0 V6 are available with either front-wheel-drive or al-wheel-drive.

The top-of-the-line 3.0 V6 is paired with AWD as part of the deal.

On The Road

The Continental is a big powerful and very quiet car. As a Continental ought to be. As they were when JFK was being driven around in one.

The FWD is only an issue if you drive it very hard, which people who buy cars like this usually don’t. With the optional AWD system, the difference is indistinguishable.

The engines – all three of them – are powerful but not designed to run like racehorses. They are more like Clydesdale horses – immensely strong, with seemingly effortless pull without appearing to be working very hard.

As was the case with classic Continentals, which had huge V8s (460 cubic inches, or more than 7.5 liters in today’s way of measuring) that delivered torque tsunamis when asked, which was just the thing to get 5,000 pounds of chrome and steel rolling with apparent ease back in the early ’60s.

Today’s Continental hasn’t got a V8, of course – for the same reason that so many luxury sedans come standard with fours.

But the V6s it does have make V8 torque.

Which reboots the early ’60s experience. The Connie wafts along like the roadgoing liner it is. Supremely comfortable and graceful – provided you don’t try to drive it like a sport sedan through the curves. This will cause you to spill your Grey Poupon.

Better to enjoy the ride.

Which Lincoln makes more enjoyable via 30-way seats that can be fine-tuned to fit almost any body shape and preference, firmer or softer. And via a Revel Ultima audio system with 19 speakers in the higher trims.

And via the most spacious back seat you can get for this kind of money.

At The Curb

Today’s mid-sized luxury cars – models like the Benz E sedan and the BMW 5 – are actually pretty small cars .  .  . relative to the Continental. Which is almost as large, outside and inside, as the full-size Mercedes S-Class sedan and the BMW 7 Series.

For about half the money.

The Connie stretches 201.4 inches end to end – vs. 193.8 inches for a Mercedes E-Class. It is much closer to the Mercedes S-Class, which is 206.9 inches long (but stickers for $94,250 to start).

And closer in back, where it has 41.3 inches of legroom for the rear seat passengers vs. 36.2 in the Benz E.

It also has a very large (16.7 cubic foot) trunk.

The problem is that it’s still a very small space – relative to the size o the car and the cargo space  available in much smaller crossovers. A current compact-sized crossover will generally have at least 40 cubic feet of cargo capacity – three to four times the space. This makes the crossover layout much more practical for people who need a vehicle that has as much – or more – room for stuff as it has for people.

This is a deficit that even tremendous power wrapped in an elegant shell and festooned with opulent luxuries cannot  overcome. It’s not just Lincoln that’s having trouble selling sedans.

Everyone selling them is having the same trouble – including Mercedes and BMW.

The Rest

Black Label Continentals come with more than just what’s in the car. Buyers also get white glove treatment that includes complimentary pick-up and delivery of the car when it needs service and exclusive access to restaurants and other venues that Lincoln has partnered up with.

The one thing you can get – if you hurry – for the Connie’s final year is the one thing that defined JFK-era Connies:

Suicide doors.

Lincoln calls them center-opening now – political correctness having trampled colorful language lest anyone sue or cry – and that they do. Because they’re hinged on the opposite end of the rear door, allowing the door to swing open from the center of the car. This allows the person inside the car to exit more gracefully, ’60 movie star-style.

It’s beautiful – and it includes a six-inch stretch of the car, giving it even more Camelot swagger. But only a few – maybe 80 – of these special Coach edition Connie’s will be made and if you haven’t already bought one the odds are you won’t be able to.

Which is too bad –  for Lincoln. This Connie might have sold better. It has the presence the regular Connie – which is elegant but not awe-inspiring – lacks. Instead of making just 80 of these, Lincoln should have made as many as the market would bear.

Sic gloria transmit mundi.

The Bottom Line

It lasted just three years – about the same as Camelot.

. . .

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8 COMMENTS

  1. I am/was hoping that Lincoln would re-do the Continental on their new RWD platform.
    I just did a mad dash 6hr drive through the PA mountains, all fast rural roads. It was a blast in my 300 V8 RWD. Wouldn’t have been nearly as fun in a truck. Figures, now that I love sedans again, there aren’t many left, haha…
    Of course I was playing with fire with deer at those hours and speeds, but I am past caring about a car vs. my fun factor these days.
    Had a bmw X5 M50 playing with me for a while, fun. He probably could have dusted me if he wanted to but we stayed relatively safe for fast rural roads at night.

  2. When I was in high school I washed and waxed a doctor’s continental and his brand new Oldsmobile 98 convertible. These cars were magnificent. The size, the comfort, the ride quality. The smell of the red leather seats in the Olds was something else. The Lincoln he had was an older Mark 4 with the opera windows, big impressive grill and power everything. There is nothing on the road today that can compare to these cars.

  3. I was attracted to this article by the photograph of the suicide doors. My pals in the non Harley motorcycle business had a real Continental with suicide doors. With six of us in there there was ample room, although I remarked at the gas station that I paid for, that he should have me make some letters of “Incontinental”.
    For a fifteen year old car it ran well. The previous owner must have taken care of it, although the paint was bad. We went to Capitol City and had some truly foul food. It smelled of the locker room at my San Antonio HS that wouldn’t allow taking home the uniforms for laundering. I hope that was one of those places burned out in Madison and that the permits were in place for toxic stench.
    I was more interested in overhearing the conversations on adjoining tables. It was Emporers Clothes writ to snobbish “INTELLECTUALS” That had no nose and no palate.
    I volunteered to drive out of there. Wow what a tub.
    It wasn’t too bad as what it was built for. All of the modern stuff has everything electric that will fail so that one cannot adjust the seat or allow someone into the back seat. That is why I like the suicide doors.

  4. Yet another “could have been”.

    You wonder what a car like this could have been, had it not been for uncle.

    You can plainly see how it’s hobbled by the regs. So people don’t ever get excited about it, like they once did with earlier cars. Peopled loved and wanted the 60’s era Continental, in fact they still do 50 years later. It’s timeless. They will likely still be popular in another 50 years.

    What would have the 2020 Continental been like had it been built for a free market? It would likely had standard suicide doors, a larger engine, probably would have been larger overall.

    I wonder if a truly large car (sized like the late 60’s early 70’s) would sell well if an automaker could actually make one again. What would it take to just add 6 inches to the middle even (stretched models have become very popular in China).

    People clearly want larger vehicles, and they buy the trucks etc because they are the only large ones left.

  5. There is a certain, very affluent segment, not age specific, that would not be caught dead in an SUV or CUV. Any way you slice it, those vehicles retain more than a little bit of a “truckish” aura.

    Unfortunately, that same segment would never be caught dead in a FWD vehicle, because of its downmarket overtones of “space and fuel efficiency above all.”

    If “any” American manufacturer should know this, it should be Lincoln.

    You gotta wonder….”what the hell were they thinking?”

  6. It’s possible the whole Lincoln brand will be getting the axe. Ford is supposed to be making an announcement towards the end of the year regarding Lincoln’s future.

  7. Black Label trim … that ought to appeal to the Frank Sinatra generation, who drink their whiskey neat.

    And who still miss those heighth-of-fashion beige vinyl roofs that Lincolns used to sport.

    Whereas if Lincoln were trying to appeal to millennials, they’d have to call it White Claw trim.

    But millennials and sedans mix like bathtubs and toasters.

    They wouldn’t be caught dead in no “sedan” even if it’s equipped with daring suicide doors.

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