2017 Lincoln Continental first drive review

It must be tough to be Lincoln.

As the brand has learned, time and again, there is a difference between image and reputation. The most tired trope among those who care about cars is to anticipate the reemergence of the world-beating American luxury brand, which has moved quietly to the sidelines after Ford Motor Company [NYSE:F] shed its European luxury properties.

Enough is enough. All it takes to realize that the Lincoln brand portfolio is stronger than it’s been in decades is a look at its current model lineup, which includes a potent MKZ, robust MKC, and a Navigator that refuses to age.

With a booming luxury market in China, bolstered by a resurgent interest in luxury in the United States, it was about time for Lincoln to introduce a range-topping product. The Continental is the culmination of a brand-building exercise determined to break the cycle. This is a real attempt at a luxury product. Welcome back, Lincoln.

The introduction of the Continental allows a revanchist Lincoln to gain some ground in the large luxury sedan space. This sedan wears the historic Continental nameplate, but it doesn’t have Europe-beating aspirations. It’s big, but not too big, and it reestablishes the American luxury marque in a growing segment of premium sedans. Based on design alone, this Continental may not deserve a place among heritage Continentals on a concours lawn, but it’s stylish in its own right. The repeating-diamond grille first shown on the revised MKZ makes a lot of sense here, giving the Continental strong, front, visual impact, although it’s discordant with the narrow, sloping rear end. The sedan’s best angle is perhaps from the side, where its strong shoulder lines are on display.

Where the Continental’s exterior styling is subdued and restrained, its interior design approaches modern art, in a way that outshines competitors at any price point. (Seriously.) Material choices are top-rate, from the dashboard cover to the seat leather. A unique selling point for the Continental, compared to the majority of competitive luxury sedans, is an array of available interior colors and finishes enhanced by optional Black Label packages. The Continental launches with three interior themes—Rhapsody, Thoroughbred, and Chalet—that are above reproach in quality and imagination. Some details could use a rethink, like the arty typeface and black digital background for the gauge cluster, which is difficult to see during the day, even with the panoramic sunroof covered. We’ll withhold pronouncing judgment on the entire Continental line until we’ve had the chance to sit in the less lavish Premiere ($45,485) and Select ($48,440) models, but the overall sentiment in the plushest Continental is entirely positive.

Like so many objets d’art, the Continental’s interior is not ergonomically perfect. Many key interior controls take a couple of tries before they become intuitive. The push-button transmission, for one, can be confusing if you’re used to traditional shifters mounted on the floor or column. By that same token, opening the doors is an acquired motion, requiring a push of a button, not the pull of a handle. This won’t bother you much, after a few irritating moments, but they might confound the occasional passenger. A highlight of the interior is a set of optional, complex, 30-way adjustable seats, which are beautiful in shape but less successful in comfort and execution. Just because a seat offers the promise of infinite versatility, that doesn’t guarantee it’s a comfortable perch.

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