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 a while 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.
SUVs are selling. Sedans are not, 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 a front-wheel-drive (AWD optional) in a segment where RWD is part of the recipe 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.
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.
A genuine value.
A huge 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).
It comes without a turbo, which is becoming very hard to not buy in anything luxurious or generally.
I’m not slamming 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 the engine—to make up for the loss of displacement and the reduction of cylinders from six to four, which is being done to placate government busybodies who insist that they know better than car buyers how much gas the cars they buy ought to use.
This difference is especially risible when it comes to luxury cars whose buyers are almost axiomatically indifferent to a difference of three to five MPG, which is the difference in MPGs between a turbo’d four around 2.0-liters in size and a V6 of around 3.7-liters like the Connie’s.
Making 50 or so more horsepower is a difference luxury car buyers probably care about more.
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 all-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, just 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 three engines 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.
Classic Continentals with huge V8s (460 cubic inches, or more than 7.5 liters in today’s way of measuring) 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 that it does have make V8 torque, which reboots the early ’60s experience.
The Connie wafts along like the road going liner it is. Supremely comfortable and graceful provided you don’t try to drive it like a sport sedan through the curves.
Which Lincoln makes the ride more enjoyable via 30-way seats that can be fine-tuned to fit almost any body shape and preference, firmer or softer. This Connie also sports a Revel Ultima audio system with 19 speakers in the higher trims.
This is indeed 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 relatively large (16.7 cubic foot) trunk.
The problem is, though, that it’s still a very small space relative to the size of 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 adorned 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.
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 partners.
The one thing you can get, if you hurry, for Connie’s final year is the one thing that defined JFK-era Connies: Suicide doors.
Lincoln calls them now: center-opening doors for political correctness. 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 now, which is too bad for Lincoln.
This Connie might have sold better. It has the presence of the regular Connie, which is elegant but not too awe-inspiring.
Instead of making just 80 of these, Lincoln should have made as many as the market would bear.
The Bottom Line
It lasted just three years—about the same as Camelot.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books and reviewing cars and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos