Road Tests

First Drive: 2017 Lincoln Continental AWD Black Label

When distant horizons are in the travel plan, drive the all-new Continental instead of flying

BEL-AIR, California — At last, here’s a great reason to skip that trip to the airport. Instead of booking a regional jet, you should be flying in the 2017 Lincoln Continental.

You know how it is when you’ve got 400 miles in front of you. Once you add up the time it takes to drive to the airport, wriggle through the scrum at the TSA gates, board the airplane, fly (on-time departure?), de-plane, take the shuttle to the rental car depot, and then navigate to your destination, well, you may as well have just driven instead.

And what you want to drive in such circumstances is the Lincoln Continental. Dial in the navigation system, activate its safety suite, including lane keep assist and radar-based cruise control, crank up the 19-speaker Revel Ultima sound system to an appropriate level, and get rolling. We promise you’ll find the experience to be humane rather than industrial. And you can enjoy a view of the distant horizons of the American landscape, which is way better than a tiny video screen six inches from your nose. Even after those 400 miles, you’ll arrive more alert and energetic. And, you know, way less wrinkled.

The 2017 Continental even looks like a business jet. It’s handsome, yet not exactly memorable. Even so, we found it refreshing to encounter a shape that hasn’t been tortured in the styling studio. The bodywork sculpture is crisply executed, yet it’s best described as a kind of canvas on which a memorable color can be displayed. If your default color choice is silver (a sign of a dumbed-down imagination, we think), then the Continental isn’t for you. But if you can make the leap to another hue, then the Continental makes you think of a Bentley. Except this Bentley comes nicely equipped for about $60,000, not $160,000.

When we first saw this car in front of the Hotel Bel-Air, it seemed to have rather grand dimensions, so it was a bit of a surprise to be reminded that the Continental competes directly with the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Like the Audi, the Continental is fundamentally configured like a front-wheel-drive car, only with a transversely mounted engine under the hood. And like the Audi, the Continental comes in both front- and all-wheel-drive configurations.

This Lincoln’s dimensions are on the grand side as well, and the result is more like a full-size big car than the scaled-up little car that some of the chassis hardware might suggest. First of all, the Continental’s wheelbase stretches 117.9 inches, which promises straight-line stability and a composed ride. The car measures 201.4 inches overall — long enough that you’ll prefer to have it equipped with both the rearview camera and a full array of parking sensors. Finally, the Continental tips the scales between 4,224 and 4,547 pounds, depending on whether you choose the 305-hp normally aspirated 3.7-liter V-6, the 335-hp twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V-6 or the 400-hp, twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6.

The 2017 Lincoln Continental also drives in a grand sort of way. We like how it disdains the superficial sportiness and noisy ride harshness that tends to curse German cars. It’s quiet without being muffled, composed without being inert. The suspension bushings are soft enough to keep the body from shivering as the car crossed those nasty seams on concrete freeways, while the active dampers quickly quelled any hint of boatiness. Of course, the 20-inch rims shod with Goodyear tires on the particular Continental in Black Label trim we drove predictably boomed on the bumps. (We later learned that the 19-inch rim/tire package is what you really want for this car.)

We’ll also admit that we tested the maneuverability of this big Lincoln on more than just the narrow winding roads of Bel-Air. And so we found ourselves hammering Mulholland Highway through the Santa Monica Mountains at a most unseemly rate of speed. The Lincoln exclusive twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 has 400 lb-ft of torque available at 2,750 rpm, so it had enough authority to pull through the six-speed automatic transmission without having to resort to shift paddles. Even so, we’re guessing that the normally aspirated V-6 and the 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6 might not be very responsive with this transmission, as we’ve discovered with other Ford models. Fortunately there’s an automatic with more ratios in the engineering pipeline.

Despite its length, the Continental is way better at the old back-and-forth cornering thing than you’d guess. The somewhat digital feel of the electric-assist steering quickly became unnoticeable, while the linear calibration of the throttle and the predictable, yet authoritative response from the brake pedal made fast driving pretty effortless. As we anticipated, engaging Sport mode didn’t do this car any favors, as abrupt dynamic responses are pretty much not what you want in a heavy car on the open road. We preferred to employ driving skill for the extra dimension of sportiness that Mulholland calls for, and the Continental proved pretty happy, although it will bound over the bumps when really serious speed is involved. If the weather had been wet or freezing, we might have been able to make some useful observations about its GKN-engineered all-wheel-drive system with active torque vectoring (just like the setup in the Focus RS), but we think it’s worth the $2,000 price you pay no matter where you drive.

For all this typical stuff about driving, the unique thing about the 2017 Lincoln Continental is the simple experience of sitting inside it. Once you touch the door handle, trigger the electronic latch, and step into the cabin, you’ll find that the interior space is quite beautiful, both modern in its sinuous architecture and expressive in its detailing of chrome, wood, faux-suede headliner (optional), and leather upholstery. The steering wheel feels good in your hands, while the view over the dash is expansive. The seating positions are sized with ergonomic correctness, though perhaps not with generous proportions, as total passenger volume amounts to 106.4 cubic feet. The electronic displays delivered by the instrument binnacle and information screen seem bland to us rather than restrained, as the designers apparently intended, and there could be more interior storage. Even so, we love the Harman Kardon-engineered, 19-speaker Revel Ultima sound system, which features another example of the new software that can deconstruct the usual horribly compressed MP3 files and turn them into real music. (And we love the sunburst design of the speaker grilles, too.)

If you walk into a Lincoln dealership, the entry into the land of this Lincoln will cost you $45,485, and a certain amount of mixing and matching will take you to the range between $55,000 and $65,000 where most of the people in this market segment tend to shop. For the all-singing, all-dancing 2017 Lincoln Continental Black Label AWD that we drove, which included the premium Chalet interior trim, the zippy rear-seat comfort and convenience package, and the twin-turbo V-6 with all-wheel drive, the price begins at $64,915 and ends at $78,510. When you’re staying at the Hotel Bel-Air, you really can’t be satisfied with anything less.

When the Lincoln Continental concept first went public on the eve of the 2015 New York auto show, the designers at Bentley professed themselves to be scandalized (scandalized!) at the resemblance. If we were them, we might pay more attention to the way the production version expresses a Bentley personality, right down to the new concierge-style purchase and delivery centers that Lincoln is rolling out in both China and the U.S. Now that so many people have already sampled the usual German sedan thing, we think that there’s new interest in simple, purposeful refinement. And the 2017 Lincoln Continental shows us that extravagance doesn’t have to be part of the program. After all, some people are too smart to fly.

2017 Lincoln Continental AWD Black Label Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $64,915/$78,510 (base/as tested)
Engine: 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/400 hp @ 5,750 rpm, 400 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA Mileage: 16/24 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H: 201.4 x 82.3 x 58.5 in
Wheelbase: 117.9 in
Weight: 4,547 lb
0-60 MPH: N/A
Top Speed: N/A

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EPA MPG:

17 City / 26 Hwy

Horse Power:

305 @ 6500

Torque:

280 @ 4000