New & Used Lincoln Continental: In Depth
The Lincoln Continental name was used for some of the most iconic large luxury sedans ever built by Ford's luxury brand, but it hasn't been seen on a new car in 15 years. And it long ago lost its top-of-the-line position at Lincoln, having been used for smaller, less distinguished cars starting in the mid-1980s.
That all changed for the 2017 model year, when Lincoln launched an all-new Continental flagship to replace its outgoing MKS sedan. The company says the new Continental will be an "elegant, effortlessly powerful, serene full-size sedan that delivers quiet luxury." Unlike sedans of the same size from Infiniti and Lexus, even Mercedes-Benz, the big Lincoln doesn't have particularly expressive design. It's distinctive, but it won't stop traffic.
Instead, it's the interior that Lincoln plans to use to distinguish the Continental from other luxury competitors. The design is "contemporary" and "warm," it says, meant to "appeal to culturally progressive clients who define luxury on their own terms – craving superior quality, craftsmanship, and safety." Because it must satisfy owners both in North America and China, that translates to rich materials, a host of luxury features, and a particularly spacious and luxurious rear compartment.
The new Continental is based on enlarged underpinnings from the mid-size Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ sedans. That means a V-6 powering the front wheels, or all four wheels, although the most powerful engine--a 400-horsepower twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6--isn't available on the Ford. A host of active-safety systems will be offered, as well as a variety of interior colors, materials, and trims.
The first 2017 Continentals will go on sale in the fall of 2016, with trim levels and specifications available closer to that date.
MORE: Read our 2017 Lincoln Continental preview
Before the 2017 rebirth, the Continental had essentially become a long-wheelbase Ford Taurus from 1988 through the 2002 model year. But the name began as a brand unto itself, christened in the World War II era as a personal car for Edsel Ford, and produced in limited numbers just before and after the war. Ford revived the name in 1956 and applied it to a stunning, expensive Lincoln two-door hardtop coupe dubbed the Mark II.
The Continental coupe ran through Roman numerals III through VIII as it mostly grew larger, becoming a more direct rival for more popularly priced Cadillacs of the day, though never as innovative as the first front-wheel-drive Eldorado of the late 1960s. The Mark VII of 1984 brought some fresh air to the brand, especially with its LSC performance version, but the last of the Marks--the Mark VIII of 1993--lost the touch again. The Mark coupes were permanently retired after 1998.
The design heights for the Continental name, however, were reached with the 1961-1967 Continental, offered as a two-door coupe, a four-door sedan with suicide rear doors, and one of the few four-door convertibles ever built in volume. This Continental was the one converted for presidential use; one became the limousine in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Its classically Modern lines were a decisive break from baroque late Fifties styling, and are revered even today as iconic designs.
By the end of the decade, the pricey Continental was due for a redesign--which it received in rather unglorious form, starting a downward trend in appeal and in construction quality that continued until it was killed. The hopelessly baroque Town Cars of the early 1980s were a grim sight, for any fan of the Mark II or the classic early Sixties cars.
With its 1988 redesign, the Continental found a new niche, as a spin-off of the wildly successful Taurus. Given its own smooth and less radical shape to distinguish it from the Taurus, the longer, long-wheelbase Continental also came with front-wheel drive--but, pointedly, no V-8 engine. Ford's 3.8-liter V-6 did the honors, through a four-speed automatic transmission. This edition was relatively well received, and sold through the 1994 model year.
In 1995, the Continental was revamped, riding on a new generation of the same platform. The V-8 returned, in the form of a 4.6-liter engine coupled to a four-speed automatic, but the front wheels were still the ones powering the car. The major innovations in this era were an air suspension and airbags. The model was perceived, though, as a car for older drivers.
As Ford began to absorb storied European luxury brands in the late 1990s, the business case for the Continental made less and less sense. Ford announced the end of Continental production in 2002, and the final models rolled off the assembly line that year.