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The 2017 Lincoln Continental Is The Return Of The Real American Luxury Car

On Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Paradise Lost, literary critic Samuel Johnson wrote, “None ever wished it longer than it is.” One could not say the same thing about American luxury-car interiors of the past few decades. With a few livery-market or export-only exceptions, neither Chrysler, Cadillac, nor Lincoln has recently offered the expansive rear-seat experience the rest of the world takes for granted in a prestige sedan.

This new Continental, by contrast, brings to mind a 1956 advertisement for the Lincoln Premiere: “Never before a Lincoln so long . . . and so longed for!” The front half of the car is a derivation of the Ford CD4 platform familiar from the current Fusion, but there’s nearly 10 inches of additional length, much of it behind the B-pillar. It has not gone to waste.

Grasp the massive, polished loop of the electromechanical latch that stands proud on the door, and step into the back seat. Our Reserve-trim test car, which sits below Black Label but above the base Premiere and midtier Select trims, has optional power-reclining rear outboard seats with four-way lumbar support, as well as heating and cooling. The center seat folds down to expose a comprehensive control console. Using that and the door-mounted controls, the Very Important Person in the right rear corner can move the front passenger seat (if vacant), operate the rear sunshades, adjust cabin temperature, command the audio system, and manipulate the opaque fabric shade beneath the massive dual-pane moonroof.

During my three-day weekend with the Continental, I experienced considerable difficulty getting any of my friends to ride up front with me. Given a glimpse of the first-class cabin behind the driver, each of my passengers demanded that they sit in back while I drove them. One suggested I wear some sort of cap while doing so. The most demanding VIP of all was my seven-year-old son, John. He immediately mastered the full range of rear-seat control possibilities, to my immense sorrow, and pointed out that it is possible to lay the front passenger chair down to serve as a footrest. No Shanghai tycoon was ever a more peremptory or capricious tyrant to his valet, but I was pleased to have him back there, guarded by the vault-thick, soft-closing doors and an airbag-equipped shoulder belt.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of this new Lincoln is the utter lack of pretense to racetrack or autobahn prowess. For too long, domestic luxury manufacturers have paid lip service to the ridiculous idea that full-size sedans should corner like Corvettes, no matter what the cost in ride, interior noise, or passenger space. The Continental is free of these misapprehensions, so spring for the 400-horse drivetrain; you will not be plagued by spoilers, splitters, SCCA-spec damping, or rubber-band tires. You will simply get proper “Hot Rod Lincoln” thrust.

But these are quibbles. When properly (meaning expensively) optioned and configured, the Continental is easily the best and most competitive American luxury sedan in four decades. The difficulty will be getting buyers to look past the default German brands, as well as Lexus. In a perfect world, the Lincoln brand would be rescued, or at least burnished, by this fine effort, yet I am reminded of another comment by Samuel Johnson regarding Milton: “Success and virtue do not go necessarily together.”

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