This must be said about the 2017 Lincoln Continental luxury sedan, which I've been driving for a few days: It's a very comfortable, secure and comforting drive.
From the 30-way adjustable leather seat to the rain-sensing windshield wipers to the electric door openers to the 400 horsepower, twin-turbo V6 engine, Continental coddles its occupants in the manner a $77,000 piece of machinery should. For a vehicle weighing 4,555 pounds, it's quick: 0-60 mph in five seconds.
Ford (F - Get Report) should be complimented on the execution of this Lincoln model, which has been absent from the automotive scene for 14 years. For now, the new Continental is the flagship of the automaker's luxury-car lineup, which is undertaking a valiant comeback. For many years, Ford tried to manage a premium portfolio that also included Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo, but the global financial crisis forced the sale of those brands. A result was Ford's return to focus on Lincoln.
While General Motors's (GM - Get Report) Cadillac division is directly challenging the German luxury brands, Ford knew it didn't have the capital or time to out-BMW BMW. Instead, Ford planners decided to search for a market niche in which American and Chinese buyers were seeking pampering more than prestige. The entry-level Continental with a less powerful engine starts at $45,000, roughly half the price of Mercedes-Benz S Class. Assuming Lincoln sells enough copies and can add enough options, it might justify Ford's investment in the brand, since premium vehicles generally generate more profit than those sold to the mass market.
The new Continental delivers on its luxury promise. Its leather upholstery is rich. The car is full of elegant touches such as cleverly engineered metal that affixes the side mirrors to the vehicle and an eye-catching metallic cover for the speakers. Instead of a transmission wand or a knob, Lincoln opted for push buttons to the left of the infotainment center. The top-of-the-line version I drove included a number of advanced safety features such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.
What Continental doesn't have is the expressive exterior styling of a luxury vehicle that proclaims itself a competitor to Cadillac CT6, Lexus LS480 or BMW's 7 Series. By choosing to build the new luxury model on an existing architecture used for standard sedans like the Ford Fusion, instead of investing billions in a new rear-wheel-drive architecture, designers had their hands tied: They couldn't create the long hood and shorter rear deck, along with the proportions that signify most high-end sedans.
Still, no one who drives Continental should be disappointed from its fit, finish or aesthetics. (I'm a sucker in Michigan winters for a great seat warmer and steering wheel warmer; Continental's didn't disappoint.) And President Donald Trump, who has threatened a tariff to tamp down the importation of cars, will be pleased to know that the car is assembled in Flat Rock, Mich., by American workers.
As for prestige, Lincoln has been running a series of advertisements starring Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey, elegantly dressed and looking smugly satisfied at the wheel. The brand also created a Black Label designation for its most status-conscious customers, which comes with a concierge service, free delivery away from dealerships, free detailing and so forth.
Financial necessity forced Ford to adopt a non-traditional approach with Continental, one that could well appease the automaker's shareholders, though without adding to the worries of other luxury competitors.