For many decades, successful Americans displayed their wealth by driving big, domestic luxury cars. These often over-chromed examples of conspicuous consumption shouted “I’ve arrived” tothe world in a loud, clear voice. But as American society has changed, so has the American luxury car. Efficiency and technology are now just as important as comfort and styling. Those changes are reflected in the design of the 1998 Lincoln Continental. It’s Ford’s new vision of a luxury car for today’s America. But does the latest Continental truly reflect America’s cutting edge future, without losing sight of its prestigious past?
You would be correct to think that the 1998 Lincoln Continental is just a shadow of Lincolns of old. But, you would be wrong to surmise that its designers have lost sight of what makes a luxury car desirable in the first place.
When the Lincoln Continental was completely overhauled three years ago, the sole front-wheel drive member of Ford’s premium brand took a dramatic turn. Not only did it trade up to more contemporary styling, but the Continental also became the electronic marvel of the Lincoln fleet. A unique menu of computer driven selections provided two drivers custom fit for everything from suspension to radio stations. Unfortunately, in a world where people can’t program a VCR properly, all these driven choices led to confusion. Clearly that ‘95 Continental was ahead of its time.
Enter the 1998 Lincoln Continental with refined styling and simplified electronics. The exterior is more forward looking than ever and easily the most beautiful car in the Lincoln stable. The front facia, with seamless complex reflector headlights and stylized Lincoln grille, leans back with the wind. While the front corners are equally pulled back for a more arrow-like appearance. Fender, hood and rear deck lid are dent-resistant SMC plastic to save weight. The rear quarter panels have been extended to give the styling balance, while taller taillights mark the car’s passing. And a new overly thick chrome license plate-surround also encircles extra large backup lamps.
As for standard electronics, the ability to customize ride control for two drivers is now an option. However, steering effort remains adjustable. But after numerous laps of Ford’s Dearborn proving grounds in prototype Continentals, we think the standard suspension setting will be most acceptable to the majority of Lincoln buyers. The Connie is still no handling king, but front-wheel drive plow is moderate. Fixed position gas-charged shocks grace each corner, with lower front spring rates to ensure a smooth ride. Air springs with load leveling remain at the rear. Turn-in is quick enough, especially when you leave the still adjustable effort steering system in its middle, or “normal” position. At extremes, the “low” setting is too numb and light, while effort is needlessly heavy in “high.” Now, Jaguar does a wonderful job of designing in the right degree of handling without such electronic crutches, and the new Continental seems to be trying to find the same path.
Brakes, on the other hand, needed no such change in direction. Stops from 60 of 130 feet are typical. The all-disc system has standard anti-lock with a modest amount of pedal feedback.
Another item Ford refused to tamper with is the standard 4.6-liter dual-overhead cam 32-valve V-8. This is the impressive In-Tech engine also used in the Mark VIII. With some 260 horsepower and 270 pounds-feet of torque, it was more than adequate to pull this front-wheel drive luxury sedan through all of its paces with plenty of passing power in reserve. 0 to 60 took only 7.5 seconds, while the quarter mile passed in 15.6 seconds at 94 miles per hour. No matter what else you might say, this luxury car can get out of its own way. Plus, changes to the 4-speed front-drive automatic transaxle ensures shifts that are both crisp and gentle. An all-speed traction control system continues as standard.
To go with the new exterior, the Continental gains a refined interior as well. The combination of real Bird’s-Eye Maple wood trim on the dash, as well as the door panels, and elegant touches like a chrome analog clock in the center of the IP, makes this a warmer, much more expensive atmosphere.
The ‘98 Lincoln Continental will seat six, but five is the standard complement. The leather trimmed driver’s seat moves back a couple of inches to make getting in easier. Two-position seat memory is standard as are seat-shaped controls. Power lumbar support adjust is included, but tilting the steering wheel is still done by hands alone. Front seat padding is full, while support good, with plenty of head and leg room for 6-footers. If you order the heated seats, both bottom and back can be warmed.
Controls are easy to reach, including the gear shift, which has a polished metal face plate that reminds us of an Audi A8. Indeed, the clear fluorescent analog gauge cluster also looks like it belongs in a mega-buck sport sedan. But we still think the message center operation is confusing. The center console with retractable front cupholders is also new.
Automatic climate control is standard with new rear air vents. We expect good climate control in a car of this class. We also expect a great sounding stereo. The standard cassette system can be augmented with JBL speakers. And while there is no in-dash CD player, a compact disc changer can be fitted inside the front console. We like that a lot.
The rear bench seat is broad and cushy, with room for 3 adults in a pinch. The center armrest has acquired new cupholders. There is no in-car opening to the trunk. But the trunk lid can be opened with the key fob. Luggage space grows slightly to 18.9 cubic feet, and is now almost as large as the rear-drive Town Car.
With car prices hitting a brick wall this year, you won’t pay a lot larger bill for the new Continental. ‘98 prices begin at $38,500, or only $550 more than a ‘97. Both run-flat tires and Lincoln’s RESCU emergency locator security system are still options.
The base price for the ‘98 Continental should be just under its main rival, the Cadillac Seville which gets a complete redesign this year.
For those that have grown up with front-wheel drive and are ready to make the move to a luxury sedan, the Lincoln Continental is an intelligent choice. There is nothing alarming about its beautiful styling, or its more modest use of electronic driver assist.
In this car, as in every car that has ever worn the Continental name, pampering and pleasing owners comes first. It’s just that the ‘98 Connie targets owners that want more than just a living room on wheels.
Engine: 4.6 Liter, Dohc, 32-valve, V8
Torque: 270 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.6 Seconds @ 94 MPH
60-0 MPH: 130 Feet