Lincolns don’t float down golden boulevards anymore.
Fifty or 60 years ago, they commanded top dollar, occupying some of the finest garages in North Dallas.
For awhile, they played a sort of Dave Brubeck cool to Cadillac’s Jerry Lee Lewis fins and flourish. Presidents even settled comfortably into their stately back seats.
Hard as it may be to believe now, kids, Lincoln kind of defined big, high-shine American luxury.
But like Elvis and Paul McCartney, Lincoln lost its cool — stumbling into a bumpy, lumpy period of vinyl tops, gold hubcaps and pedestrian Ford parts.
I figured the brand would be stone dead by 2015, but, hey, I also boldly predicted that this country would never elect a bombastic, self-absorbed New York billionaire as president.
Whoops on both counts, I guess.
Through November, Lincoln’s sales are up 9.4 percent, mainly on the strength of two new obtusely named crossovers, the MKC and MKX.
Now, however, Lincoln wants to try to push its comeback a bit further with a big rootsy sedan wearing a familiar name, the 2017 Continental.
The deep burgundy Reserve model I had recently struck me initially as kind of polarizing — and that may be exactly what the brand needs.
You might recall that Lincoln drew some fire from Bentley when it unveiled the initial concept of the Continental, which looked a lot like Bentley’s broad-shouldered Flying Spur sedan.
I still see some Flying Spur in the production Continental, and I’m not sure whether that’s good or not.
The Continental’s horizontal-shaped grille — in silver chain, no less — certainly shouted Bentley, as did the car’s commanding hood, shoulders and rear roof pillars.
But fairly low-key projector-style headlamps flanked that ostentatious grille, and the car’s relatively short front fenders made it appear almost mid-size — despite the Continental’s enormous doors.
In classic luxury-car style, the big sedan also featured mostly flat, smooth sides marked by a subtle character line up high.
An elegant formal-looking top maintained the high-end look, while nifty Rolls-Royce style door handles were integrated into a chrome strip at the base of the side windows.
Meanwhile in back, sleek Lincoln-esque taillamps were joined by a red band stretching across the trunk.
My car rolled on kind of clunky, dark-centered 19-inch wheels wrapped with 255/45 tires. If I were stroking the check for a Continental – and my well-equipped model clocked in at $67,030 — I would opt for the turbine-style 20-inch wheels, which add some flash and proportion to the car’s thick body.
TWIN TURBOCHARGED ENGINE
The Continental deserves it. The model I had sported a new Lincoln-exclusive 3-liter V-6 boosted by twin turbochargers to 400 horsepower and putting the power down through a six-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive.
Anyone expecting an updated version of the old Town Car, though, will be deeply disappointed.
The new engine emitted a muted growl somewhere between a BMW V-6 and the rowdy V-6 from Infiniti — and had the horses to back it up.
Smooth and pretty refined, it generated strong torque right off idle, giving the Continental much more low- and mid-range performance than I had expected.
The engine made quick work of merging onto Stemmons Freeway – Baghdad Boulevard, as I call it – whisking to 60 in 5 seconds flat, according to Car and Driver.
Oddly, Lincoln didn’t include a tachometer in the car, only a large central speedometer. But it sounded to me as if the engine flattened out above 5,000 rpm — though not by much.
The lively engine was rated at 16 miles per gallon in town and 24 on the highway, but I rarely saw more than 14 mpg in my driving. I might have been partly to blame.
The transmission, meanwhile, clicked off positive European-feeling shifts and managed to keep the engine working pretty well despite its modest number of gears. (By the way: If Ford can put a 10-speed automatic in the new F-150 pickups, shouldn’t I expect at least an 8-speed in the more-expensive Lincoln?)
I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about it because the second surprise with the Continental was its steering and handling. Lincoln emphasizes that the new Conti is meant to exude quiet luxury, so I had fairly low, pillowy expectations.
The new sedan, though, felt slightly German, swallowing smooth pavement with quiet compliance, but able to stiffen up in corners and the sort of moonscape streets we live with in downtown Dallas.
In fact, the Lincoln — in sport mode — leaned little in serious corners and always seemed pretty willing to be tossed around, despite its bulk.
Thanks to the all-wheel-drive, grip felt good — even though the car was apparently never intended as a corner-carver.
And you can forget those days of coasting down Mockingbird in your giant Lincoln, one finger wrapped around the big plastic steering wheel while listening to Frank Sinatra croon “Fly Me to the Moon.”
Though the steering in the new Continental remains fairly light, it is quick, precise and offers better road feel than many BMWs. You can certainly keep Frank, but you may want to get more involved with the driving.
As impressed as I was with the car’s overall performance, its interior will likely seal most deals.
In mine, the dashboard was coated in a rich-looking medium-brown plastic that was “stitched” on the edges and dropped down to a tan lower dash.
A big center stack felt a bit too American and Japanese for my taste, but all of its controls were easy to use, including buttons down the left side of the large display screen for the transmission.
The steering column and wheel were in the same shade of brown as the dash, as were the tops of the door panels.
Gorgeous tan seats with finely shaped backs and perforated centers matched a tan center console, lower door panels and headliner. In addition, the front seats could be adjusted 30 ways.
Head- and leg-room in back were immense. If I hadn’t lost my white disco suit decades ago, I would have slipped it on and climbed in the rear so I could feel like an aging rock star or a Chinese steel magnate.
Look, the Continental won’t inspire tattoos or gang-banger lyrics like the Cadillac Escalade does.
But if people get in the car and drive it, I bet many will buy it. Maybe that’s what Lincoln means by quiet luxury.