Few automotive brands have taken a harder fall than Lincoln. Once a force to be reckoned with, Ford's high-line marque has been little more than an asterisk on the sales charts in recent decades. The arrival of the compact MKC crossover, a couple years back, showed there's still some life left, but the real test is about to begin with the rebirth of the brand's flagship, the once venerated Lincoln Continental.
The 2017 model-year marks the first time the Continental nameplate has been seen in a Lincoln showroom since 2002. It also marks a shift away from forgettable alphanumeric designations like MKX, MKT and MKS (with the new Continental replacing the latter model). The 2017 sedan is more than just an MKS update—it's a complete makeover. True, it shares the same, basic architecture as the mundane, midsize Ford Fusion, but it's longer, wider and loaded with the sort of luxury features you'd expect. This includes the sophisticated infotainment and safety technologies that are today as much the definition of luxury as natural-finish woods and plush, semi-aniline leather seats, as well as a 30-way heated and cooled driver's seat.
The Continental made its debut in stunning concept form at the 2015 New York Auto Show. The production model isn't quite as exotic, but it's still a handsome vehicle with a more formal presence than other recent Lincoln offerings, that ensures you'll get noticed, with an all-new grille design, distinctive electric door handles and Bentley-esque rear fenders.
Lincoln has taken hits from some reviewers who can't seem to take a front-wheel-drive luxury car seriously. Like Audi, Ford engineers work around that problem by offering the all-wheel-drive option we drove paired with a 400-horsepower twin-turbo V-6, one of three available powertrains. It's not the fastest car off the line, but performance is nonetheless impressive, hitting 60 in barely five seconds. Handling is solid, especially considering the Conti's nearly 4,600-pound mass. No, it's not a BMW, but it does have its advantages.
Lincoln execs like to call it "Quiet Luxury," and that's more than a marketing slogan. The Continental may be understated, but it delivers what many high-line buyers want. That's especially true with the Black Label model we drove. It's tomb-quiet until you turn up the studio-quality Revel audio package. There's also the latest Sync infotainment system, which includes Alexa, the Amazon digital assistant. Use it to open the garage door, turn on your houselights or check weather and sports scores. The Black Label badge gets you more than just upgraded seats and finishes. You also get a suite of services, including an at-the-ready concierge, along with free pickup and delivery, as well as a loaner, when you need service.
All in all, the 2017 Lincoln Continental is an impressive piece of machinery that will no longer get lost in the crowd or have you apologizing for your choice in luxury sedans. With a price starting around $45,000—but pushing up to $79,000 in loaded Black Label trim—it's the sort of flagship that should help put Lincoln back on the radar after years in limbo.