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2 Dudes in a Car: Blissing out in the Lincoln Continental

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist

Do you crave a Lincoln?

A Lincoln what, you might justifiably ask. A Lincoln biography? A Lincoln penny? A Lincoln, Nebraska? Then you might recall that Lincoln is a luxury car brand associated with Ford, and remember hearing something about Lincoln trying to make a comeback.

The new Continental is Lincoln’s declaration of relevance, a statement intended to announce something big is happening at the faded brand. The Continental, introduced all the way back in 1939, grew more ostentatious through the years along with America itself. The limousine President Kennedy was riding in when he was shot in 1963 was a modified Continental. The marquee lost its brash styling in the 1980s and ‘90s, as German broughams began to muscle it aside. Lincoln retired the Continental in 2002.

It’s now back, after 15 years, seeking whatever slivers of distinction might still exist in the cram-packed luxury segment. Lincoln has been careful to say it doesn’t hope to out-German the performance chops of European sedans such as BMW’s 5 or 7 series, Mercedes’ E Class or Audi’s 6 and 8 lineup. Smart, probably. Instead, Lincoln hopes to wow buyers with good-enough performance (for a vehicle starting at around $45,000), blended with fancy technology, La-Z-Boy comfort and brawny styling you might call gangster-elegant.

Standard seating includes 10-way power seats in the front. But the fussiest sitters can opt for 30-way power seats that perhaps ought to come with a personal valet trained in the precise use of each button. There are electronic door handles that ease the burden of grasping and pulling a latch, and signal their novelty through an unusual location at the door’s beltline instead of the usual position a bit lower down. The car is big, with a rear seat spacious enough to make this a chauffeured saloon.

I’m an automotive pragmatist, impressed by clever engineering, innovative efficiency and a high fun-for-the-buck factor. My colleague Pras is more of a passionista enamored with horsepower ratings and museum-quality design. We both struggled to pinpoint the Continental’s identity and place it among its peers as you’ll see in the video above. Luxurious? Sure. Commanding? Check. Trying too hard? Yep.

Lincoln has cultivated a Zenlike image through its use of bull-whisperer Matthew McConaughey as a kind of Confucian spokesmodel. Lincoln’s marketing department may have figured the best way to mend its muddled image is to offer car buyers an abstract, ink-blot template and let them define Lincoln on their own terms. In that regard, perhaps the Conti is whatever you want it to be.

One thing it’s not, notably, is a crossover or SUV. That matters because utilities are hot and sedans are not, which limits the extent to which the Continental can serve as a flagship for Lincoln. The brand does have a handful of utilities, including three you probably can’t name (they all begin with M) and a new version of the gigantic Navigator, coming soon. Zen, optional.

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman