From the Archive: 1995 Lincoln Continental Took Aim at Lexus

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From the February 1995 issue of Car and Driver.

My granddad had the first Lincoln on the block, a respectable blue 1974 Mark IV coupe with crushed velour seats and a marshmallow ride. I thought it meant he was really rich. I rode in back, ticking off other cars as they passed in the crosshairs of the Lin­coln emblem etched into the oval porthole windows.

That Lincoln was little more than a Ford with a big grille, but it meant luxury to me, at least until we worked our way through a succession of Audis in my teens. Then, my definition of luxury was enough power to pass Mom’s Thunderbird, room to kick my feet around in the back seat, and lots of buttons and knobs. Now that definition has widened to include sensu­ous looks and handling—the things you can’t appreciate from the back seat. I blame Audi, Infiniti, and a whole host of imported luxury sedans for this awaken­ing. But mostly I lay it at the feet of the seamlessly superior Lexus LS400.

HIGHS: Fluid V-8 power, artfully arranged cabin.

Ford was also impressed by that Lexus and made it the bogey for developing the Continental. As a result, this is the first four-door Lincoln to deal directly with this revisionist concept of luxury. Firm on the old terms, it’s still coming to grips with the new ones.

Power is a smooth rush (as in Grand­dad’s old Mark), and it’s as quiet as the previous Lexus LS400. The Continental gathers speed quickly behind a version of the 32-valve 4.6-liter V-8 found in the Lincoln Mark VIII. Here it makes 20 horsepower less, for a total of 260 hp, due to a more restrictive intake manifold. The redline is still 6500 rpm though, and the seamless power and distant exhaust bark remain intact. As with the Duratec V-6 found in the Ford Contour SE, the Lincoln motor requires no tuneups for its first 100,000 miles, thus earning the name “In Tech.”

Because this is the first transverse application of this engine, Lincoln had to upgrade the AX4S front-drive transmis­sion (from the Taurus SHO) with extra clutchplates, a stronger overdrive drum, and high-strength drive-chain pins to han­dle the V-8 engine’s torque. The electron­ically controlled four-speed automatic, now called the AX4N, bucks the latest wave and doesn’t offer “sport” or “economy” programs. But the gears are matched well enough to the engine’s broad-shouldered torque, and shifts occur with minimal driveline shock.

With this drivetrain, the Continental acquits itself about as well as any other luxury sedan—save Cadillac’s SLS. The Cadillac brushes off 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, the Lincoln does it in 7.5 seconds, and the new Lexus LS400 needs 7.8 sec­onds. The LS400, however, charges on to 156 mph, while the Lincoln’s governor allows it a 123-mph top end. The Caddy is reined in at a lazy 115 mph.

Not that many owners are likely to do it, but exploring that top speed reveals a governor that shuts off the thrust abruptly and lets the Continental coast for several seconds before it turns the engine back on. Those unfamiliar with this behavior might conclude that they had blown the engine for those few seconds.

To slow down intentionally, Lincoln has given the Continental four-wheel discs with anti-lock control, claiming they’re the biggest in the company. They stop it from 70 mph in a respectable 184 feet, but not without considerable fade.

The Continental has room to kick around, more than the Lexus LS400 in a cabin that’s just as handsome. This is easily the best-looking, most refined interior that Ford has ever produced. Soft leather laps over the seats, chrome accents are kept to a minimum, and the gauges are perfect knockoffs of the electroluminescent dials from you-know-who. Textures and sur­faces play off each other richly. The vel­vety carpeting, wood, and grained vinyl leatherette make it modern and mature in a way that other Lincoln interiors, like that of the disjointed Mark VIII, never have been.

LOWS: Close resemblance to the Mercury Grand Marquis, average returns from complex suspension.

Thoughtful touches abound without cluttering the cabin. The Continental has two programmable pushbutton memory profiles that hold the positions of seats, mirrors, and even set radio stations at the touch of a button. The umbrella that comes with each car has its own pocket on the pas­senger seatback, and its wood handle matches the burled walnut on the console. The rear seat is a place of honor. Pas­sengers sit high on firm, ideally tilted cush­ions and pillowy seatbacks. They have plenty of knee and headroom, plus equal­-height armrests. The Continental can be ordered as a five- or a six-passenger car. Five-placers get a center console with room for a CD changer, a cellular tele­phone, and fresh-air ducts for the back seat. Six-seaters have a mini-console and less accommodating split bench seats.

The most innovative feature is in the trunk, in the form of an optional $200 movable cart. Grab its handle and pull it forward, and you can neatly stow groceries between the spring­loaded dividers, or you can lower the dividers for a Pullman case. Then you can push the cart to the back of the trunk to stow two sets of golf clubs, or to the middle to line up another row of grocery bags. It’s clever and useful, and it only robs three cubic feet of room.

Granddad’s Mark had a dis­tinctive look. Okay, it was ugly. Crests of metal, sharp edges, a silly vertical grille that made an impression (literally, on an unlucky deer). It’s ironic, then, that the toothy shield on its nose is the most handsome detail of this Continental. It could be described as a more elegant Mercury Grand Marquis. Not a bad shape, but not particularly distinctive either, especially when compared with the sharply creased suit of today’s Caddy Seville. But luxury-­car buyers are notably conservative in their tastes.

Its suspension, on the other hand, is quite up-to-date. Like other luxury makers, Lincoln is pursuing computer­-controlled suspensions in its quest for the holy grail of good ride and handling. Except in the Continental, the driver can choose how they’d like the ride—fluffy like Granddad’s Mark IV or Euro-firm.

All the driver sees is a button on the dash that toggles between three ride modes: Plush, Normal, and Firm. Hidden from view are the complex workings of control arms, hydraulic suspension links, air springs, variable dampers, and wheel­-travel sensors. In each of the three modes, the dampers react to bumps by increasing their resistance during wheel deflection, but they react at different rates depending on the mode selected. Thus, when the wheel sensor detects a rapid vertical wheel movement (a bump) in Firm, it signals the computer to switch the dampers from their soft to their firm setting quickly; in Plush, the transition takes a few milliseconds longer, allowing the wheels to move freely before stiffening the ride.

This carnival of electronics ably han­dles impacts and road bruises—to a point. When set on Firm, the suspension trans­mits some minor impacts to the driver’s seat but tames most body motions quickly and, well, firmly. In Normal, the front end begins to float over imperfections, with the most reasonable combination of ride qual­ity and roll control. Choose Plush, though, and the Continental suffers from lots of wheel motion and a loose, disconnected feel.

The steering can also be tailored to the driver’s taste with three settings: Low, Normal, and Firm. (To prevent dartiness on the freeway, the computers will not accept the “Low” steering setting when the suspension is set to “Firm.”) When set on Low, the steering lacks feel, and it requires too much attention to pilot the car on rural two-lanes. The Firm setting produces incredible steering heft right off center and gets progressively worse. The Normal set­ting is agreeably quick and has a crisp on­-center position for the freeway forgetful.

At its best—steering in Normal, sus­pension in either Normal or Firm—the Continental is settled and obedient, if not a true sports sedan. There’s no grinding understeer as it corners to 0.79 g on the skidpad, it has good ride-motion control, and it has fairly swift response to inputs despite all the electronic gimcrackery. It behaves, but not with the effortlessly damped responses of a Mercedes E-class (with its comparatively straightforward multilink suspension), or even the sheer predictability of a Chrysler LHS.

VERDICT: Lincoln’s most rational claim to Lexus-style luxury.

Pulling even with the redoubtable LS400 is no easy task, and the new Continental hasn’t quite done it. But at a price that undercuts Lexus’s mid-line GS300, the Continental’s progress looks plenty good.



1995 Lincoln Continental
Vehicle Type: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan


Base/As Tested: $38,000/$44,000

DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 280 in3, 4601 cm3
Power: 260 hp @ 5750 rpm
Torque: 265 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm 

4-speed automatic


Suspension, F/R: struts/control arms
Brakes, F/R: 11.6-in vented disc/10.1-in disc
Tires: Michelin MXV4


Wheelbase: 109.0 in
Length: 206.3 in
Width: 73.3 in
Height: 55.9 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 54/49 ft3
Trunk Volume: 18 ft3
Curb Weight: 3980 lb


60 mph: 7.5 sec
1/4-Mile: 15.7 sec @ 89 mph
100 mph: 20.1 sec
120 mph: 39.8 sec
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 7.8 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 3.7 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 4.9 sec
Top Speed (gov ltd): 123 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 184 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.79 g 


Observed: 19 mpg

City/Highway: 17/24 mpg 


Source: Reviews -


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