What's New for 1998
Lincoln's front-wheel-drive luxo-barge gets a bigger grille (just what it needs) and rounded corners. It also gets an interior freshening that replaces the digital clock with an analog timepiece.
Luxury means different things to different people. For some, unparalleled comfort is the definition of the term. Others look for excellence in engineering. Some prefer distinct styling or confident performance. The new Continental blends certain of these elements into one convincing package, but the result is a rather bland sedan that doesn't stand out from the crowd the way a BMW 540i or Cadillac Seville does.
A V8 engine and multi-adjustable suspension are two of the highlights of the Continental. The engine is the familiar 4.6-liter In-Tech motor from the Town Car and Mark VIII, producing 260 horsepower in this application. The suspension setup offers three settings: firm, normal and soft. Soft gives passengers a floaty, well-isolated ride, while firm stiffens the suspension for spirited driving.
Electroluminescent gauges, just like those on a Lexus, keep the driver informed, and the quality of the interior materials and textures is first rate. The cabin seems somewhat small, but the rear seat still offers limo-like room, just like the previous Continental. Outside, the influence of the Mark VIII is quite evident in the sloping hood, front styling and bulging side sheetmetal. We find the new shape to be somewhat homely, though from the rear quarter view the car is stunning.
Lincoln concentrated on safety for the 1997 Continental, and introduced some neat gadgets that deserve mention again this year. An optional Personal Security Package includes run-flat Michelin tires mounted on special chrome alloy wheels, a garage door opener and a sophisticated global satellite rescue system. The tires are designed to travel up to 20 miles at 50 mph with no loss of steering or control if they go flat. Slowing down will increase the distance they can travel. A new transmitter system can learn up to three garage and security system codes. But the big news is the Remote Emergency Satellite Cellular Unit (RESCU). Mounted in the overhead console are two buttons. One of them links the driver to roadside assistance. The other links the driver to medical or law enforcement personnel. The system transmits the Vehicle Identification Number of the car, as well as its location to within 100 feet via a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS). The driver, or passengers,can use the telephone in the console to talk with operators who respond to the signal put out by the RESCU system. This is probably the most important safety innovation since airbags and antilock brakes. In addition to the RESCU system, Lincoln adds a singe-key locking system to the Continental.
New for 1998 is rounded sheetmetal at all four corners, a longer rear deck, an even bigger grille and a restyled interior that includes a new clock.
Is the Continental worthy of inclusion in the over $40,000 luxury car class? Yes, particularly when equipped with the RESCU system. However, more distinctive styling would go a long way towards making the Continental more palatable.