Funny (true) story: last December, at a holiday party at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, I found myself speaking to none other than Lincoln Motor Company President Kumar Galhotra. After the requisite “nice to meet you” small talk, I asked the Lincoln president if he felt that customers were at all disappointed that the 2017 Lincoln Continental was not a rear-wheel drive sedan like so many of the Continentals of yore.
The abridged version of Mr. Galhotra’s response was essentially: “Journalists? Yes. Customers? No.”
Mr. Galhotra has a point. Enthusiasts – and by extension, journalists – shape the world of automotive literature. They are the ones who kept the seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette on the cover of Car and Driver magazine for so many months after its release, and those for whom Ford Performance continues to introduce manual-transmission-only sportscars, but they are not the ones who play the biggest part in shaping the automotive industry. Ordinary customers do that.
The powers that be were wise to chase luxury over performance in the 2017 Lincoln Continental, even if that means ruffling the feathers of a few rear-wheel drive purists. We doubt the average well-to-do Lincoln Continental owner will even notice – much less care – as he or she cruises down the interstate in an isolated cabin of “quiet luxury.” In fact, Mr. Kumar Galhotra remarked to me that in his experience, many customers of luxury brands like Audi and Mercedes-Benz couldn’t even tell you whether their cars were front, rear, or all-wheel drive.
If the 2017 Lincoln Continental does its job well, owners of that car won’t feel overly compelled to pay heed to such details, either. It’s a vessel aimed at those who appreciate the finer things in life – tranquillity, craftsmanship, comfort – over those unsophisticated juveniles whose car conversations routinely devolve into numerical boasts and exhaust note comparisons. So long as the new Lincoln Continental doesn’t take an exorbitant amount of time to reach cruising altitude or struggle to round corners more acute than 120 degrees, who besides the fanatical nerd cares about such things?
No one. Of course, until we drive the 2017 Lincoln Continental ourselves, we can’t be certain that it will check the above boxes, delivering basic, liveable performance, but the options of all-wheel drive and a 400 horsepower 3.0-liter V6 bode well. What we do know is that the cabin is a tremendously comfortable, pleasant place to be, rivalling the overall niceness of German rivals with premium leather, available 30-way adjustable seats, and plenty of noise-impeding features.
It may not be the large, rear-wheel drive boat of yesteryear, but the 2017 Lincoln Continental represents an intriguing flagship for Ford’s luxury brand. Welcome back, Conti.