The Continental, which resurrects a Lincoln nameplate not seen since 2002, comes with front- or all-wheel drive in four trim levels (Premiere, Select, Reserve and Black Label), with three available engines. Compare everything here. We drove a Select with the base engine and a Reserve with the top engine, both with all-wheel drive.

Exterior & Styling

If the Continental signals the next chapter of Lincoln design, Ford's tiny luxury brand could chart serious growth. Gone is the veined, split grille that characterizes most of Lincoln's lineup. Instead, the Continental wears a bold horizontal unit that's as much a statement for Lincoln as it is a rejection of the industry's obsession with gaping, pavement-to-hood grilles.

Likewise, the Continental doesn't adopt the rising beltlines of most sedans. Rather, Lincoln's flagship embodies a fresh, horizontal aesthetic from the lights to the profile. It all descends a bit in back, and some may find the tail too droopy, but at least it's different. Bravo, Lincoln. This is the brand's best-looking sedan since the early-2000s LS.

Oh, and it's big. Similar money buys a traditional mid-size luxury sedan — think BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Lexus GS — all of which the Continental dwarfs. At 201.4 inches long, it falls closer to those brands' full-size sedans. That's all too apparent in the Continental's turning circle, which ranges a great deal depending on driveline and wheel size. It can be as tidy as 35.4 feet or as boatlike as about 42 feet, by Lincoln's estimate. Make sure to test yours before buying.

How It Drives

The Continental's standard engine, a 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6, revs smoothly and offers spirited off-the-line power in the transmission's Sport mode, which quickens accelerator response and delays upshifts. (All engines use a six-speed automatic.) Two turbocharged V-6 engines are optional: a 2.7-liter with 335 hp and a 3.0-liter with 400 hp. We drove the latter, whose superfluous power gets intoxicating. By 2,000 rpm or so, a sustained right foot has the sedan hurtling forward with an urgency that rivals many sports cars. The six-speed automatic — free of the extra gears that thwart so many "advanced" transmissions — dispenses smooth upshifts and deft kickdowns, though one editor noted some hard shifts at low speeds. Forget the V-8; the next Ford Mustang GT should get this engine.

Get the Continental up to speed — it shouldn't take long — and it becomes a well-tempered cruiser. The standard adaptive suspension produces reverberation-free isolation, though I observed some floatiness over broken pavement in its comfort-oriented setting. A sportier drivetrain mode — which also affects the suspension — diminishes the float and firms things up noticeably, though it remains comfort-oriented overall.

Modest body roll and sloppy steering turn-in will keep you from attacking fun back roads, but the Continental holds its own in a pinch. Past the first few degrees, the steering wheel sharpens up to deliver lively feedback and quick directional adjustments. The chassis shows no signs of early understeer, and Lincoln's AWD maintains a degree of neutrality that reminded one editor of Acura's excellent Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive.

EPA-estimated combined gas mileage ranges from 19 to 21 mpg, depending on drivetrain. That's thirstier than many competitors, but the Continental makes up some ground by recommending, not requiring, premium gas. Lincoln says premium will maximize performance, but the cheap stuff is acceptable. Given the increasing upcharge on premium in recent years, that's an important distinction versus the luxury cars that require it.

Interior

The Continental's profile results in squat windows all around that sacrifice some visibility, which may have you wishing for taller glass. But the interior is an otherwise inviting place. Cabin materials are excellent, with upscale graining and soft-touch surfaces virtually everywhere — a consistency you don't always find, even at this price. Premium details abound, from chrome-ringed buttons to genuine leather-wrapped sections of the upper dashboard and doors. Even the steering wheel hub (not just the rim) comes draped in leather, and it looks stunning. From economy cars to luxury models, dashboard stitching is everywhere these days. Real cowhide is still a treat, and the Continental serves up plenty.

Cabin materials are excellent, with upscale graining and soft-touch surfaces virtually everywhere — a consistency you don’t always find, even at this price.

The base (Premiere) trim level has heated vinyl seats; higher trims get heated and ventilated seats with Lincoln's plush Bridge of Weir leather. Some may find the standard 10-way power seats too short on cushion length, but optional 24- and 30-way (yes, 30) leather seats rectify this. Our Reserve test car had the latter. We counted only 28 adjustments, something Lincoln reconciled via interesting accounting, but the 30-way chairs are still mighty comfortable, with integrated massagers to boot.

Legroom is abundant in back, with a comfortably high seating position and better headroom than the Continental's squat profile suggests. One caveat: Our test cars lacked Lincoln's optional panoramic moonroof, a feature that often sacrifices headroom. In a moonroof-equipped car at the Continental's auto-show debut, one editor deemed headroom limited.

Ergonomics & Electronics

The Continental has a standard 8-inch touchscreen with Sync 3, an intuitive multimedia platform shared with Ford. It's a cinch to use and sits above an intuitive spread of physical buttons, with raised switches for the climate controls and must-have knobs for volume and tuning. Lincoln has thankfully thrown its disastrous MyLincoln Touch multimedia system and touch-sensitive controls into the landfill of automotive history, but in cars like the MKC and MKX, the replacement controls seem like an eleventh-hour design change. The Continental's buttons appear conceived from the ground up; they're functional and elegant — a high point in the cabin.

Satellite radio and Android Auto are standard. Apple CarPlay, a navigation system, HD radio and two Revel premium audio systems of ascending complexity are optional. We spent the most time with the top, Revel, stereo, and editors agreed it sounds first-rate.

Cargo & Storage

For reasons that still flummox me, in-cabin storage often takes a backseat in luxury cars. Not so with the Continental, which stocks the center console with cubbies aplenty. Trunk volume, too, is a decent 16.7 cubic feet, and a 60/40-split folding rear seat with a small center pass-through — a rarity in big luxury cars — is standard. A power trunk lid is optional.

Safety

The Continental has not been crash-tested. A backup camera with front and rear parking sensors is standard, but forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking is unavailable on the Premiere trim level; it's just optional on higher trims, though many rivals offer it standard — as do cars as plebian as the Toyota flippin' Yaris. It's an important crash-avoidance feature, and Lincoln needs to make it standard.

Full-speed adaptive cruise control, 360-degree cameras, inflatable rear seat belts and auto-steering parking are also optional. So are blind spot and lane departure warning systems, the latter with corrective steering assist.

Value in Its Class

A front-drive Continental Premiere comes reasonably equipped for around $45,500, while a decked-out Black Label with everything from a custom-leather interior to power rear seats tops out at more than $80,000. With that sort of range, the Continental could appeal to everyone from luxury-value shoppers to the flagship-sedan crowd.

Lincoln doesn't appear to skimp on features and materials at the low end, which speaks volumes to the Continental's potential relevance for luxury shoppers of all stripes. But the fact that it can hold a candle — and a bright, shining one at that — to the reigning luxury flagships is most impressive. This is a big step forward for Lincoln. Luxury shoppers, take note.