Better than ever, but not a class leader.
by Jim McCraw
Base Price $41,300
As Tested $43,910
This newest generation Lincoln Town Car was designed in California two years ago with rounded lines and a trimmer, less formal look than before. Handling is better than ever. The Town Car offers a smooth ride and comfortable accommodations. Getting in and out is easy.
However, the competition from Cadillac and Japan is stiff.
Most Town Car buyers will choose from Signature Series ($40,630) and Cartier Series ($43,130) models. The Executive Series ($38,630) is sold primarily as a fleet car.
The base engine (available on the Executive and Signature Series) is a 205-horsepower 4.6-liter V8.
A more powerful 220-horsepower V8 with dual exhaust is standard on the Cartier and is available with the Touring Sedan option package on the Signature.
In addition to the stronger engine, the Signature Touring Sedan package gets larger 235/60R16 tires on unique 16-inch alloy wheels, a beefed-up torque converter in the transmission, a 3.55:1 rear-axle ratio for quicker acceleration, and revised springs, shock absorbers and stabilizer bars for a sportier ride. With more than 20 special parts designed to improve performance, the Touring Sedan package is well worth its $700 price.
For 2000, Lincoln has added the Cartier L, the first factory-produced long-wheelbase Town Car. The body is extended six inches at the factory, providing a more luxurious ride and more legroom in the rear cabin. Wider door openings, heated rear seats, a folding armrest with storage bins, rear audio and climate controls, mood lighting and a cigar-sized ashtray make this a luxurious ride for those with chauffeurs. An Executive Series version will also be produced as a limousine for the livery market.
The Town Car upholds the time-honored American luxury car formula of rear-wheel drive, a V8 engine, smooth ride, seating for six, a huge trunk, and lots of luxury amenities. The current design sports complex reflector headlamps and a pursed-lips grille, as well a chrome license plate surround and big corner-mounted tail lamps. It's 3.7 inches shorter than the previous generation, mainly from chopping the front overhang, and the base of the windshield has been moved forward 4 inches to produce a more swept shape for improved aerodynamics.
Our test car was a Signature Series with the Touring Sedan package. In addition to the potent performance tweaks, this version gets perforated leather seats, and a special black birds-eye woodgrain finish on the instrument panel and doors, and is available in seven colors.
Getting in and out of the Town Car is easy, and the front and rear passenger compartments are spacious, but there's not quite as much legroom as in the previous generation car. Also, the redesigned rear pillar makes the back seat cozier than before. Big, comfortable front bucket seats have power-adjustable lumbar support and two-position memory. Their side bolsters feature a new side-impact airbag system.
Nearly everything in the interior is new or improved, from the door panels to the instruments to the radio. In addition to the normal fuel and temperature gauges, the speedometer is now flanked by two small displays, one a message center, the other a compass. The system includes a redundant digital speedometer, but no tachometer. A new Alpine stereo with larger controls that are easier to use is standard. The steering wheel contains buttons for cruise control and the sound system. All minor controls are spread out across the huge dashboard, making them easy to reach and understand.
You may hear limousine drivers grouse that the trunk isn't as big as it was on the previous Town Car, but it is still capable of handling all but the most demanding duty, such as shuttling four people who don't believe in traveling light to the airport. Despite its vastness, lifting luggage into the trunk takes some effort.
One safety improvement we welcome is the addition of a child safety seat anchor in the back seat. One we hate is Belt Minder, which uses a chime sound and indicator light to reminds occupants to buckle up. This strikes us as the return of 1970s technology.
The 2000 Town Car feels glued to the road in a way that its predecessor could never match. One reason is a redesigned steering system with more expensive components that yield improved steering precision and feel. The air suspension system has new twin-tube shock absorbers. Another more costly improvement is the addition to the rear suspension of a Watt link, which connects the axle housing to the frame for improved handling and ride quality. Trailing arms also have been redesigned.
All this adds up to a much more pleasant ride. Handling is more predictable in lane-change maneuvers, without the momentary indecisiveness that characterized the old car. It still exhibits a bit more body roll and offers less grip than some of the European sedans, but overall it's quite competent.
The Town Car also is a quiet car. There's very little wind and road noise - the result of thicker glass and redesigned rearview mirrors and window pillars - and the engine emits a distant purr.
The Town Car lacks the acceleration of its fastest competitors, however. Its chief domestic opponent is Cadillac's new DeVille with its impressive Northstar engine. A number of top-notch European and Japanese cars compete in the $40,000 luxury-sedan bracket as well, including the Acura 3.5 RL, BMW 528i, Lexus GS 400, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Even with the Touring Sedan package, the 3.55:1 rear-axle ratio and 220 horsepower on tap, it just doesn't deliver the punch you would expect in a $40,000 car. Cadillac's DeVille offers 275 to 300 horsepower, a palpable difference. On the plus side, Lincoln's transmission is greatly improved over the old automatic, with quicker, more positive shifts. As with many automatics, the fourth-gear overdrive can be turned off for climbing and descending long grades.
Full-time all-speed traction control, which is standard, enhances control by reducing wheelspin under hard acceleration. The traction control system can be switched off for climbing out of snow banks or other special situations. The Town Car's brakes have been upgraded with bigger, thicker front discs and twin-piston calipers. With 25 percent more swept area (braking surface), the brakes are much less likely to fade when they get hot. Anti-lock brakes, which allow the driver to maintain steering control in panic stops, are standard.
However, in terms of its technical sophistication, the Town Car has not kept up with the advancements from Cadillac. It offers no navigation system and no electronic chassis control system like Cadillac's Stabilitrak.
With its huge cabin and trunk, the Lincoln Town Car is an attractive, appealing car. Its powertrain is smooth and refined, and the styling is more sensual and modern than any previous Town Car. Plus, many buyers prefer traditional rear-wheel-drive American luxury to the hoard of front-wheel drive products on the market.
Nevertheless, the Town Car lacks the power of some of its American and Japanese competitors. Some of the most cutting-edge technological advancements from its rivals are missing. In that light, the Lincoln Town Car seems like a more luxurious version of the very competent Mercury Grand Marquis - with a bigger price tag.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.