The best way to get to the airport’ That’s a stretch.

by Marty Padgett

Some auto reporters are on a mission: questing for a rock-’em, sock-’em, robotically precise driving experience that bashes your kidneys as if they were a Florida election official on The O’Reilly Factor.

Now, in the face of blade-sharp machinery like a Miata, MR2 Spyder, or XKR, I’m all about that, too. But as my commutes to the airport get more frequent, and the drudgery of sitting in traffic only to sit on the runway hits home (“We’re number 24 for takeoff”?), I find myself strangely attracted to the likes of the Lincoln Town Car - specifically, the stretched Cartier L edition they extruded last model year.

If you’re looking for companionship, human or machine, you’ll have to hit redial for that last 900 number you punched “by mistake.” The whole experience of driving one of these leviathan, happily retrograde machines is one of insularity. The engine emits no more than a distant hum, the steering maintains a sense of professional detachment, and rear-seat passengers, farther away than ever, can be seen in the rear view mirror but rarely heard. (The obverse is also true, for those of us lucky enough to be chauffered everywhere, like my 10-year-old niece, whose volume of social appointments exceeds my own by a factor of four.)

All of this makes the Town Car the ideal open-highway car - an executive perk to shuttle the elite back and forth, even up and down the East Coast if need be. At the same time it’s hardly ideal for around-town driving. The fenders are way, way out there, making parking a Leonard Nimoy mystery at every turn, and spaces wide enough to accommodate the Townie are rare, even in the big-box shopping centers and early-bird eateries where you usually find these creatures and their aging pilots.

There’s a reason why limousine makers love this car, and it’s the same reason you should shop somewhere else if you like your cars nimble and playful.

Back-seat finagling

You may look at the picture above and think we’ve been playing with Photoshop. While we will confess to doctoring our own bio pics (version 5.0 and still, no de-wrinkle command, drat), we haven’t messed with the Town Car’s lines - Lincoln has. Last year, the Town Car received the kind of implant that some drivers may be pondering for their own physiognomy. A total of six inches are added between the wheels of “L” models, granting it a lascivious amount of room fore and aft, all without any accompanying stretch marks.

Whether you’re invisible middle management or a Dallas Maverick or both, the rear seat is the place to be. You could hold a board meeting for dot-coms in the back seat, and they’d be able to drown out the frenzy with stereo and climate controls sutured into the rear-seat armrest. With acres of leg room, the only thing holding you back from total peasant-slapping luxury is the somewhat middling grade of trim. Sure there’s leather, wood and plush carpet, but for a vehicle hovering right under $50,000, we’d like to see finer finishes and woollier carpets.

The only thing holding you in, unfortunately, are the three-point seatbelts and the rear armrest. Passengers have an alarming tendency to shift during flight. One sharp turn of the wheel and you can put them in each other’s laps - great for prom night, not so great while you’re trying to make your cell phone and your PDA make nice with each other.

Cartier fixin’s

The Town Car is truly a tale of two cars. If by dint of employment you’re the one stuck in the front half, you’ll find enough power and luxury features to keep you occupied while your boss entertains his boss/clients/mistresses.

The engine is the same 4.6-liter V-8, now upped to 235 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque in Cartier models (the Executive and Signature series stand down with 220 hp). A four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive is standard, along with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and traction control standard. Other safety equipment includes dual front and side airbags, an emergency release in the trunk, adjustable foot pedals, and the ISOFIX child safety-seat mounting system in the rear seat.

For the mass it’s pulling, the powertrain does an admirable job, without wheeze or fuss. You can even tow a ton of trailer if you’re so inclined. A five-speed automatic would help to keep the engine in its powerband longer, though - and on paper, it would look better for international bragging rights.

Handling? Um, yes, it has handling. As you’d expect, the added length does nothing for response times. The longed-out Cartier steers sluggishly, with sharp movements taking a few steps to make themselves known. Body roll is generous. The ride is creamy, though, as if the car were a sedan chair, with folks underneath using their legs to cushion the way over unduly harsh surfaces.

As for the name-dropping within its own name, the Town Car’s Cartier edition doses the vehicle with the customary gold trim, cutesy analog clock and like-minded killer pimp accoutrements. More useful are the killer Alpine sound system with DSP, which is supposed to give you the impression you’re listening to music in a concert hall. Which, of course, you are.

Now that Namibia’s been commercialized (trekking there? How 1998...) and even North Korea has shown signs of wanting to join our secret club, decoder ring and all, the Town Car’s back seat might be your last chance to get away from it all. Just make sure to tick off the option that will make that all the more easier.

That’d be the optional hearse package.

2001 Lincoln Town Car Cartier L

Base price: $49,230
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 235 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Length/width/height: 221.3 x 78.2 x 58.0 in
Wheelbase: 123.7 in
Curb weight: 4200 lb (est.)
EPA city/highway: N/A
Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control
Major standard equipment: leather seating surfaces, automatic climate control, anti-lock brakes, traction control, front and side airbags, and memory seating, heated seats, chrome wheels and, of course, a Cartier clock
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

© 2000 The Car Connection


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