The last big rear-wheel-drive American luxury car.
by Jim McCraw
Base Price (MSRP) $39,145
As Tested (MSRP) $43,310
The Lincoln Town Car is the last of its kind. It's big. A powerful V8 engine drives the rear wheels. Handling is surprisingly good. And this enormous luxury cruiser has enough interior room to satisfy even the most long-legged passengers. It boasts a smooth ride, a cabin that's easy to get in to and out of, and a trunk that allows for a plethora of luggage.
Most Town Car buyers will choose from the Signature Series ($41,315) and the Cartier Series ($43,700) models. (There's also an Executive Series sold primarily as a fleet car.)
A 220-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 powers the Town Car. A more powerful 235-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 235/60SR16 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 $710 price.
Also available is the Cartier L ($48,510) long-wheelbase version. 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.
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.
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.
Getting in to and out of the Town Car is easy, and the front and rear passenger compartments are spacious. Big, comfortable leather-covered front bucket seats have power-adjustable lumbar support and two-position memory. Their side bolsters feature a side-impact airbag system.
Power-adjustable accelerator and brake pedals (standard) help drivers of all sizes get comfortable behind the wheel.
Lincoln's flagship, the Town Car interior has nearly every conceivable luxury feature. In addition to the normal fuel and temperature gauges, the speedometer is flanked by two small displays, one a message center, the other a compass. The system displays a digital speedometer.
The optional Alpine stereo has large controls that are easy to use. 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 old Town Car. But this Town Car is 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 due to the height of the trunk opening.
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. There's no navigation system available.
A new feature for 2001 is Lincoln's Complementary Maintenance program, which includes free scheduled maintenance for the first 3 years/36,000 miles.
The Town Car we tested felt glued to the road in a way that no old-fashioned, American luxury barge could ever match. One reason is a steering system with expensive components that yields excellent steering precision and feel. The air suspension system has twin-tube shock absorbers, which keeps an even balance between confident handling and a superior ride quality.
All this adds up to a very pleasant ride. Handling is predictable in lane-change maneuvers, without any momentary indecisiveness. The big Town Car exhibits a bit more body roll and offers less grip than some of the European sedans, but overall it's quite competent.
This car is quiet. 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 the Cadillac 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 5-Series, Lexus GS 430, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Even with the Touring Sedan package, the 3.55:1 rear-axle ratio and 235 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. In terms of its technical sophistication, the Town Car has not kept up with advancements from Cadillac, such as the Stabilitrak electronic chassis control system.
On the plus side, Lincoln's transmission is silky smooth, with quick, positive shifts. As with many automatics, the fourth-gear overdrive can be turned off for climbing and descending long grades.
Also, the Town Car comes with all-speed traction control, which helps the driver control the car by reducing wheelspin under hard acceleration. Traction control can be switched off for powering the car out of snow banks or other special situations.
The Town Car's brakes include big, thick front discs and twin-piston calipers, and are not likely to fade when they get hot. Its anti-lock brake system allows the driver to maintain steering control in panic stops.
With its huge cabin and trunk, the Lincoln Town Car is attractive, appealing, and practical. Its powertrain is smooth and refined, and the styling is more sensual and modern than any previous Town Car. Many drivers prefer traditional rear-wheel-drive American luxury to the hoard of front-wheel drive products on the market. With that in mind, it's in a class by itself.
Nevertheless, the Town Car lacks the power and cutting-edge technological advancements of some of its American and Japanese competitors. 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.