San Francisco: I can't say I was eager to test
the new Lincoln Town Car. Sure, like a good auto journalist I'll try anything and give my
honest opinion, but the Town Car? That's a car for my parents' generation.
As it turns out, the average Town Car buyer is fiercely loyal
60 percent are repeat buyers and 65 percent won't even look at anything else. Three
quarters of Town Car customers are retired, but they still have relatively high household
incomes. No surprise since the average age of buyers is 70 years old.
I was expecting a huge, comfortable car and I was not disappointed
when my Silver Birch Clearcoat Metallic Town Car came into view. The Town Car has received
substantial upgrades for 2003, but it still shows the long, opulent look it has worn for
decades. The grille has more chrome this year, and the hood, fenders, and quarter panels
are revised. The tail end styling got tweaked too, with a higher trunk line. And to the
joy of many, the classic hood ornament is back!
The interior retains its massive sofa rear seat and generously
proportioned front bench with room for a center front passenger, if three couples want to
go bowling. The armrests are wide, and the dash, big as a tree trunk, is half covered in
walnut burl appliqué.
The steering wheel sports two fat spokes filled with handy buttons
for the cruise control and the audio system. At 132.9 cubic feet, the interior volume
rivals that of my first apartment, but it is much more nicely furnished.
Lincoln sells the Town car in three levels - nice, very nice, and
exquisite. Represented in ascending order by the Executive, Signature, and Cartier series.
The Executive and Cartier are also available in "L" models, which have a
six-inch longer wheelbase and offer more rear legroom than any other car on the road today
at 47 inches. These cars are not stretched versions, but are built extra long from
scratch. My test Lincoln was a Cartier L, and believe me you could go camping in the back
The Executive is the starter level Lincoln, favored by commercial
customers. About 25 percent of Town Car sales are Executive models, as Lincoln supplies
three quarters of the limousine market. Prices start at $41,040.
The Signature is the middle range, and accounts for just over half
of all Town Car acquisitions. The Cartier models reside at the top, with Cartier badging
and every imaginable feature tucked into the mix. One out of five Town Car buyers takes a
Cartier model home. Signatures start at $45,015, Cartiers begin at $46,010, and the
Cartier L tops out at $51,470.
It could almost be easier to list what isn't in the Cartier L than
what is in it. There is no back porch or hot tub, for example. As an automobile nothing
appears to be missing, except a navigation system. In every Town Car there is power
running the windows, mirrors, doors, and seats. The dual-zone automatic climate control
lets front passengers select their own temperature and fan settings. Rear seat passengers
get vanity mirrors that fold down from the ceiling. The headlamps turn on at dusk all by
Of course, the Signature and Cartier models get lots of extras, like
a wood and leather steering wheel and a memory system that recalls the seat, mirror, and
adjustable pedal settings for two drivers. The rear seat amenities package adds redundant
audio and climate controls, extra lighters and ashtrays, and controls to move the front
passenger seat forward or backward. In the Cartier L the rear seats are even heated.
My favorite feature of all though is the automatically opening and
closing trunk lid. Push a button on the remote control key fob and the trunk opens
completely. Push it again and, even more surprising, it closes itself tight with an
electric whir. That trunk, with 21.1 cubic feet of storage, has a 7.8-inch wider opening
this year for easier loading and unloading.
Another worthwhile feature is the delicate chime that sounds if you
leave the turn signal on for more than half a mile. It is a fine reminder, but it won't do
much for drivers who can't hear the turn signal itself.
Driving the Town Car was a big surprise. Thanks to a thorough
redoing of the car's frame, steering, brakes, and front suspension, the handling is
remarkably controlled and precise, while the comfort is greater than ever.
Despite incredible isolation from the road, the Town Car doesn't
handle like anything nautical. Its 239-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 pulls nicely in nearly
perfect silence. And, miracle of miracles, the Government rates the fuel consumption for
this aircraft carrier of cars at 17 city, 25 highway. That's on regular gas too.
The numerous changes wrought to the Lincoln under the body are
extremely important. The new rack and pinion steering brings the feel of a smaller,
lighter car. The boxed section frame rains are lighter, stronger, and more uniform than
the welded steel channels of old. The noise and vibration reduction is welcome, even in an
already quiet car.
While no one would mistake the Lincoln for anything out of Germany,
Japan, or Sweden, the traditional floaty ride and over assisted controls are history. Now
someone half the age of the target demographic can enjoy driving a Town Car, while the
true believers can buy the size, looks, and comfort that has kept them loyal for so long.