1998 Lincoln Town Car

By November 10, 1999
1998 Lincoln Town Car

If the new Town Car is any indication of Lincoln-Mercury's intent to change minds about what a luxury car should be, then they are well on their way toward attracting a new group of buyers. Lincoln-Mercury wants to keep all of its current customers — they give the Town Car one of the highest loyalty and repurchase rates in the industry. But, at the same time, the division wants to use the new Town Car to attract buyers away from other domestic and Japanese luxury brands.

Lincoln-Mercury plans to do this with fresh styling and a greatly improved driving experience achieved through better handling, better brakes and a more controlled ride quality.

The Lincoln Town Car is 85 percent new for 1998. While the designers, engineers and product planners have maintained the interior space and trunk space of the previous, boxlike Town Car, they have thrown away the rectilinear design, the square corners and some of the formality of the car. In its place is a new shape that owes something to the Jaguar, something to the Bentley, and quite a bit to Ford's New Edge design philosophy.

The car was designed at Ford's California facility and it shows. It's round, but it's not a jellybean; it's formal without being frumpy; it's trim, yet still substantial. It's the first all-new Town Car in eight years. And it's about time. As always, Cadillac's deVille is the arch rival for the Town Car, but nowadays there are a number of smaller European and Japanese cars in the $40,000 luxury sedan bracket: Acura 3.5 RL, BMW 528, and Mercedes-Benz E-class.

Walkaround

There are four versions of Town Car to choose from: the $38,500 Executive series sold primarily as a fleet car, the $40,150 Signature Series and the creme de la creme $42,500 Cartier series. When adjusted for equipment, these prices average $975 less than the price of the 1997 Town Car.

While each of the three basic series is progressively more loaded, the car is essentially an American-idiom luxury car with all that that implies: rear-wheel drive, V8 engine, smooth, quiet ride, seating for six, trunk room for four sets of golf clubs, and lots of comfort and power amenities. From its jewel-like headlamps and traditional grille back to its chrome license plate surround and massive corner-mounted taillamps, the Town Car has been carefully rethought for the trip into the 21st Century, but it's only fractionally smaller than the old barge. It's 3.7 inches shorter, and more than two inches of that is taken from the front overhang.

The most exciting news is the Signature Touring Sedan, which we drove. The Touring package comes with the more powerful 220-horsepower V8 engine with dual exhaust, larger 235/60R-16 tires on unique 16-inch alloy wheels, a special torque converter, a 3.55:1 rear-axle ratio for quicker acceleration, and revised springs, shock absorbers and stabilizer bars designed for a more sporting ride and handling feel. With more than 20 special parts designed to improve performance, the Touring package is worth every cent of its $500 cost. The Signature Touring Sedan comes in seven unique colors. Inside are perforated leather seating surfaces and a special black birdseye woodgrain finish on the instrument panel and doors.

Interior Features

Just about everything inside the car is new and improved, from the door panels to the instrument panels to the radio face to the switches and controls. The electronic instrument cluster of old has been eliminated. In its place is a new, smaller cluster featuring a centered speedometer flanked by fuel and temperature gauges.

Two small electronic windows on either side of the speedometer serve as the message center and compass. The system includes a redundant speedometer display, but no tachometer.

The old radio face has been replaced with larger and easier to use buttons and controls. Below is the control center for the climate control system. Nothing is difficult to reach or understand, and the controls are not crowded together.

Front and rear passenger compartments are huge. A new rear pillar design makes the rear seat cozier than the old car without being smaller. The big, thick seats are comfortable and the power front bucket seats offer lumbar support and two-position memory. For safety and convenience, the steering wheel contains buttons for cruise control and the sound system.

We noticed a marked improvement in interior noise over the previous model. The windshield has been moved forward four inches and gooseneck mirrors have been designed to generate less wind noise. The glass is thicker, there are triple seals on the doors, and the pillars have been designed to cancel noise. This is as quiet as Marcel Marceau.

Driving Impressions

Even with the Touring package, 3.55:1 rear-axle ratio and 220 horsepower on tap, the Town Car Signature Series lacks the strong performance of some of its competitors. With its 282 cubic-inch engine, it just doesn't get away from a stoplight like a $40,000 car should these days. It's not that it's slow, but its chief competition has 275 horsepower, a palpable increase.

Transmission feel and function are greatly improved over the 1997 Town Car, with shifts that take only 0.6 seconds as opposed to 1.2 seconds in the old car. The fourth gear overdrive can be switched off for climbing and descending long grades. The full-time all-speed traction control can also be switched off for climbing out of snow banks or other special situations.

What most veteran Town Car owners will notice on their first drive are the vastly improved steering and suspension. Ford has redesigned the steering system with more expensive components– replacing bushings with bearings, for instance–that give improved steering precision and feel. The air suspension system boasts new twin-tube shock absorbers; and the Touring Package comes with shocks that are 50 percent larger for a less floaty, less jarring ride. Another more expensive solution is the rear suspension that uses a new Watts linkage between the axle housing and the frame designed to improve both handling and ride quality–usually mutually exclusive goals. The trailing arms have also been redesigned to be parallel to the frame. All this adds up to a much more pleasant ride. The 1998 Town Car feels glued to the road. Handling is much more predictable in lane-change maneuvers, without the momentary indecisiveness that characterized the old car.

Brakes have been upgraded with bigger, thicker front discs and new twin-piston calipers. With 25 percent more swept area, the new brakes are less likely to fade away when hot, such as excessive use in the mountains. We weren't happy with the brakes on the 1997 model and are pleased to see brakes that will take a great deal of Even with the Touring package, 3.55:1 rear-axle ratio and 220 horsepower on tap, the Town Car Signature Series lacks the strong performance of some of its competitors. With its 282 cubic-inch engine, it just doesn't get away from a stoplight like a $40,000 car should these days. It's not that it's slow, but its chief competition has 275 horsepower, a palpable increase.

Transmission feel and function are greatly improved over the 1997 Town Car, with shifts that take only 0.6 seconds as opposed to 1.2 seconds in the old car. The fourth gear overdrive can be switched off for climbing and descending long grades. The full-time all-speed traction control can also be switched off for climbing out of snow banks or other special situations.

What most veteran Town Car owners will notice on their first drive are the vastly improved steering and suspension. Ford has redesigned the steering system with more expensive components– replacing bushings with bearings, for instance–that give improved steering precision and feel. The air suspension system boasts new twin-tube shock absorbers; and the Touring Package comes with shocks that are 50 percent larger for a less floaty, less jarring ride. Another more expensive solution is the rear suspension that uses a new Watts linkage between the axle housing and the frame designed to improve both handling and ride quality–usually mutually exclusive goals. The trailing arms have also been redesigned to be parallel to the frame. All this adds up to a much more pleasant ride. The 1998 Town Car feels glued to the road. Handling is much more predictable in lane-change maneuvers, without the momentary indecisiveness that characterized the old car.

Brakes have been upgraded with bigger, thicker front discs and new twin-piston calipers. With 25 percent more swept area, the new brakes are less likely to fade away when hot, such as excessive use in the mountains. We w

Summary

Lincoln's new Town Car is an appealing choice with its huge cabin and trunk and bulletproof engine and transmission. The new styling looks sexier than the previous model from all angles. And the Town Car looks even better when you consider that prices are about the same as last year. In a world of front-drive cars, the new Lincoln is a traditional rear-wheel-drive American luxury car. We predict the new Town Car will be a big hit. And we think the success of the Touring models will surprise Lincoln-Mercury.

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