1998 Lincoln Continental
1998 Lincoln Continental. Click image to enlarge

It would be fair to call 1998 the year of chrome for the since-discontinued Lincoln Continental luxury sedan. Chrome, said Lincoln officials at the time, is like jewellery to Lincoln buyers. Perhaps. What we can be certain of is that the added chrome to the updated 1998 Continental did not spell this model’s demise. No, the problem was that the Continental, completely remade in 1995, competed in a fantastically crowded field of excellent cars.

Its front-wheel drive chassis, soft handling and lack of “ooh, and ahh” features just weren’t enough – not against the Audi A6 (new also for ’98), BMW 540i, Volvo S90, Buick Park Avenue Ultra, Cadillac Seville, Infiniti Q45, Lexus GS300/400 (also new for ’98) and even the Mercedes-Benz E420.

So with the start of the 2003 model year, the Continental was cancelled. Still, the Continental name has a long and powerful history at Ford Motor Co. and it seems reasonable to assume a new luxury Lincoln model will someday wear the Continental badge. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you want a Continental, you’ve got to find a used one. The good news is that these cars have not held their value particularly well, so there are deals to be had. Quality has been okay (few serious documented service issues and only a small handful of safety recalls), so if you’re looking for an older but not old luxury sedan, the Continental has something to offer.

Still, I’d recommend a 1998-2002 version, rather than a 1995-97. Lincoln did enough to update the Continental to make this a reasonably sound buy.

For 1998, aside form the added chrome, Lincoln gave the Continental a much more tidy, elegant look. The front was given much less overhang and high-tech reflector-style headlamps were made to deliver better illumination. The bottom of the windshield was moved forward almost 13 cm for a dramatic slant, also. And there were new taillamps and a re-styled rear deck.

The new front fenders, hood and rear decklid were created from Saturn-like plastic, which means fewer minor dings and dents and no rust at all in places often whipped in winter by road salt, salt air and sand. Take note, used car buyers.

Inside, the ’98 Continental was given a look and feel more fitting for what was a $50,000 new car. The cabin rolled off the assembly line with bird’s eye maple trim and sumptuous leather upholstery, along with a material that appeared to be a textured suede covering for the dashboard. Very dressy. Overall, the ’98 Continental’s cabin is a noteworthy improvement over the 1997. The roomy seats should remain comfortable in an older car and the three-dimensional luminescent gauges should continue to sparkle.

Funny enough, with the ’98 changes, the Continental was given slightly less back seat room. Moreover, the ’98 Continental has about five per cent less interior room than its main domestic competitor, the Seville.

Standard safety features include anti-lock braking and traction control, as well as a pair of front airbags and a theft deterrent system. Some Continentals were sold with the optional SecuriTire system and run-flat tires.

If you take a used Continental out for a test drive, look for what was the optional Driver Select system. It employs computer electronics to adjust the power steering and suspension to any one of nine combinations. There were other electronic features in this version of the Continental (e.g., a Memory Profile system) that should be checked carefully in a used car.

Power? For ’98 the Lincoln engineers tuned the already very good 4.6-litre V8. Unfortunately, power goes to the front wheels, which is not what many luxury sedan buyers want and expect.

Lincoln polished up the ’98 Continental and then did very little to update it until the car went away. Look for bargains if you’re shopping.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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