Corporate policy for business rentals limits me in the US to a Group B car, which means about as small as you can get. For local trips this is fine, but even more so in America than in Europe, if planning to embark on a longer journey, an upgrade really is called for. Being a Hertz Gold customer does entitle me to a no-charge one class upgrade (I think it is assumed we will all get this which is why the corporate policy is so mean!) but on this trip, based out of Chicago, I really needed more, since as well as making client visits in the Schaumburg area, only a few miles from O’Hare airport, I had a meeting in Grand Rapids, in Michigan, and had concluded that it would be almost as fast to drive there as to fly once you factored in all the hanging around at airports. So when I landed on a Wednesday evening, I was keen to see what I could secure that would be more comfortable and relaxing than a regular sedan. The answer came in the form of a Lincoln Town Car. Surprisingly, given the longevity of this model, I’d not drive one before, so was doubly pleased to score this for a notional upgrade price.
The Town Car is indeed a long-lived machine in its current form. The current version, the third generation to bear the name made its debut in 1997, once again a close relative (underneath) of the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis. All three were based on an updated version of the Panther platform, which retained a traditional body on frame construction with rear wheel drive and a lazy V8 engine to power it. The styling was all new, much more rounded off than the very straight-edged car it replaced, and the car gained width and height though lost three inches in length. The Lincoln was positioned very much as a luxury vehicle, a rival to the Cadillac De Ville, and more recently the DTS. With Lincoln sales falling behind those of the rival GM brand, a number of changes were made to the Town Car. To improve the cornering stability of the Town Car, a Watt’s linkage was fitted to the solid rear axle suspension (a change also seen in its Mercury and Ford counterparts). The front brake calipers were changed to a larger dual-piston design; 16-inch wheels became standard. For 2003, the chassis of the Town Car was extensively redesigned and changes were made to the tuning of the suspension. The steering system was changed from a recirculating-ball to a rack-and-pinion configuration and the power output of the modular V8 engine edged up from 200 bhp to a heady 239 bhp of the current cars. Some detailed changes were made to the body in 2003 with a new grille being a recognition point and a revised interior was fitted, more clearly differentiated from the Grand Marquis. Equipment levels have gradually improved over the years, too, and there has been shuffling of the available trims, but in essence the Town Car is 2007 is very similar to that of 10 years earlier. The rest of the market has not stood still in that time, with plenty of new models, that have come in the interim. Sales have been falling steadily every year and in 2006, with just under 40,000 sold, they were less than half of what they had been in 1998 and a third of the volume achieved in 1994. Nonetheless, the Town Car has its fans, especially among the chauffeur drive and livery sector and also in the rental fleets where it is offered as a luxury sedan, in the same category as its closest rival, the Cadillac DTS. I sampled that earlier in the year, so was interested to see how the Lincoln would compare.
Power for the Town Car comes from a 4.6 litre V8 engine, coupled to a four speed automatic gearbox driving the rear wheel. It develops 239 bhp and this is a large and heavy car, so it is not a surprise to discover that it is not all that fast. It was never intended to be. The philosophy here was much about a lazy unstressed engine which can go on and on and on, and the fact that these cars are frequently bought as chauffeur driven limousines and private hire taxis, covering massive mileages is testament to that. You will have to put with a considerable appetite for fuel, but then in the US, gas, as they call it, is relatively cheap, so the owner or operator probably does not care. Start the Lincoln up and there is a muted rumble from the 8 cylinders which is quite appealing even if this is nothing like the sort of sound that you usually get from a more sportingly oriented V8 machine. Slip it into Drive, using the column mounted selector, and leave it there. None of these modern flappy paddles feature here, the Town Car is all about effortless motoring. There is actually a decent turn of speed and you can get pretty reasonable accelerator out of it, but that will require you to rev the engine hard, and whilst it proves in its application in the related Ford Crown Vic in police car duty that it can do this, your ears would probably rather that it did not have to. Whilst the four speed transmission is decidedly old school these days, it is smooth in operation and does change down when required, and you will probably barely aware that it has even done so. At a steady freeway cruising speed, noise levels are muted, so this is a relaxed car in which to travel across a State or two, which is exactly what I did when I drove from Chicago around the bottom of Lake Michigan to Grand Rapids, and back, for a business meeting, in a day, some 9 hours behind the wheel.
Thankfully, most of that journey entailed straight roads, as the Lincoln does these far better than bendy ones. The steering is very light and lacking much in the way of feel, which certainly makes the car easy to manoeuvre and especially to park (well, apart from the sheer size of the thing, of course), but couple that with the very soft suspension and this is not a car that will have you seeking out the twisty roads, as there is not that much grip and there is plenty of body roll and plenty of understeer. Whilst ABS and traction control are standard equipment, the chassis and suspension are completely devoid of any type of electronic yaw control system like almost all of its price and class competitors have, and it offers no electronically variable shock absorbers like those that come on the Cadillacs. The braking system features 12.0-inch ventilated discs in front, 11.5-inch ventilated discs at the rear, with stiff twin-piston calipers a large vacuum booster. This is a 4500lb car, so it needs something powerful to stop it and as such, following an upgrade to the system from 2003, the Town Car comes with Brake Assist, which delivers maximum braking force when it detects quick, hard brake pedal inputs. ABS is, of course, standard. Brake pads are formulated not only for long wear but to produce less dust, so owners who insist on immaculate wheels may not have to wash them as frequently. That lot all notwithstanding, I thought the brakes seemed a bit questionable, too, something which I have noted with other large Ford Motor Company products I’ve driven. There is a foot operated parking brake, in true American tradition. All round visibility is not bad and there are rear parking sensors to help you to judge where the rear of the car finishes. You do have to remember that this is a big car with a lot of length both in front of you and behind you.
The interior of the Town Car could only really be American, too. Plenty of leather and faux wood features, in an attempt to make it look like a luxury car, but the overall design means that even if you are convinced, you would never think of it as luxury 2007-style. There is a full width dash moulding with a large inlay of highly polished wood-effect plastic. The instruments are inset in a rectangular area in front of the driver with traditional round dials for the speedometer and – finally added to the spec from 2006 – rev counter, and a digital display area between them for trip computer data using a sort of dot matrix style that looks about 20 years old. There is one chunky column stalk on the left of the wheel, for indicators and lights, as there is no room on the right as this is where you find the transmission selector. Lights operate from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. The centre of the dash contains a small analogue clock and then a single panel which contains the audio unit and climate control system. The audio unit has AM/FM radio, and a CD slot and is operated by a series of buttons, repeaters for which are provided inset into the steering wheel boss, where you also find the cruise control buttons and below it are the climate control buttons. They all push buttons with no rotary dial in sight fro a dual zone automated system which kept me cool as I made my long journey on a warm summers day. The dash ends at this point, rather than continuing down to a centre console.
The Town Car features a key pad on the door above the door handle, as well as the more conventional remote central locking. When you open the door and behold all the cream leather that looks slightly ruched, and install yourself, it is a case of getting comfortable. And there are plenty of things to move so as to get the perfect driving position. The seats are electrically powered, with buttons on the door arranged in the shape of the seat which allow you to power back and forth, up and down and to set the backrest rake in 8-ways and there is also a lumbar support adjustment. There is electric adjustment of the column and also the pedals. With everything duly set, I installed myself in a rather large and squashy seat, wondering how comfortable it would prove to be over a long journey. And the answer that it is very comfortable indeed. There is a massive central armrest, if you want it, which otherwise breaks what is more or less like a bench seat. You could put a third person in here, if you needed, though I am not sure how comfortable they would be.
The back seats probably matter more in this car than most, as when in private hire mode, this is where the paying occupants are going to be. The Town Car is long, so you’d expect plenty of space here, and that is what you get, though it is perhaps not as roomy as you might imagine if the front seats are set well back. There is a fairly sizeable central tunnel, so whilst there is ample width across the car for three, a middle seat occupant would find that they needed to place their legs astride this. There is a large drop down armrest with a pair of cupholders in the front part and there are a pair of air vents on the rear face of the centre console.
The boot looks as if it should be massive from the outside, but open the lid and you will be a little bit surprised to discover that it is not as big as you were expecting. There is a very deep part at the back of the car but then a massive step up so that around half of the floor area only has half the height of the rest of it. The spare wheel is mounted behind a cover, upright, on the right hand side of the car, filling the space between the wheelarch and the rear of the car and on the left hand side of the car this area is raised compared to the deep central well. So in absolute capacity terms there is plenty of space here, but depending on the size and shape of your luggage you may or may not be able to take full advantage of it. Inside the cabin there is a reasonable glove box, a large cubby under the central armrest and there are both bins on the doors and a lidded recess under the armrests on the doors, Those in the back get small bins on the doors and map pockets in the back of the rear seats.
Unchanged much in recent years, the 2007 Lincoln Town Car comes in four distinct trim levels, starting with the Signature level. The Signature is available in regular- or long-wheelbase (called the L) form, while the Signature Limited and Designer are only available with the regular wheelbase. Signature is a fully equipped luxury car, with premium leather seating surfaces, eight-way power driver and passenger seats with power lumbar support, dual-zone electronic automatic temperature control, overhead console, extended rear park assist, 17-inch 12-spoke machined alloy wheels, dual-power remote-control heated outside mirrors with auto-dimming on the driver’s side, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, power-adjustable pedals, driver and passenger front dual-stage and side-impact airbags, CD player, remote fuel filler door release, remote keyless entry system, keyless entry keypad on driver door, automatic parking brake release, SecuriLock passive anti-theft ignition key system, speed control, steering wheel-mounted audio/climate controls, power pull-down trunk lid, SmartLock anti-lockout system and universal garage door opener. Options are limited to white-sidewall tyres ($125), a premium dual-media sound system ($195), and some extra-cost paint colours. Signature Limited adds Soundmark audiophile dual-media sound system; leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel with wood inserts and audio, speed and climate controls; full power trunk with key fob open and close; memory driver’s seat, pedals and mirrors; heated front seats; and its own 17-inch, 10-spoke machined alloy wheels, The full range of options (see below) becomes available. Designer adds chrome trim on the B-pillar, door handles, and its unique 18-spoke wheels. Provence leather seating surfaces, adjustable rear head restraints, and two-tone door panels brighten its interior. Signature L begins with Signature-level equipment and adds folding front and rear arm rests with storage; a rear seat amenities package with dual power points, four-way rear head restraints, tissue bin, illuminated cigar lighter, heated rear seats and remote controls for audio, climate and front passenger seat. A heavy-duty front anti-roll bar helps compensate for its six-inch longer wheelbase.
In purely objective terms, the Town Car is outclassed technically by pretty much any rival you can think of. With the market shifting towards Crossovers, falling sales and a need to rationalise production facilities where the car is made, it is no surprise to learn that Lincoln plan to cease production imminently and will not provide a direct replacement, steering customers towards the MKT, a sort of estate cum crossover based on the Ford Flex. Quite how the repeat buyers of the Town Car, the livery and chauffeur services companies will take to that remains to be seen. There are plenty of private owners who, according to the internet, remain equally enthusiastic about the car and around 60% of current sales of the car are to repeat customers. Meanwhile, those who want to experience a real slice of Americana, with a car that conforms to the many stereotypes that Europeans have of US motoring, with a lazy V8 engine in a large and roomy body, soft wallowy suspension and some interior decor of slightly questionable taste, then the remaining Town Cars in the rental fleets are for you. I am glad I was able to experience it, and the trip I made in it, covering a couple of states in a day showed it at its best. Long live Americana!