March 3, 2012 - Drew Dowdell - CheersandGears.com
September 15th, 2011 marked the end of an era as the last full size body on frame car rolled off the line a Ford Crown Victoria destined for sale in Saudi Arabia. Just 16 days prior, the last Lincoln Town Car rolled off the line with no press or fanfare from Ford. The Lincoln Town Car along with its Ford and Mercury Panther chassis sisters failed to evolve with the environment and have now gone extinct.
The Panther platform they were built on was first sold in 1979. While it received numerous styling re-designs in the intervening years, but the overall formula remained the same; a large, traditional, 3 box design powered by a V8 with RWD. The body-on-frame part gave the Panthers a toughness advantage loved by Police departments, taxi companies, and limousine builders as more and more competitors move to unitized bodies for their full size cars.
I visited New Haven, CT on assignment from my day job. Upon arrival I found that my regular reservation of a Buick Lacrosse had been questionably “upgraded” to a Lincoln Town Car. As I have already driven nearly every flavor of Lacrosse and never have driven a Town Car, I figured “Why not?” After I posted a picture of my rental in Cheers and Gears forums, the comments were unanimous that I should actually write a review on it. Since the Town Car is already out of production, we won’t be taking this review too seriously.
The Town Car evokes many images; Secret Service, Airport Limo, Mafia master, funeral car. It is big, imposing, and in spite of its dated looks, has an air of authority about it that no German über sedan can quite muster. It’s less “NBA star” and more “I’ve got the Senator in here, out of the way!”. Even with that authority, the Town Car had lost the status of Lincoln flagship, ceding that to the Continental MKS or Navigator depending on how you view things. Time and Ford’s negligence in updating, well, everything, simply took their toll on the car, limiting it to livery sales.
In terms of handling, the Town Car has it all. It dives, it squats, it rolls, it jiggles, it bounces. Hustling through the city, the tail end shakes more than Kristi Ally’s ass on Dancing with the Stars. However, like Kristi Ally’s dance performance (she did come in 2nd after all), it always goes where you point it. Steering feel is soft but accurate. The car is all about the ride. The highways of the North East pot-hole country are what this car is for. Can it apex a curve on the Nürburgring? Tony Soprano says “F!!! the Nürburgring!”. Even with all of the flabby moves, it is still a freaking blast to drive. Anyone who buys or rents a Town Car is not out to win any road rallies, so they can just have fun with it or keep it smooth as they prefer.
In my case, I am able to use the accurate steering, V8’s torque, and mafia image to my advantage. People move out of my way when I come barreling down the Interstate as if they think I might be carrying a certain loud mouth New Jersey Governor. (They should know he usually takes the chopper). The longer I’m behind the wheel, the more I feel like I can take on the NYC cabbies….. and win.
On paper, the Town Car has weak 239 horsepower V8 made especially pathetic looking in an era where mid-size family sedan V6es are averaging 300 horsepower and getting 30 miles per gallon highway. Indeed even Ford’s own EcoBoost 4-cylinder can best the V8 in the Town Car in power. However numbers on paper rarely tell the whole story. Lincoln had 30 years to get the tuning right. They have the throttle tip in and the first and second gear ratios just right. Even a slight goose on the pedal will get you going at a quicker rate than anyone really needs. It is only when you try a full throttle acceleration onto the highway do you end up thinking to yourself, “Hey! They left out part of the V8!” The sounds from the V8 aren’t half bad, but that’s all you really get. All of the sound you want with half the acceleration. I’d rate acceleration performance feel a solid C+ based on the around town driving… hey it’s a Town car.
Look at all that room in there that could have fit Ford's new 5.0 V8!
Visibility is excellent and I miss having a bombsight hood ornament that modern cars lack. Parking lot maneuverability is poor even for a car of this size. No one out there expects a Town Car to maneuver like say, a Chevrolet Sonic, but the turning radius of this car is huge. I had an easier time parking my Chevy Avalanche.
On to the inside....
The interior is another matter entirely. Somewhere around 1994, Lincoln stopped bothering to try any improvements in the materials. As far as switch gear is concerned, the Town Car shares more with an Econoline work van than any other FoMoCo vehicle. The column shift handle, the light switches, the radio buttons all have that rugged plastic that Joe-The-Plumber would feel at home with. The instrument panel is lit in a disgusting ectoplasm green. The seats are wide and softer than your Aunt Hilda’s couch. Talking about side bolstering in a car like this is pointless. The heated seats have two setting, “I just farted” and “Hell fire”. Want something in between? Too bad.
Even the steering wheel alignment is off. No, I don’t mean that you need to take it in for a front-end alignment. I mean that when you are sitting square center in the driver seat, the gauges are aligned properly in front of you but the steering wheel is actually off center to the left of the car, most likely due to some 30 year old hard point that Ford didn’t bother to move. What makes this noticeable is when you look down, the tall and narrow Lincoln emblem on the airbag cover lines up under the gas gauge rather than between the gas gauge and temp gauge as it would if it were centered.
Lincoln took the shotgun approach when designing the interior… literally. They just loaded all of the buttons and switches into a big cannon and fired at the dashboard. Wherever they landed, that’s where they stayed with absolutely no rhyme or reason. You think that’s a button? No, it is actually an airbag indicator light. Ford made the effort to light all of the window control switches… but one. The line over the top of the dash has a subtle curve, just enough to make you think they intended to have a flat line there but someone left it out in the sun too long. The plood is the worst of all ploods with no intention of even trying to look real. You don’t get much more solid than the door slam on these cars. Rear leg room is huge… and they even made an extended length model that gives you more. Without bothering to go look up statistics, trunk room has to be among the largest in the full size class with the step down design. That is my full size luggage there at the bottom with clearly room for a lot more.
This combination of image, sturdiness, and middle of the road performance make the Town Car the B-52 bomber of the automotive world. It’s not the fastest, it doesn’t handle the best, the technology it has is decades old, but it is tough as nails, reliable, and no one wants to be on the receiving end of whatever/whomever it is carrying
The sad part about the Town Car’s demise is that I still feel that Ford could have saved it with even a modest amount of effort. Just upgrading the switchgear from Econoline to F-150/Fiesta (as found on the MKS) would have been an improvement. The Town Car’s main rival, the Cadillac DTS was old fashioned in its own way, but Cadillac still managed to keep the interior relatively up to date right up till the end; even offering technologies like night vision for a time.
Ford claims that the Panther chassis could no longer meet side impact standards, but I feel like that is a cop out. Their lack of enthusiasm for updating the interior simply was extended to updating anything at all. In terms of performance, switching the car to the corporate V6es and 6-speed automatic transmissions would have kept the car on the road in these times of increasing fuel economy standards. The chassis itself was paid off sometime around 1987, so every Crown Vic, Grand Marquis and Town Car built was just Ford printing money. If Ford didn’t want the Town Car around damaging the Lincoln image (as if Lincoln needed any help damaging their image), they could have renamed it a Ford Livery Sedan sold only through fleet services. Lincoln sales are already hurting from the loss of the Town Car, that Ford didn’t have a proper replacement to step in at the end is short sighted on their part.
During my week with the Town Car, I came to a conclusion that is probably precisely what killed the car in the retail market. I would never pay the $47,225 base price Lincoln was asking for one. But with how quickly the Town Car depreciates, one from the used market would make an excellent car to beat around in.
Make - Lincoln
Model – Town Car
Model Year - 2011
Trim – Executive Select
Engine Configuration – SOHC 4.6 liter V8
Drive line Configuration - RWD
Horsepower 239 @ 4900 rpm
Torque in lb-ft 287 @4100 rpm
Curb Weight – 4413lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy – 16/24 mpg City/Highway
Observed average fuel economy – About 19mpg
Lincoln didn't provide anything for this review.