Ask Jack: What comes after Z?

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2017 Lincoln Continental Black Label DW Burnett

Last week one of my readers noted, in reference to GM dealers, that “Wasn’t it the dealers who begged for badge engineered cars, like the FWD A-cars from years ago?” He has a point. This is one of the many areas where the perceived interests of the dealers and the manufacturers diverge rather sharply. We will call it The Traverse Zone, after the badge-engineered Chevrolet take on the Lambda platform three-row SUV. The Lambda was originally intended to be sold as a Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, and Saturn Outlook. There was no Chevy Lambda, because Chevrolet had the Trailblazer.

Naturally, Chevy dealers got sick of losing customers to GMC dealers, so they asked for (and got) a Chevy Lambda, yclept Traverse after, one supposes, a misspelled attempt to convey the Issigonis-esque positioning of the engine, or possibly in homage to Hagerty’s hometown of Traverse City, Michigan. It was such a hack-up rush job that it had no styling as such—the first-gen Traverse is the most generic-looking SUV in history, and oddly better for it. Naturally, it was a huge success and nowadays it underpins the Chevrolet lineup in quite irreplaceable fashion.

So the dealers were right, as they often are.

Looking back, there should have been a Cadillac Lambda, as well. The moronic nomenclature currently adopted by the company would have made it an XT69 or something like that, but that’s okay. Heck, there should be a Cadillac Lambda now. The current XT6 has a shorter wheelbase than the Enclave or Traverse for no reason anyone can understand. Who buys a Cadillac for less legroom than a Chevrolet?

We probably should have had an A-body Cadillac, too. A 1982-era sibling for the Cutlass Ciera, Celebrity, 6000, and Century. The Calais name would have gone well on such a car. There was a huge market for a luxurious mid-sized car back then. Ford did a Lincoln Taurus, with the Continental, and it was a reasonable success. Much of recent automotive history can be summed up as “Ford did something GM was afraid to do, and it kinda worked out.” Witness the Lincoln Zephyr, later on MKZ. It was a Lincoln Fusion. Not a bad idea. People bought them, which brings me in roundabout fashion to this episode of “Ask Jack”.

Ken asks,

I have a bit of a car dilemma that I think you’re well positioned to advise. My Wife (and I mean this in the most complimentary way possible, and only in the sense of car taste) is a mid-30s Jack when it comes to full size luxury sedans.

We’re (well she) is looking for something with some presence (but not look at me presence) that’s AWD, relatively quick (in a get out of it’s own way sense), fun to drive (in that it can corner without the need to do ab exercises and hold the Jesus handle) and, above all, comfortable (quiet & absorbs bumps).

We’re also looking for (well I am) reliability, some ease to perform home mechanic work, and US assembly / construction. (Or at the least no China.)

We plan to (and typically do) keep cars for 10 years Holding value doesn’t matter as much as the above mentioned points. The car that will be soon replaced is a 2007 Lincoln MKZ AWD that we’ve had since 08. It’s actually been a pretty good car (we made a few go-fast and suspension improvements as well).

Looking to stay around mid-30s. Which puts us in 1-2 year old certified used territory. JUST starting the process and the short list includes:

– Lincoln Continental
– Volvo S90
– Cadillac CT6
– Lincoln MKZ
– And now the Genesis G80

Any thoughts? My wife likes the above for looks, size, and features (we’ll be test driving them soon to see if they meet her comfort and driving feel criteria).

For me, I’ve started to research engine and reliability. I’m partial to the 3.5 / 3.7 V6 Ford Duratec that’s been around for decades. The one in our MKZ had minimal issues (although a water pump design from that era was quite poor and expense to fix)

Let’s get to choppin’ on this list. The Volvo S90 has many virtues, but it is a Chinese car, so that’s an easy one to remove. (The V90 wagon, by contrast, is usually assembled in Sweden. Check your VIN.) That gives us four contenders that divide into:

* Ford Fusions of one sort or another
* Relatively rare RWD-biased cars designed for the Asian markets

If Ken’s wife liked driving fast, then the CT6 and G80, with their relatively dynamic platforms and big-motor options, would be the way to go. Neither of these vehicles will be particularly easy or cheap to service, however. Someday your humble author will own a CT6 just because it was the last halfway serious take on a proper Cadillac sedan, albeit one that, like the infamous cheater NASCAR sedan, is just 7/8ths scale. I don’t think either of these is the right answer for Ken, however.

Which leaves us with the badge-engineered FWD-biased sedans. Both the MKZ and Continental have some Fusion in them, although not quite as much as the kids on the Internet would have you believe. Given the choice between them… well, it’s not even a choice. The Continental is leagues ahead of the MKZ in every aspect that matters, from interior quality to seat width. Oh, and it’s built in Flat Rock, not Hermosillo. Like the CT6, it’s smaller than it should be. Unlike the CT6, this paucity of porkiness isn’t obvious from behind the wheel.

If you can fix a 2007 MKZ, you can fix a Continental, because the hassles are the same—transverse engine, mostly.

Twenty-five grand will get Ken a nice 2017 or 2018 AWD Select with under 50,000 miles. This will likely be a 3.7-liter naturally-aspirated V-6. Such a car won’t have the Art Deco rocketship appeal of a Continental Black Label 3.0TT, but it will considerably exceed a 2007 MKZ in terms of real-world luxury, ride comfort, and assembly quality. It’s hard to argue against it.

The Continental, like the CT6, was an unfortunate victim of corporate cowardice. These cars were always meant to be positioned as a Lexus ES or GS against the Lexus LS equivalent that neither Cadillac nor Lincoln ever managed to field. My readers with a keen sense of GM history will recall that the second-generation Aurora was originally supposed to be the “Antares”, a Junior League companion to a proper full-sized Aurora successor—but then GM lost its nerve, canceled the big Aurora, and made the little one wear the badge. The resulting buyer apathy surprised precisely no one outside the RenCen, but was shocking to the hothouse flowers cloistered within.

Your humble author is occasionally prone to a certain sort of delusional daydream, in which all the dreams-of-electric-sheep money outrageously wasted by the manufacturers on worthless EV “compliance cars” was instead spent on proper full-sized sedans. In this daydream, Chevy and Ford both have a couple billion dollars to throw at 215-inch Fleetwoods and Town Cars. The Fleetwood, of course, has the 6.2-liter small-block V-8, massive fins, and a vinyl roof. The Town Car has a 450-horsepower EcoBoost pulling acres of velour and opera lights. They don’t sell particularly well, but that’s okay, because nobody bought the Volts and Energis that actually got the money anyway—and when the big boxes do sell, they sell to celebrities and superstars, not the funny-smelling gluten-free 40-something dudes who look like the dad in Family Ties and who have strong opinions on allyship they can’t wait to share with everyone else in the line at Wendy’s.

In a land where these Brougham-esque beasts roam the roads like majestic tyrannosaurs, master of all they survey and no more likely to bow to the competition than, say, Big Chief Donald Harrison of NOLA’s famed “Guardians Of The Flame”, the Continental would be massively popular as a sensibly-sized alternative to such vehicles. In this fallen world we currently inhabit, however, the modest 201-inch Lincoln is as much car as you can get out of a United States factory. Ken, it’s the one for you.

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