- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

Ubiquitous. That’s the Lincoln Town Car.

Go to any airport, attend any celebrity event, chaperone at any high school prom, and you’re likely to see the Town Car, sometimes in large numbers, driven by chauffeurs and parked right out front.

Though it’s not the largest-selling luxury automobile, the Town Car is a favorite of livery companies and outfits that chop and stretch them to make limousines.

Sometimes the big Lincolns are used as little more than fancy taxicabs, and they are routinely driven 200,000 or even 300,000 miles before being replaced.

They are all-American in design, with a traditional front-engine (V-8, of course), rear-wheel-drive layout and body-on-frame construction. The combination makes for a hushed interior, isolated from the harsh noises of tires, engine and wind.

Given their level of luxury, Town Cars are also somewhat less expensive than competing marques from abroad, and discounts are routinely available.

The test car, a loaded 2003 Cartier L model, had a suggested delivered price of $52,235, which included only one option — $125 for white sidewall tires. Now there’s a uniquely Yankee feature you don’t see much of anymore.

Standard equipment included leather upholstery, heated rear seats, traction control, antilock brakes, dual-zone automatic climate control, upgraded audio system with CD player, chrome 17-inch wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, remote locking, memory settings for the front seats and the heated outside mirrors, a powered (open and shut) trunk lid and a gorgeous leather-and-wood steering wheel.

The options list is short, mainly consisting of a $2,495 navigation system, which the test car did not have. (Chauffeurs usually know where they’re going).

What it did have was a posh ambience from the newly designed interior of leather, quality vinyl and liberal dollops of wood-grain trim, augmented by a classy-looking analog clock in the middle of the dashboard.

For 2003, the Town Car received a substantial revamping of its innards, including a new frame, front and rear suspension systems, steering and brakes — all aimed at improving the ride and handling of what had been a somewhat mushy, though comfy, conveyance.

It continues mostly unchanged for 2004, though the Cartier L model is no more.

The new top-of-the-line is the Ultimate L, with a lower price tag and a slightly shorter standard equipment list.

Comments on the Cartier L apply to the Ultimate L as well.

The L designation indicates a stretched Town Car — not as stretched as the custom limousines, but a roomy transportation capsule nonetheless.

The standard Town Car is less than an inch shy of 18 feet long; the L version is 6 inches longer, with almost all of that going into rear-seat legroom.

In the back, there’s nearly enough room, were the seats so designed, to recline into chaise lounge comfort. As it is, there’s no shortage of space to stretch out and take a nap, if that is your bent.

Front and rear, the outboard seats are deep and sinfully comfortable. The same cannot be said of the center positions, which are designed more for penance.

They give the Town Car six-passenger bragging rights, but nobody with any say in the matter would want to occupy those hard cushions perched on the hump over the drive-line.

Simply think of the Lincoln Town Car as a four-passenger luxury cruiser.

Away out back, there’s an enormous trunk, with a whopping 21 cubic feet of space and, on the Cartier model, a separate, divided compartment under the floor for organizing smaller items.

The overall space is useful as well because the temporary spare tire now is housed in the right-rear fender.

Motivation comes from a 4.6-liter V-8 engine connected to a silky four-speed automatic transmission.

Unlike engines in most other luxury cars, it happily runs on regular, 87-octane gasoline and delivers fuel economy of 17 miles to the gallon city and 25 highway.

The horsepower is just 239, not a large number for a big sedan that weighs 474 pounds more than 2 tons. It’s adequate, but not anything to get the juices flowing.

But that’s fine. Driving a Town Car is something akin to smoking a pipe. Pipe smokers tend to be relaxed and deliberate in their actions, tamping, lighting and puffing.

Town Car drivers, because of the nature of the beast, tend to drive in a stately, sedate manner so as not to ruffle the occupants.

Yet the new suspension system and steering modifications give the Town Car more athletic moves than its predecessor.

It’s no sports sedan and its main handling characteristic is understeer — the tendency to move forward in a straight line even as you negotiate curves — but it feels steady and competent in quick lane-change maneuvers and bank-robbery getaways.

At the same time, the ride is serene and comfortable, less floaty than before. That’s a plus for passengers prone to motion sickness.

Not surprisingly, Town Car buyers — aside from the limousine and livery set — tend to be grayer and wealthier than the norm. They also tend to be creakier and slower-moving, which fits.

But anyone of any age who likes leisurely motoring, comfort and plush surroundings can appreciate the Town Car.

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