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Old 06-21-2002, 19:35   #1 (permalink)
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2003 Lincoln Town Car: Your airport limo just got better.

By ROGER HART "AutoWeek"


The front and rear fascias and the taillights are what distinguish the 2003 Lincoln Town Car from its predecessor. Bigger changes took place beneath the sheetmetal, with the car riding on a new frame and a quieter 4.6-liter V8 engine.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, seemed an appropriate stopping-off point for the initial drive of the 2003 Lincoln Town Car. While we don’t really know what kind of car the 40th president preferred, the fact that he was the oldest man ever elected president would put him into the Town Car buyer demographics (average age: 70). The reaction of a geriatric docent at the library to the arrival of the new Town Car (“The new Town Car is here!”) left little doubt that this car hits its target.

While the previous-generation car had few redeeming enthusiast qualities, it remains the choice vehicle for limousine services across the country and is a big hit in rental fleets, too. Throw in those blue-hairs, and it adds up to trunk loads of cash for Ford—the company, not the president.

But even Ronald Reagan knew you could only ride a horse for so long. The Town Car—in Lincoln’s line since 1981, the third-generation released in 1998—was getting old. Lincoln product development director Al Kammerer and engineering director Mike Renucci were charged with making the car better without alienating the core customer. See, one of the things that happens around the time you qualify for discounted dinners at your favorite eatery is that you get set in your ways; you like your car and you don’t want anybody changing it.

At the time of the Town Car’s redesign, Richard Parry-Jones, Ford’s global chief of product development and chief technical officer, instituted a “driving dynamics DNA” program to better the handling characteristics of all Lincolns. The Town Car would ride and handle differently from previous generations. The worst of that sloppy steering, baby-buggy suspension and weak brakes was improved in the ’98 redo, particularly in the low-volume Signature Touring Edition. But that redesign didn’t go far enough for Parry-Jones. All Lincolns would have the same steering feel and handling characteristics, with the full line benchmarked against Cadillac, Lexus, BMW and Mercedes.

To meet these new driving standards, the Town Car received a new frame, steering system (rack-and-pinion, finally), brake system and front and rear suspension. The 4.6-liter V8 now has hydraulic engine mounts and a new air intake, and it is quieted down. The ride and handling of the 2003 Town Car is significantly better than the car it replaces. When you turn the wheel, it turns(!), rather than waiting for more steering input as was the case with the previous model. The levels of noise, vibration and harshness have also been substantially reduced.

While most of the improvements happened beneath the skin, its exterior is updated: a new fascia and grille, rear treatment and reformed trunk. The interior has been rework-ed, too, with a new instru-ment cluster that includes an elegant analog clock. Hip and legroom measure better than Cadillac DeVille and Lexus LS 430. But the exterior changes are so subtle, it may be difficult to convince previous-generation owners they need an upgrade.

With Lincoln executives cutting back fleet sales from 35 percent last year to 25 percent this year, it may take more effort to equal the 66,859 cars sold in 2001. Prices start at $41,040 for the short-wheelbase Executive model, while the Signature edition is $43,500 and the high-zoot Cartier model goes for $46,010.

Our biggest complaint is with its flat-bottom seats that offer zero side support. If you’re a few years away from that AARP card, you might also find the ride still too soft. But if you’re in the age bracket where all your Town Car time will be spent in the rear seat on the way to or from an airport, the soft ride shouldn’t bother you at all. And the voluminous trunk space, all 21.1 cubic feet of it, will swallow up a European trip’s worth of luggage.
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