SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — In an era when every new car — or newly facelifted car — seems positioned to attract younger buyers, Richard Beattie’s comment at a media preview here for the redesigned 2003 Lincoln Town Car was an extraordinary burst of candor.
“The Town Car is a vehicle for people in their 60s and 70s," said Beattie, vice president of marketing at Lincoln Mercury. “. . . We value our older customers, and we’re proud of the fact that we make a bundle of money selling cars to people in their 60s and 70s."
Such candor is rare in an industry in which most manufacturers seem obsessed with attracting the young, but its straight-talking bluntness well suits Town Car, which offers no pretense about “European handling" or “a sporty driving experience."
Town Car buyers prize room, ride, comfort and safety, and the redesigned, re-engineered 2003 edition delivers. For '03, it remains what it’s always been — a big, body-on-frame, comfortably sprung, wonderfully spacious, smooth riding, rear-wheel drive, full-size American luxury sedan. The only difference now is that it handles that job description better than ever.
“We have a very loyal market and we want to keep that market," said Lee Gorman, Town Car chief engineer. “The Town Car is not trying to get the (Lincoln) LS customer."
It is, however, trying to make the driving experience safer and more enjoyable for its owners, who average 70 years of age and who repurchase Town Car at a rate of nearly 60 percent, making them among the most loyal in the industry.
To that end, significant upgrades have been made beneath Town Car’s skin — upgrades that not only make it easier to drive, but which, inevitably, make it a better handling, more responsive machine, as well.
The first thing you notice is the steering. Gorman and her team have jettisoned the old recirculating ball arrangement for a modern rack-and-pinion setup. The result, which was immediately evident during a day’s driving on long, straight interstates and twisty two-lane blacktops, is a better on-center feel, far less need for constant, minute corrections to keep the car traveling true and, thanks to variable power assist, good feedback at speed combined with very light resistance in tight parking maneuvers.
Adding to Town Car’s vault-like composure is its new frame, which has been beefed up with fully boxed front rails and new crossmembers, giving the car more rigidity and better resistance to vertical bending. That change is evident in the quietness of the cabin. Save the soft growl of Town Car’s 4.6-liter, 239-hp V-8, which is evident only when it’s provoked, this car is a sensory deprivation chamber — quiet as a cathedral and smooth as a gigolo.
Bringing this rolling resort to a stop is a new braking system that boasts vented discs at all corners, along with electronic brake force distribution, which sends the most braking power to the wheel(s) where it’ll do the most good, and Brake Assist, which senses a panic stop via pedal speed and applies full braking force faster than humanly possible.
From a styling standpoint, Town Car is taking a slight step away from the European look it unveiled in 1998. The stand-up hood ornament is back by popular demand, and the grille is more upright and formal. In back, the deck lid has been squared off.
Alas, the curved C-pillar remains, so the back seat hasn’t recovered the bit of head room it lost in the '98 redesign.
The trunk has, though, picking up half a cubic foot of volume, along with a lower lift-over and more usable space. Most car makers brag if a trunk can hold two golf bags. Town Car’s easily holds a foursome’s.
Inside is a beautiful new instrument panel, complete with elegant analog clock.
Town Car is offered in Executive, Signature and Cartier models, with Executive and Cartier versions available in a long-wheelbase edition whose back seat is big enough to hold a dance marathon.
With its better handling and retained quiet and comfort, Town Car may attract some younger buyers in spite of itself — Baby Boomers in their late 40s and 50s who are trading in their Firebird Formulas for Grecian Formula.
“Boomers are going to want the same room, ride and comfort their parents did," predicted Mike Reed, Town Car vehicle engineering manager.
Town Car, arriving in showrooms now, starts at $41,040 and tops out over $50,000.