Top Gear fans know that Europeans treat large American cars with contempt. Although they love our finned Cadillacs and suicide door Lincolns, they view modern “Yank tanks” as large, thirsty, ill-mannered dinosaurs that only escaped extinction thanks to government-sponsored petrochemical profligacy and car buyers’ lack of environmental awareness, taste and brains. With American car companies struggling for survival, with entire US car brands disappearing, this criticism begs a question: has the Yank Tank finally met its comeuppance? Price aside, can America produce anything to compete with BMW’s mid-sizers (never mind their luxury flagships)? To answer this burning question, I tested a trio of America’s finest luxury cars for a week each: the Cadillac DTS, Lincoln Town Car and Chrysler 300C. First, the standard to which these cars should aspire.
“American luxury” is all about size and style, boldness, brashness, blingness and soft rides. An American luxury car should be equally at home cruising between square states as it is motoring around downtown San Francisco or New York City. It should suit anyone over 45 (or 400lb) while inspiring—or at least not alienating—more youthful admirers. Engine-wise, it’s got to be a V8. Period. [Out goes the Lincoln MK anything.] The transmission has to be a silky smooth automatic. It doesn’t have to be the proverbial “armchair on wheels,” but it doesn’t not have to be one either.
From first glance, the Lincoln Town Car is a solid miss. It’s main affliction: a distinct lack of style, American or otherwise. The TC has a lumpy aerodynamic design that’s so “90s” you expect to hear the bass line of “Boombastic” every time it drives by. Nothing about the Lincoln Town Car says luxury or style; it manages to look more geriatric than generic (no small feat). There’s no bling, no zing, not even a hint of wow. In white, the Town Car looks as classy as a patent leather loafer with gold buckles. In black, it’s only at home at airports, funeral homes, in mafia garages or on Warren Buffet’s driveway. Style factor? Zero.
Once inside the Town Car, the observant among us will notice the other reason the car is so well suited to livery service: there are no driver amenities what-so-ever. Sure, the seats are large and plush, there are rear bun warmers and some leather oh-shit handles, but other than that it’s as Spartan as a base model Kia. Nerd Factor? Zero.
This lack of electronic gee-whizardry makes total sense in the Town Car’s market, no need for your rent-a-Jeeves to get distracted by a beeping nav system or too many extra gauges. The person paying for the ride ($40 from the airport to the hotel, please) doesn’t care if the car has a nav system, or real wood trim, radar cruise control or a multi-media interface. They’re only in the car for a few minutes and they expect a quiet comfortable taxi ride with some flair. The only problem with this thought is that the Town Car exudes no more flair than a taxi, which is exactly what it is. Snob factor? Zero.
Under the long hood of this portly American contender churns an aging 1991-vintage V8. With 4.6L of displacement, this engine rounds out the bottom of this trio with 239 HP and 287 lb·ft of torque. On the positive side, you might not want rent-a-Jeeves to get too hot and heavy on the go pedal, pulling 4,500lb of Detroit steel around is no easy task. Making this even less of a driver’s car is the dimwitted and ancient Ford four-speed auto that everyone else forgot about a decade ago. While the transmission will outlast the end of days, it will annoy eternal with its lumpy shifts. In a modern luxury market, a quad cog swapper is almost worse than no transmission; even the Asian competition offers twice the number of forward gears.
The portly dimensions of the Town Car coupled with the softest set of springs this side of the Slinky factory make for a ride that could either be described as ponderous or sea worthy. Steering feel is less than zero and makes a 1980s Cutlass Cruiser seem like a road carver. Toss a corner at the Town Car and the inevitable happens, it leans like cheap prom date after a bottle of tequila and then passes out from the effort. Performance Factor? Zero.
I know: criticizing the Lincoln Town Car plays straight into the hands of foreign car snobs. But the car is not without its admirers or virtues. Namely, the correct number of cylinders, its size and rear-wheel drive. These three characteristics form the American large sedan holy trinity, and qualify the Town Car for recreation. Meanwhile, well, what else can a traditional American luxury car buyer favor with his or her patronage? Do you really want to know? See you tomorrow.