I’m going down to Memphis
Where they really playin’ the blues
I’m going down on Beale Street
And have a good time like I choose
“Thank you for coming to Budget. I have you booked for a Kia Optima.”
“The hell you do.”
“That is a full-size car as you requested.”
“Well, in that case, I want something that is not a full-size car.” And that is how I came to be rolling through the proverbial Dirty South in a 2100-mile, 2010-model-year Town Car. Yes, they still make ‘em. The current lineup has been rationalized to Signature Limited (117-inch wheelbase) and Signature L (123-inch). There’s absolutely no reason of which I can think to take the SWB car, but that’s what the rental fleets have, and it’s what you can easily buy off-lease. I’ve found plenty of essentially identical two-year-old SigLims for under $20K, so this car is not only a direct used-price competitor for the 2009 Sable I reviewed previously, it’s also in the same ballpark as… a Kia Optima.
Automotive experts of the Internet, when they are not telling people that a 2009 Sable is virtually the same car as an old Volvo S80, like to tell people that a 2010 Town Car is virtually the same car as a 1979 Lincoln Continental sedan. This is true in the same sense that a 2000 Honda Civic Si is the same car as a 1988 Civic. In both cases, there were major dimensional and engineering changes across multiple generations of the same basic design. I am the former owner of a 1980 Mercury Marquis Brougham Coupe and I can state with authority that the current Town Car is nothing like that car in terms of driving dynamics.
This does not mean that recent Crown Victoria owners won’t be perfectly at home. Ford has steadily rationalized the differences between the Panther cars over time and this 2010 car is the most egregious example of that. Town Car aficionados (yes, they exist) will tell you to avoid Canadian-built TCs in favor of the Wixom, MI-assembled 2008 and earlier model years. They may have a point. The plastics and leather are okay, but they are nothing like what you would find in an Audi. Come to think of it, they aren’t close to what you would find in a new MKS.
Also not up to MKS spec: the sound system. You can get SYNC in a fifteen-grand Focus but not in a Town Car, and for the first time in my recent experience, the stereo simply isn’t loud enough. There is no navigation screen, no aux plug, no USB support, no nothing. The center console features dual-zone climate control and that’s more or less it.
Once in motion, the Town Car has a surprising flaw: it’s a wanderer on the highway, requiring constant correction and displaying quite a bit of sensitivity to side winds. My displayed mileage for the trip was 22.7 over the course of 2,635 miles, including a day in New York and one cruising around Memphis. There’s more than adequate power and the four-speed transmission rarely feels as if it needs additional ratios.
A snowstorm outside New York revealed why a whole generation of drivers abandoned big RWD cars: it was an absolute nightmare on a high-crowned, icy two-lane, requiring frequent, violent corrections at the helm to keep pace with the rest of the traffic. When the road turned dry, it was time to take advantage of the anonymity afforded a black Lincoln on I-95, pushing into the triple digits and pushing traffic out of the left lane with a double-blink of the brights and a bullying chrome grill. This is no sports car but it has some fundamental balance to it at speed. Too bad it has no brakes.
In traffic anywhere, the Lincoln is a fearsome weapon. It’s big, it’s official-looking, and it brake-torques from the lights like a Fox Mustang. The steering is light but accurate enough to place the car inches from a falafel vendor or inebriated pedestrian. Potholes don’t faze it. And Ford’s never bothered to put anything like advanced engine electronics in it, so you can wrap the seatbelt tight and left-foot-brake all day, standing the car on its nose on corner entry and then spinning the inside rear wheel on the exit.
If I came to admire the Town Car — and I did — my passengers admired it from the beginning, rating it above not only the Sable but vehicles like the Audi A6. Only my Phaetons have received higher ride-along reviews.
You’ll miss this car when it’s gone. It’s old, it’s flawed, it’s imperfect. Still, it’s utterly authentic, and when the last one rolls off the line we will never see its like again. If you haven’t driven one, it’s worth doing, and it’s as close as your local Budget Rent-a-Car. Unless, that is, you prefer a Kia Optima.