by Will Kaufman, Associate Automotive Editor
Our long-term 2017 Genesis G90 and 2017 Lincoln Continental are philosophically very different but physically very similar. Both are large, all-wheel-drive luxury sedans powered by turbocharged six-cylinder engines that cost about $70,000. They also accelerate from zero to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds and have neat-looking machined grilles for their premium speakers.
Heritage is where they start to diverge. The G90 is an all-new car with a new nameplate from a new company. Hyundai spun Genesis off into its own brand less than two years ago. Meanwhile, the Continental is a revival of a nameplate that dates back to before World War II, from a brand that's celebrating its 100th birthday.
This same-same-but-different pair has similar goals, though. Genesis needs to establish itself with customers as a legitimate competitor in the luxury car space, while Lincoln needs to re-establish itself as a desirable brand.
Road Test Editor Calvin Kim and yours truly decided to drive these two sedans up the California coast for 200 miles of canyon roads and freeways to see which car we prefer. Can the Continental leverage a century of experience into a victory, or will it be crushed by the weight of history? Is newer always better, or is the G90 only half-baked?
The numbers don't tell the performance story here. Both the G90 and Continental use turbocharged six-cylinder engines that drive all four wheels, and while the Continental makes 35 more horsepower, both cars have a similarly quick 5.5-ish zero-to-60-mph time. In Edmunds testing, we found that the two cars perform almost identically in every metric.
However, the G90 and Continental feel very different from behind the wheel. The Continental is aggressive even in standard mode, delivering strong acceleration even with partial throttle. The transmission is equally aggressive, and this can lead to some rough shifts that can unsettle the chassis. Sometimes it almost feels like a horse has kicked the car's frame.
The G90, on the other hand, smooths out throttle inputs, delivering gentle acceleration and imperceptible shifts unless you really ask it for speed. The whole drivetrain is clearly tuned for a luxury feel, though it can hustle when it needs to.
Neither car has much to offer in the way of steering feel, which isn't unusual, but the Continental's numb wheel is especially disappointing because other Ford products offer good feedback. On the other hand, the G90's soft brake pedal isn't particularly suited to vigorous backroad driving. These aren't canyon champions, but they're not meant to be.
On long freeway stints, the G90's isolated cabin shines and its dynamics pay off. It's an effortless cruiser, and for my money the longer the drive is going to be the more I'd rather be piloting the G90 than the Continental.
When is 30 less than 22? When it's the Lincoln's 30-way power-adjustable front seat versus the Genesis' 22-way power-adjustable front seat. The G90's seat is comfortable and easy: Drop in, adjust the settings for a minute, and drive all day. The Continental makes you fiddle with settings that require looking at the infotainment display to use — and fiddle you will. The ... uh, "unique" set of adjustments means that while it's possible to find a comfortable position, it's also very, very easy to find a very, very uncomfortable position, and dialing in the former takes a lot more time. Even after several hours in the car, we were still making adjustments.
The G90 also offers a superior ride, isolating the cabin from bumps and imperfections without feeling overly floaty or numb. The Continental, on the other hand, has a very busy ride in both Comfort and Sport settings because all the work the suspension does over uneven pavement is transmitted into the cabin. The only real difference between the driving modes is that Comfort irons out bigger humps, bumps and dips, but it doesn't change that busy chatter over uneven pavement.
When it comes to keeping the cabin temperature under control, it's a win for the Continental. The straightforward buttons make setting all your adjustments very easy, and you can even adjust how aggressive the system is with the push of a button. Seat heating and cooling are very effective as well. The Genesis has all the same options, and it's not a hard system to use, but the way it goes about its business simply isn't as refined, and the seat cooling is less effective.
The two cars are the same width, but the G90's wheelbase is almost 8 inches longer. In practice, that translates into a much roomier-feeling cabin for the Genesis, especially from the front seat. The driver can sit lower and further back in a way that's reminiscent of the best luxury sedans, and the long dash makes the car seem wide.
From the front seat, the inside of Lincoln feels almost SUV-like. You sit more upright and closer to the dash, and the center console is more square, which translates into a sense that the car is narrower and tighter than it actually is. On the plus side, that upright seating position also means that visibility in the Continental is much better. It's easier to see where the front corners of the car are, and the view down the road is improved.
Neither of our long-termers is equipped with the upgraded rear-seat packages, so there's very little that separates the rear seats between the two cars. Both offer ample rear legroom, although the rear headroom in both cars will be a little tight for passengers over 6 feet tall.
Calvin and I both found the Genesis easier to use, with a lot of clearly marked buttons that do obvious things. The secondary dial controller is very helpful, simplifying the process of navigating the infotainment system and vehicle settings. Lincoln's setup simply isn't as intuitive, and the steering wheel-mounted buttons are more awkwardly placed and less straightforward.
The Genesis also makes better use of materials and interior design. Many of the buttons have a satin-metal finish where the Continental simply relies on hard plastic. In fact, the shifter's push buttons are a hard plastic, and you have to touch those every time you drive the car. It's a little mind-boggling that even in the most expensive Black Label guise this key touchpoint is left as-is. Meanwhile, soft-touch and premium-feeling surfaces have been cleverly deployed throughout the Genesis to hide plastics, and while fit and finish isn't on par with the big German brands (although we've definitely taken the Continental to task for build-quality issues in the past), the interior of the G90 looks and feels more upscale than the interior of the Continental.
On paper, this category goes to the Continental. Between Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration and a digital gauge cluster, which can be reconfigured and even display the navigation map, the Continental simply has an edge over the G90 in terms of available features. The G90 does feature a very nicely integrated wireless charging tray, but that's only useful if your phone is compatible.
The wild card here is the sheer quality of the G90's stereo. Music is lush and natural in the G90, and requires very little tweaking through the system settings. Simply put, it's one of the best factory systems at the price. Our Continental has the Revel premium system, but compared to the Hyundai's system it's more harsh and hollow-sounding, losing a lot of the midrange richness the G90 offers. It's certainly head and shoulders above most base stereo systems but is simply outclassed by Genesis's effort.
We also like the personality of the G90's driver aids more. Both our cars have adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist, and the systems work well in both cars. They'll both take you down to a full stop, and start up again from there with prompting from either a button or the accelerator pedal. Both cars will also keep you in your lane if you start to drift. However, the Continental can be a little jumpy and aggressive both in accelerating and braking, while the G90 handles things in a more restrained manner that provides a smoother drive.
There's no way to put this gently, but neither of us loves the way the Genesis looks (a complaint we've heard before). It's not a particularly attractive car from the outside, giving the Lincoln a clear advantage in the sheet metal. The G90's interior is also full of derivative styling cues. Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes are all visible in the G90's DNA, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The interior of the G90 feels familiar, but it's contemporary and upscale. Lincoln's offering is certainly more visually unique, especially in the extra-pricey Black Label trims.
Despite that hodgepodge of influences, everything in the G90 fits together. From the powertrain to the trim pieces, the car feels like a focused luxury offering — even down to the key fob. The two vehicles' fobs look nearly identical, but the black material on the G90's is some kind of faux leather, while the Continental's fob is coated in what feels like textured rubber. All in all, it seems like Genesis went big to make sure that everything about the G90 communicated luxury. It's clear how hard the carmaker is working to build a reputation.
Interestingly, the Continental is both the cheapest and the most expensive of the two cars depending on trim. The G90 doesn't really have trim levels, just drivetrain choices. You either get the turbocharged six-cylinder or the eight-cylinder in rear- or all-wheel drive. The cars are all fully loaded, with premium audio and all the rest counted as standard equipment. The only real difference is that the 5.0-liter eight-cylinder engine comes with the executive rear-seating package and significantly more power. So the entire range falls between $69,000 and $73,000.
The Continental, meanwhile, starts at about $20,000 less than the cheapest G90. For that price you get a less powerful engine, front-wheel drive, and you don't even get access to most of the Continental's options. Still, if you like the look and want to get into a Continental, you have a lot of options below $60,000. Of course, a fully loaded Continental can break $80,000, and for that money you still have a six-cylinder under the hood. Considering how much more of a refined and cohesive luxury experience the G90 offers, it's impressive that its top trim undercuts the Lincoln by thousands of dollars.
We can't deny that the 2017 Lincoln Continental has its advantages, and that its specific personality will likely appeal to many drivers. However, we think the G90 simply offers a more comprehensive luxury experience. Buyers whose first priority is the rear-passenger experience will want to compare backseat upgrades themselves.
In some important ways, neither car feels entirely finished: There are tweaks and changes that would improve both, and both feel like offerings from companies that are figuring out exactly what car they want to make. But as we discussed the cars, Calvin and I began to put our finger on an important difference between these cars.
The G90 feels closer. It feels like a minor refresh would put the G90 where it needs to be. The Continental, on the other hand, seems too disjointed — like too many people were trying to check too many boxes in terms of performance, luxury and value.
To us, on this day, the Continental began to feel as if it was more than just a refresh away from the level of focus and polish that a car needs to compete as a $70,000 luxury offering. So the next time Calvin or I is offered the choice, we'll be taking the 2017 Genesis G90.