Continental Airlines, which has been at the center of a storm of consumer complaints, announced yesterday that it will move to a new, dramatically more efficient terminal at Newark International Airport.

Continental President Frank Lorenzo said that the company has signed a 25-year, $225 million lease for Terminal C at the busy airport. The terminal was once expected to house People Express, which Continental absorbed in February along with the operations of New York Air and Frontier.

After the merger, consumer complaints surged as the airline tried to put together disparate staffs and a disparate fleet. Many of the problems were encountered in Newark.

"You're going to see the new Continental operation at Newark be a glimmering example of airline service," Lorenzo said yesterday. Lorenzo said he regretted the inconvenience cause by the merger of the airlines.

The new terminal, which is expected to be open and fully occupied by Continental by February 1988, will give the airline more than twice the number of gates it now leases in Terminal B at the airport. The number of gates will grow from 17 to 41. The airline will also have 85 ticket counter positions in the new terminal and a fully automated baggage handling facility.

Continental operates out of two terminals now, its shuttles to Boston and Washington using the airport's North Terminal. With the move to Terminal C, Continental will be able to consolidate its operations.

"When you talk about upgrades, this is like going from nothing to something," said John V. Pincavage, an airline analyst with PaineWebber Inc. Pincavage said the new terminal should help improve Continental's operations markedly.

In addition to the cost of the 25-year lease, Continental will pay $30 million for furnishings and another $25 million in interest on costs incurred during construction of the two-story, 875,000 square foot building. At full operation, the terminal is expected to handle more than half of Newark's passengers. In 1986, 29.4 million air travelers used the airport.

Continental said it will expand service from the airport from the current level of 173 daily departures.