2006 Lincoln Zephyr Review

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Conor Twomey Conor Twomey Editor
February 17, 2006

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Perhaps because of its presidential associations,Lincoln is a brand name that somehow still has some currency in the domestic car world.

The ancient Town Car is still the limo of choice for most chauffeur services while the Navigator is still popular on the hip-hop scene, even though the Navigator name isn’t as rhythmically rich as Cadillac’s Escalade. Beyond those two cars, Lincoln is saddled with the LS, the Aviator and the Mark LT. Not exactly an auspicious lineup for such a once-proud name.

 

Enter the Zephyr, which resurrects a great name and recycles a great platform, namely that of the Ford Fusion. I like the Fusion’s peppy dynamics and crisp styling but the fit ‘n’ finish of its interior, the lack of manual shifting on the fine six-speed automatic, and its intrusive tire noise are areas of concern. The Zephyr, being the most “premium” of the Fusion/Milan/Zephyr trio, gets a unique dashboard and a higher-quality interior as well as more sound deadening and slightly softer springs. This should rectify the Fusion’s shortcomings, but will it ruin the best thing about the Fusion — its handling?

 

Behold, the essence of Lincoln

 

2006 Lincoln Zephyr

2006 Lincoln Zephyr

Enlarge Photo
We’ll get to that in a minute. First, stand back and behold the Zephyr.

Isn’t it a handsome thing? Whatever they’ve been putting in the coffee in Ford’s car design studio they need to keep up the dosage because it’s good stuff. The baby Lincoln is striking in a classy and understated way and downright stately in black. Its humble origins are clearly visible down the flanks, of course, but the waterfall grille, the scolding headlamps, and broad, square stance more than compensate for the unadventurous profile. Sadly, the oversized taillamps are completely at odds with the rest of the Zephyr’s well integrated styling (maybe they may have run out of spiked coffee that day) but there’s enough good car around them for us to overlook their slightly unhappy rendering.

2006 Lincoln Zephyr

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The interior’s been given the Lincoln treatment too, so (unlike the Milan that makes do with a spiffier version of the Fusion’s) there’s a new, squarer dashboard with attractive real wood inserts and softer leather on the seats. The upscale cabin ambience is let down somewhat by Lincoln’s overuse of silver paint and the fact that half the dashboard seems to be from the Mustang, while the instrument panel, which you stare at more than any other part of the dashboard, doesn’t look as special as a car in this price range should. While I’m complaining, I also thought the optional THX stereo was rather lame considering it’s supposed to be a premium system and the same quality issues that befall the Fusion and Milan are alive and kicking here, too. It’s not badly made, you understand, it just that the plastics lacks the solidity and precision you get in German or Japanese premium vehicles… or even the likes of VW or Scion, for that matter.

 

On the upside, there’s nothing at all wrong with the space and comfort in the Fusion, while the driving position and ergonomics (with the exception of the F-150’s overworked wiper/turn signal/high beam stalk) are top-shelf as well.

 

On the move

 

Having poked around the interior for a while, it was time to see if the Zephyr was any better or worse than the sprightly Fusion on the move. I had expected a feather-pillow ride and blunted dynamics but instead the Zephyr turned out to be almost as sporty as the Fusion. Yes, it was marginally more sedate on the highway thanks to some softer springing, but through the twisty stuff the steering proved to be just as sharp and body control was every bit as well-contained as its Ford sibling.

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2006 Lincoln Zephyr

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It doesn’t have quite the same level of feel as Fusion, perhaps, but it was still reasonably involving and entertaining. The only downside is that the Zephyr wasn’t as quiet as I had expected, retaining the Fusion’s irritating propensity to let tire noise encroach on an otherwise hushed cabin. I also notice they haven’t gotten around to fitting a manual shifter to the automatic either, which is a shame considering how the Zephyr’s fun-factor would benefit from such a revision.

 

Lincoln Zephyr "teaser"

Lincoln Zephyr "teaser"

Enlarge Photo
Only one engine is offered in the Zephyr, the 221-hp/205-lb-ft, 3.0-liter V-6 from the Fusion and Milan, so performance is similarly brisk without being blistering. A 0-60 mph run takes a respectable eight seconds, but without the ability to select gears manually it’s difficult to get the most from the Zephyr’s engine and transmission when you’re on a favorite country road. In normal driving conditions the two work well together, offering seamless and smooth progress, though the engine does get a rather coarse at high revs. Apart from the tire noise and in spite of the firm-ish ride, the Lincoln is a very capable cruiser feeling exceptionally planted on the highway and requiring little or no steering inputs to keep it tracking straight. Strong and assuring all-disc brakes with ABS round out the Zephyr’s decent dynamic package, which makes it the best-driving Lincoln in… well, maybe ever.

 

Lincoln wants the Zephyr to appeal to young executive types and if the looks and handling can’t win them over then perhaps the standard equipment will. For a whisker under $29,000 (excluding delivery), Lincoln offers 17-inch aluminum wheels; heated mirrors with puddle lamps; a six-CD changer; powered, heated and leather seats; dual-zone climate control; a leather and wood steering wheel with audio, cruise and climate controls; remote locking with an ugly keypad; front and side airbags and traction control. The only feature noticeable by its absence is stability control, which isn’t even offered as an option.

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2006 Lincoln Zephyr

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A look at the Zephyr’s similarly priced competition should be a humbling experience, but the truth is it actually fares rather well next to its compact executive sedan rivals. It’s more fun to drive than the likes of the wallowy Chrysler 300 V-6 and dreary Lexus IS250, and while the Acura TSX is possibly the closest to it in character, the Lincoln offers more interior space and style. But while it’s roomier and better specified than either the BMW 325i or the Mercedes C230, the limitations of its front-drive chassis and its iffy interior quality means it’s still a long way from the best in its class.

 

I like the Zephyr, I really do, and there’s no doubt it’s a step in the right direction for Lincoln, but as long as Ford continues to offer supposed “premium” cars side by side with near-identical (and considerably

cheaper) mainstream fare, they’ll never win over the image-conscious younger buyer, regardless of how appealing those cars might be.

 

STOP THE PRESS: Moments after filing this story Lincoln decides to make a monkey out of me by killing off the Zephyr name and revising the car almost immediately. (Is that the shortest use of a car name in history, I wonder?) They’re giving the car a new front fascia, renaming it MKZ (pronounced Mark-Z), boosting the engine to 3.5 liters and 250 hp as well as offering all-wheel drive. It goes on sale soon, but don’t dally because there’s a new MKZ-II due in the fall. (I’m kidding, I’m kidding…)



2006 Lincoln Zephyr

Base price: $28,995 plus destination

Engine: 3.0-liter V-6, 221 hp/205 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

Length x width x height: 191.4 X 72.2 x 57.2 in

Wheelbase: 107.4 in

Curb weight: 3401 lb

Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 20/28 mpg

Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags; anti-lock brakes with traction control

Major standard equipment: Cruise control; power locks, windows, and mirrors; 17-inch aluminum wheels; six-CD changer; powered and heated leather seats; dual-zone climate control; multi-function steering wheel

Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles

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