2006 Lincoln Zephyr Expert Review:Autoblog
Lincoln is looking to jack up its street cred with the younger crowd, which for this company means anyone born after WWII, and it’s hoping the 2006 Zephyr with its sporty chassis, 221-hp 3.0L V6 and six-speed slushbox will bring more of that fresh blood to the fold. Problem is that Lincoln has already announced that the 2007 Zephyr will be renamed the MKZ and get Ford’s spankin’ new 3.5L V6 with more power, a newer six-speed transmission, AWD and a nip-tuck on the car’s nose. So where does that leave the 2006 Zephyr?
The Zephyr already had an uphill battle to fight with the buying public who knows a similar Mercury Milan or Ford Fusion can be had for thousands less, and the unveiling of the MKZ and its upgraded internals at the Chicago Auto Show this year signals to consumers that the Zephyr was only half-baked when it launched late last year. Did Lincoln need to keep this one in the oven a little longer or can owners of the 2006 Zephyr feel good about their purchase in the face of impending obsolescence?
In its current state the Zephyr is a tough sedan to cross-shop against similar vehicles. Buyers interested in the Zephyr, which carries a base price of $28,995, may also look at other similarly priced FWD entry-level luxury sedans like the Acura TSX, Buick Lucerne and Hyundai Azera.
While Acura stubbornly refuses to put anything larger than a 2.4L four-cylinder in the TSX, it manages to get away with it by infusing the sedan with RSX-like handling. The Lucerne in V6 trim has less power than the Zephyr but a lot more room inside thanks to 12.5-inches of extra length and 8.2 inches more room between the wheels. Then there’s the Azera that pulls the old Hyundai trick of offering more of everything (power, room and safety features) for thousands less. Some may cry, “What about the Chrysler 300C and Cadillac CTS?” We think comparing the Zephyr to these RWD sedans is an unlikely match up in the marketplace for anyone except those trying to shop strictly domestic. A vehicle’s drivetrain is often a fundamental feature that’s decided on early in the buying process, so vehicles that send power to opposing ends don’t usually end up on the same short list.
It seems that in every category of comparison the Zephyr gives up something to one or another of its competitors, so it’s clear the area in which Lincoln expects it to make up ground is style. While the Fusion and Milan are about as similar as a Taurus and Sable, the Lincoln is bedazzled with polished 17-inch aluminum wheels, a chrome waterfall grille and additional bits of shiny metallic on the rearview mirrors and dual exhaust tips. Whereas the Milan shares many visual cues with the Fusion, the Zephyr shares only a basic proportioning and doors with its two platform mates.
The Zephyr also offers an upgraded light show outside with available high intensity discharge headlamps and accompanying fog lamps, as well as LED taillamps within its oversized rear taillights. Unfortunately, those rear stop lamps go a long way in mucking up what might otherwise be an attractive derriere. Their grandiose size suggests they were meant for a rear end with a lot more surface area, like the tailgate of a Navigator. On the Zephyr they dominate the sheetmetal and reach too far inwards making the car look thinner than it actually is. We’re curious as to why Lincoln decided to refresh the Zephyr’s front end for 2007 and chose to leave this, its worst angle, alone.
Each of Ford’s trio of sedans offers up a different feast for the eyes, and while one of the bunch won’t please everyone’s aesthetic taste, as a group they’re managing to attract a good amount of clientele. The Lincoln’s exterior stands out with its totally unique front and rear ends, uplevel lighting and additional chrome trim. While no one’s directly accusing the 2006 Zephyr of simply being a rebadged Ford Fusion, it’s still not clear whether Lincoln has stuffed the sedan with enough differentiating content to make it a truly unique vehicle.
One part of the Zephyr that will carry over into the 2007 model year will be its interior. Stay tuned as we punch the code on Ford’s trademark keyless entry pad and venture into the quarters of Lincoln’s little sport sedan.
The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is on a quest to stand out not only from its less expensive sibs, but also from the crowded entry-level luxury segment at large. As we went over in the first part of our review, the exterior is handsome yet doesn’t step outside that safe, conventional styling box where powerful impressions are often made by the daring stroke of a designer’s pen. And that tail borders dangerously on being a liability.
The Zephyr, however, does have one secret weapon in its pursuit of a peerless quality: its interior. Having driven a number of Fusions, we thought we knew what to expect after unlocking the Zephyr’s doors via its key with integrated lock/unlock buttons. But after stepping over the classy Lincoln sill plate and nestling into the comfy perforated leather seats we gazed up at a most unexpected site – the interior of the all-new 2007 Lincoln Navigator!
Read on to find our impressions of the Zephyr’s inner sanctum after we double-checked the monroney to make certain we were in the right vehicle.
The angularity and deep relief of the Zephyr’s dash is a bit shocking at first sight. Our general sense of déjà vu that followed resulted from sitting in Lincoln’s next-gen Navigator at the Chicago Auto Show in February. Both interiors feature symmetry on either side of the center console that’s highlighted by this pair deep concavities with soft-touch frames. Truth be told we were ready to pan the Zephyr’s interior early in the week for feeling too sharp, flat and truck-like. So many of today’s interiors, however, feature flowing curves and flush everything that Lincoln’s approach has grown on us and stands apart as one of the vehicle’s defining features. Not everyone agrees with our interior assessment, however, as a straw poll conducted with friends and family resulted in an even split. But that’s the purpose of a polarizing design: attract attention and create strong emotions in its audience either for or against.
At this point we’re comfortable with the interior’s aesthetics and feel downright stylish behind the wheel. But style often succeeds thanks to the failure of function, so it was important we start pushing buttons, twisting knobs and yanking levers. The HVAC controls located at the bottom of the center console are standard Fusion fare, except for class perks like controls for the heated and cooled seats. The Zephyr also gets extra points for controlling the climate of the seat backs as well as the cushions.
Dominating the center dash is Ford’s familiar touch screen nav system with GPS mapping that’s only available in combination with the superlative THX II sound system. Fourteen speakers, including a prominently placed center channel speaker on top of the dash, divide the outgoing acoustics into distinct channels of audible bliss. A pair of amplifiers also ensures that you can thump bass with the best of them. We’re familiar with the nav system and have praised it in the past for not requiring an IT department to operate, but are dismayed at the rather large fitment gaps around the unit.
Our tester eschewed the standard polished wood trim for the optional Satin Aluminum package ($195), which replaces the bands of bark normally encircling the cockpit with ribbed aluminum trim that better compliments this interior’s color palette. A silver analog clock a lá Infiniti has been placed between the two center vents to add a touch of class, despite a digital clock residing less than six inches away on the nav screen.
Once you stop smudging the nav screen with you fingertips your hands will come to rest on the Zephyr’s steering with integrated cruise and audio controls that are easy to operate via your thumbs. Peering through the wheel you’ll find the Zephyr’s white-on-black gauges and an information display nestled between. Fortunately the Zephyr deviates here from the new Navigator, which features square gauges that resemble geriatric timepieces.
As was previously mentioned our testers seats featured both heating and cooling functions. The captain’s chairs up front earned our favor for their long cushions and comfy foam. While spirited driving will quickly have you crushing the compliant bolsters, the 10-way power adjustability on both front seats at least ensures any size driver can find a comfortable position. The Zephyr’s rear seats are large enough for two average adults to travel in comfort, though its 37-inches of legroom don’t come close to approaching the Buick Lucerne’s 41.4-inches. The Zephyr’s trunk, however, only gives up a single cubic foot to the Lucerne’s rear cellar (16 vs. 17 cu. ft.) though gains it right back by using gas struts to support the trunk lid instead of the Lucerne’s space-robbing hinges.
So far the Zephyr’s inner sanctum has pleased both our sense of sight and touch. The dash design is unique and while off putting to some stands as the sedan’s most defining feature. Love it or hate it, that dash just won’t be ignored. The black and silver colors that separate the soft touch materials from the hard plastic and aluminum trim also satisfy our aesthetic tastes. While some may niggle over the HVAC’s placement at the bottom of the center stack (a common Fusion complaint) and points are deducted for the large gap surrounding the nav unit, the Zephyr’s interior is at least one of the car’s components that lives up to the entry level luxury standard set by its competitors.
We’ve got one more review to go in which we’ll be cranking the seat heaters and heading out on the open road to learn whether this platform’s capable handling characteristics have been faithfully transferred into Lincoln’s littlest luxury sedan.
After a week spent with what will soon be the short-lived 2006 Lincoln Zephyr, we’ve learned that beneath its tame exterior lies a uniquely attractive interior. But there’s more beneath this sedan’s sheetmetal than leather, soft-touch vinyl and aluminum trim.
The Zephyr’s mighty heavy hood hides the same 3.0L DOHC V6 producing 221hp and 204 ft-lbs. of torque that can be had in the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan.
Though the Zephyr’s chassis has proven to be an exciting performer in past acts, will the relatively small V6 and the rest of the platform’s supporting cast be enough to prevent a harsh review? Read on to find out…
As we said earlier, the Zephyr’s chassis has earned many a thumbs up in past performances. You can catch its act while driving a Ford Fusion or Mercury Milan, and the Mazda6 features a slightly shorter and thinner version of the same platform. Those cars have earned standing ovations for their portrayal of smooth riding FWD sedans able to dial in responsive handling at the drop of a hat. Whereas the Mazda6 is perhaps the most stiffly sprung player in the pack, the Lincoln Zephyr is the most damped with a discernibly softer ride than the others.
While the Zephyr’s two sides are tied together with front and rear anti-sway bars, the car does pitch and roll a bit more than the pair of Fusions we tested last year. Despite the softer settings, the Zephyr remains a very well composed car. Inducing understeer on public roads required more gumption than we cared to muster, which means the limit to this sedan’s handling are certainly higher than the law allows.
Though the Zephyr would likely trail its platform mates through the slalom cones, it would be our first choice for any extended excursion. In fact, the Lincoln’s highway ride was surprisingly serene and the combination of its finely tuned four-wheel independent suspension and strong chassis allowed for road irregularities to be absorbed with a compliance that belied its relatively short wheelbase. In fact, we’d rate the interstate experience of a Lincoln Zephyr higher than the recently reviewed 2006 Buick Lucerne, the latter’s decade old chassis being no match for the Zephyr’s modern frame despite eight inches of extra wheelbase.
In order to get the Zephyr to dance, however, one has to ask a lot of this little six cylinder. We commented on this powerplant’s lack of grunt and coarseness when called upon in our review of the Fusion SEL V6. The issue only becomes exacerbated in a car that costs thousands more than a deluxe Fusion with all the trimmings. While the Zephyr’s six-speed auto does what it can to keep your tach in the power band, this usually means keeping the revs up where this little-engine-that-could-but-not-quite-but-maybe-with-a-tailwind shows that it just can’t muster any serious motivation without conducting a symphony of thrashing that threatens to drown out the THX II sound system.
While many people decry Lincoln’s lack of stability control in the Zephyr, it really didn’t weigh much on our judgment of the vehicle. Most of the time we’re trying to figure out how to disarm stability control systems. The absence of one in the Zephyr is not Lincoln’s nod to a bygone time when our cars weren’t saddled with electronic training wheels, but more likely an admittance that Lincoln owners usually aren’t the type that need to be reeled in from the edge by a car’s computer.
As we prepare to say goodbye forever to the Zephyr (sniff, sniff) and hello to the MKZ, we can’t help but wonder why Ford didn’t choose to hold off the introduction of this sedan a single model year until it could debut with the company’s new, more powerful 3.5L V6, all-wheel drive and the new in-house derived six-speed automatic destined for the 2007 MKZ. Such a move would’ve established the MKZ out of the gate as the premium player in this pack of sedans. Instead we have the stillborn Zephyr that’s forced to share mechanicals with its more menial mates, thereby diluting its own pedigree.
It could be possible that poor timing sealed the Zephyr’s fate. Clearly the new 3.5L V6 and six-speed slushbox weren’t ready in time for the Zephyr’s launch. Perhaps Ford would’ve lost more money by operating its Hermosillo, Mexico plant at less than full capacity for a year while waiting for development of the new engine and transmission to be complete. The Zephyr’s name change to MKZ and front-end refreshening after a single model year, however, indicate a lack of direction or a long-term plan over at Lincoln. That doesn’t mean this model’s doomed, as we expect the MKZ to address most of the Zephyr’s shortcomings and build upon its strength. In the end, Lincoln will have its desperately needed sports sedan that can justify a higher price and step toe-to-toe with other entry-level luxury competitors. It just won’t be called the Zephyr.
New Car Test Drive
All-new entry-level Lincoln boasts world-class chassis.
The all-new Lincoln Zephyr is a near-luxury sedan that makes Lincoln-grade luxury and styling affordable to more people than ever. It's a welcome addition to the Lincoln lineup, as Lincoln's sustained focus on large luxury cars and SUVs has left the brand conspicuously absent from the highly competitive near-luxury segment.
With its youthful appearance and tidy packaging, the Zephyr provides some balance to the other vehicles in the Lincoln showroom. This newcomer also adds an offering with a distinctly American character to the near-luxury segment, which has been dominated by sporty imports for decades.
With a base price of less than $30,000, the Zephyr enters 2006 as the brand's entry-level model. Based on the proven front-wheel-drive mechanicals of the Mazda6, Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, the Zephyr offers a smooth ride, a spacious interior and bold new styling that is certain to be echoed on future Lincoln products. Furthermore, the price undercuts that of most of its near-luxury competitors.
Zephyr's appeal lies in its combination of style, interior comfort and price. While it costs several thousand dollars more than the aforementioned sedans with which it shares much of its underpinnings, the Zephyr adds value by way of premium materials, a quiet, smooth ride, high feature content and impressive refinement.
Inside and out, it feels very much as a Lincoln should, and thus should appeal to folks who are attracted to Lincoln but, until now, haven't been able to afford one.
The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr ($28,995) is offered in a single trim level, with a 220-hp V6 engine, front-wheel drive, and a six-speed automatic transmission.
Its long list of standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, a six-speaker sound system with in-dash six-disc CD player, cruise control, leather upholstery, 10-way power driver and front passenger bucket seats with heating feature, dual-zone climate control and genuine wood trim.
Options include a THX II Audiophile sound system ($995), a touch-screen DVD-based navigation system ($2,495), which includes the THX sound system, a power sunroof ($1,200), cooled front seats ($495), which includes perforated leather upholstery, Xenon HID headlights ($495), and chrome aluminum wheels ($895).
Active safety features include anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and traction control. Passive safety features include front seat belts with pretensioners and load-limiters, dual front air bags, front side seat-mounted torso air bags, front- and rear-seat curtain air bags and an inertia-based fuel cutoff switch that stops the flow of fuel in the event of a serious accident to prevent fuel spills and fires.
The Zephyr is the smallest of all Lincolns, fitting in the midsize category along with the slightly larger, rear-wheel-drive Lincoln LS. The Zephyr is based on the same platform as the Mazda6, Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, but has many Lincoln styling cues to maintain a distinct visual identity.
In front, the Zephyr features a broad waterfall grille flanked by quad headlamps. Fog lamps are standard. The hood cuts down low across the headlamps and grille, creating a stern, determined appearance without resorting to the angry look found on so many other cars in this segment. Particularly interesting are the scalloped parking lamps, which cradle the lower part of the headlamps, looking very cool when illuminated on their own.
As a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the nose is long, but not unattractively so. The bodysides are clean and clear of frivolous ornamentation. All Zephyrs ride on 17-inch wheels; eight-spoke silver painted wheels are standard; chrome wheels are optional.
The Zephyr's rear end is dominated by large, high-mounted taillamps that incorporate fast-illuminating LED brake lights on the outer portion and conventional bulbs in the middle with prism-like reflectors. The trunk is tall, with some sculpting in the decklid to house the Lincoln badge. The bumper has subtle cutouts to accommodate twin chrome exhaust tips.
To sit inside the Zephyr, you would be hard-pressed to find evidence of parts sharing with any less-expensive sedans in the Ford family. Front seats offer comfort for people of most body types, thanks to standard 10-way power adjustments for both the driver and front passenger, including lumbar support. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes. There is no shortage of elbow and legroom for front seat occupants.
The center console features generously sized, chrome-ringed cupholders and an armrest that slides forward to accommodate drivers that may have moved his or her seat forward on its tracks. Outward vision through the windshield is good in spite of the tall dashboard. Vision out the sides is decent, aided by big, heated outside mirrors. The rear shelf, however, is so high that it blocks a fair amount of rearward vision through the mirror and increases the size of the blind spots.
Ergonomics are quite good, even if the Zephyr's highly stylized, formal dashboard treatment is a bit imposing. The deep-set, electroluminescent speedometer and tachometer are on the small side, but are clearly legible nonetheless. A trip computer/vehicle information display is nestled between the two primary gauges, as are warning lights and the coolant temperature and fuel level indicators.
All gauges and controls feature cool white nighttime illumination that conveys an appreciable sense of class. However, driving at dusk, we noticed that the white back-lit script blended into the silver dashboard and steering wheel trim, making the buttons somewhat difficult to read. That said, all controls, buttons and knobs have a genuine upscale feel in their operation. An elegant analog clock located high in the center of the dash further contributes to the Zephyr's air of sophistication.
Leather upholstery is standard, and while it does not feel as buttery smooth as that in, say, the Cadillac CTS or Lexus ES 330, it feels better than that of the BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Front seat heaters are standard, while seat coolers are available. Both offer three settings. Ordering the cooled seats brings with it perforated leather upholstery in place of the non-perforated leather on all other Zephyrs.
Interior trim is remarkably nice, with padded materials covering the dash top and door panels. The silvery metallic plastic trim looks attractive, offset as it is by generous swaths of genuine wood trim and chrome accents. We wonder, however, about the long-term durability of that silver stuff; we've seen similar material on other cars get scratched easily and often over time.
Zephyr's steering wheel is a particularly good-looking part of the interior. The four-spoke wheel is rimmed most in leather. Two lovely wood pieces, at 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock where one's hands belong, match the wood trim elsewhere in the vehicle.
Controls for the standard, six-speaker stereo, as well as those for the optional thundering THX Audiophile II system, are straightforward and clear. The optional, easy-to-use touch-screen navigation system unfortunately gobbles up the dashboard real estate usually reserved for the radio, thus most audio functions have been incorporated into the touch screen. At least a conventional volume knob has been retained even with the navigation system option, which includes the THX sound system.
The navigation system itself is about par in terms of ease of operation and reliability, capable of speaking English, French and Spanish, and it even vocalizes the names of the certain streets when giving directions. Not that it can boast perfect pronunciation, though; during a test drive through Beverly Hills, California, the navigation system's friendly female voice directed us to turn left on Rodeo Drive, pronouncing as a cowboy would when describing a cow-roping event.
The dual-zone automatic climate controls are of the button variety, rather than the preferable knobs. That said, they are quickly.
On the road, the Lincoln Zephyr behaves very much as a Lincoln should. A fully independent suspension accentuates ride quality over handling, resulting in road imperfections being seen but not felt. Interior noise levels are no louder than a whisper even at highway speeds. The velvety ride quality is on par with that of the Lexus ES 330.
Power from the standard 220-hp 3.0-liter V6 should be good enough for most drivers, although it remains between 35 to 50 horsepower shy of the Acura TL, Infiniti G35 and Cadillac CTS 3.6. The 3.0-liter engine, which Ford calls the Duratec V6, could be smoother and quieter under strong acceleration. Zephyr is only available with front-wheel-drive, and as such is the only Lincoln that does not have rear- or all-wheel drive.
The standard six-speed automatic delivers smooth, unnoticeable shifts. However, the transmission does not offer a manual shift mode, as do most of the other offerings in the near-luxury segment, not to mention the Mazda6 on which it's based.
The powertrain delivers decent fuel efficiency, however, thanks in no small part to the six-speed automatic's tall top gear. The Zephyr's claimed 20 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway compares favorably within its competitive set, especially to its more powerful competition.
Handling, however, suffers as a result of Zephyr's emphasis on ironing out all the bumps. In terms of sportiness, the front-wheel-drive Zephyr simply cannot compete with the rear-wheel-drive Cadillac CTS or the rear-wheel-drive BMW 3 Series or the all-wheel-drive Audi A4. The Zephyr's ride and handling mix is more comparable to that of the Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon, and Lexus ES 330. Specifically, the springs are quite soft, allowing for considerable body roll (lean) in turns. The engine-speed-sensitive, variable-assist power steering tends to be a bit overboosted at most speeds. The turning circle is unimpressive at 40.0 feet, making parking lot maneuvers particularly cumbersome.
The Zephyr comes with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution. During our test, they proved to be decent, if not world class. The pedal was relatively uncommunicative and stops were accompanied by considerable brake dive.
Traction control is offered, but stability control is not. This is surprising, since most everything in this class (as well as many that cost far less) come with this safety feature. Also notably absent from the options list is a reverse sensing system.
The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is a classy, midsize luxury sedan that combines front-wheel-drive dynamics with contemporary styling, a terrific interior and good fuel economy. It is safe and easy to drive, if not super sporty. The attractive price makes it a compelling choice for buyers looking at the Buick Lucerne, Lexus ES 330, Acura TL, or Cadillac CTS.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Steve Siler filed this report from Hollywood, California.
Lincoln Zephyr ($29,995).
Options As Tested
Navigation system ($2495), includes THX II Audiophile sound system; heated/cooled front seats ($495); Xenon HID headlamps ($495); 17-inch chrome wheels ($895).
Lincoln Zephyr ($28,995).
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