Time will tell if the Zephyr is up for that kind of pressure, but early glimpses look promising. This smart-looking sedan offers a classy design, a finely-crafted interior, a nice list of standard and optional features, and boasts a starting price that’s less than its main competitors. What the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr lacks is power and sporty handling, though those are afflictions also dealt with by the successful Lexus ES 330.
But those are outside forces. Ford Motor Company executives face an uphill battle as they attempt to convince the buying public that a $30,000 Zephyr is that much better than an $18,000 Ford Fusion or a $19,000 Mercury Milan. Yes, the Zephyr feels more luxurious, has a smoother ride, and offers more upscale features, but underneath it’s the same car, and in today’s market, $10,000 buys not only better seats but a better vehicle. Take Cadillac, for example – though its trucks are blinged Chevys, cars like the CTS and DTS are just two among a lineup that offers buyers rides distinct from their plebeian cousins.
The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is a comfortable, attractive sedan, but one that’s nothing more than a tweaked Ford Fusion. And that, unfortunately, is not a car people are going to sing about.
Based on the same platform as the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr comes to market with more standard luxury, added refinement, and a higher sticker price. Starting at $29,660 (including a $665 destination charge), this new baby Lincoln requires a $7,000 premium over the Fusion V6 SEL and about $6,000 more than a Milan V6 Premier. However, in exchange for that extra coin come automatic headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, a compass, a tire inflation monitor, and real ebony or light maple wood trim on the dash, door panels, and steering wheel. Also included as standard fare are front side-impact and side-curtain airbags, power adjustable and heated front seats, and automatic dimming interior and exterior mirrors. As an added bonus, the Zephyr is backed by a better warranty than its stable mates – four years or 50,000 miles for basic and powertrain coverage, and five years and unlimited mileage for rust protection.
Among the other features found on the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr are a V6 engine mated to an automatic transmission; a tilting and telescoping steering wheel; steering wheel controls for the audio, cruise control, and climate control systems; and leather seats. Options include 17-inch chrome alloy wheels, high intensity discharge headlights, a power moonroof, perforated leather seats with a cooling feature, a DVD navigation system, and a 14-speaker, 600-watt THX-II sound system with an MP3 player, six-disc CD changer, and two subwoofers.
Our tester came loaded with every available option for an estimated price of $36,235 including the $665 destination charge. Given that the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr comes in but one trim, the question of value boils down to how much buyers are willing to spend on options. In comparison, a 2006 Acura TL with a navigation system sells for the same price but lacks cooled seats and a 600-watt sound system, though it does provide 37 additional horsepower. Contrasting the Zephyr with other competitors creates a similar scenario, so it will be up to buyers to decide which features are most desirable.
Nuts and Bolts
Under the hood of the 3,406-lb. 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is a 3.0-liter, 24-valve, dual overhead cam Duratec V6 that offers 221 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 205 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm. Power is directed to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. If that all sounds vaguely familiar, well, that’s probably because the exact same powertrain is available on Zephyr’s stablemates, the Ford Fusion and the Mercury Milan. However, unlike those models, the premium Lincoln version lacks a four-cylinder option.
In standard guise the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr rolls on eight-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels wearing Michelin Energy 225/70 tires. Behind those attractive rims are antilock ventilated disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and electronic brake assistance systems, so stopping shouldn’t be a problem. An independent short- and long-arm suspension with coil-over shocks and a stabilizer bar is fitted to the front of the Zephyr while an independent multi-link setup, also with coil-over shocks and a stabilizer bar, is bolted to the rear. Traction control is standard; stability control and all-wheel-drive systems are being considered for availability at a later date.
Typically, a gussied-up premium car differs from its mainstream base with fancier wheels, some chrome accents here and there, maybe a softer ride, and invariably a higher sticker price. In many ways, the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is more than that.
Though the overall shape is identical, designers used a variety of details to distinguish the Zephyr from lesser Ford and Mercury models. Front and rear fascias are new, as are the gargantuan taillights and wedged headlights with incorporated side markers. Those unique front and rear lights required that the Zephyr be outfitted with its own front fenders and rear quarter panels, further distinguishing the Lincoln from other FoMoCo examples. The rear is finished off with two chrome exhaust tips that feed from one muffler, while the chrome grille in front pays homage to Lincolns of old.
Inside, the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr proves worthy of its entry-luxury designation and further separates itself from its lower-priced brothers. Soft, perforated leather covers the seats and a nice mesh material is found on the pillars and overhead. Real wood, either maple or ebony, decorates the dash and door panels, and coordinates with leather to dress the steering wheel. Graphite-colored plastic is featured on the door panels, shift knob surround, and instrument panel, while gauge rings and door handles are finished in chrome. The Zephyr’s tall, flat dash mirrors that found in the F-150 and Mustang, from the flat top to the vertical center stack and round air vents. However, unlike those models the Lincoln adds an upscale analog clock and uses soft, rubberized plastics that impart a feeling of quality. In terms of ergonomics, all of the oft-used controls are within close reach and are clearly marked. Equally impressive is the Zephyr’s practicality – storage provisions are numerous, and the rear seat splits and folds for expansion of the 15.8 cubic-foot trunk.
That’s all fine and good, but build quality, an issue that has plagued domestic models for years, is a concern for many shoppers considering a Lincoln. The Zephyrs available for our media drive were early-production cars that had undoubtedly been scrutinized for defects. That being said, each example exhibited consistent gaps throughout, though some appeared a bit wide, especially when compared to the tight tolerances required by Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus.
After a quick scan through this article, it’s clear that there’s something missing. Not the details or impressions, each of which is well-represented. No, what’s absent is emotion.
Why? An afternoon driving the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr through New York City and along foliage-colored Connecticut back roads has a lot to do with it. Company reps say they’re going for understated elegance with this new entry. It’s in direct contrast to competitors like the angular Cadillac CTS and the once bold look of the Infiniti G35. In fact, those same Lincoln folk will state matter-of-factly that the Zephyr has been designed to offer more sport than the Lexus ES 330 (not exactly a challenge) and to be less conspicuous than the Caddy (again, failure isn’t really a possibility here). Unfortunately, the result is a car with a classy look but just ho-hum driving characteristics.
That 221-horsepower Duratec V6 provides ample power under routine driving conditions, yet it pales in comparison to more powerful engines from the competition. Furthermore, the six-speed automatic has a tendency to hunt on the slightest hill and putting the throttle to the floor can trigger a jerky downshift accompanied by a bit of torque steer. Thankfully, thick window glass and additional sound insulation do a fairly good job of muting engine noise. Indeed, the interior of the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is a quiet place to travel. It’s a comfortable one, too. The fully-independent suspension does an admirable job of absorbing road irregularities, though the ride definitely leans more toward soft than sport. Even so, body roll is kept to a minimum at moderate speeds. Brake feel is responsive and effective, not surprising given the capable standard setup. Steering is another issue. The variably-assisted rack-and-pinion system is designed to provide light effort at slow speeds with progressively more effort required as vehicle speed increases. It’s a setup that works pretty well, though the wheel feels a bit over-boosted at highway speeds, with less road feel being the ultimate result. More steering feel at speed would be favored.
Inside, contoured front and rear seats feature generous padding, padded door and center armrests are standard, and even the window sills are padded for the occasional resting elbow. A tilt and telescoping steering wheel allows drivers to slip in and out with ease. Both front seats are power adjustable and heated; head, leg, and foot room is ample for average-sized adults. The only downside is the rear headrests – they exist only for outboard passengers and they’re fixed.
How does the Zephyr’s price compare with its main competitors? The 2006 Acura TL starts at $33,940 (including a $615 destination charge); the 2006 Cadillac CTS starts at $31,285 (including a $720 destination charge); the 2006 Infiniti G35 sedan starts at $31,910 (including a $610 destination charge); and the 2006 Lexus ES 330 starts at $32,995 (including a $695 destination charge).
Why would someone buy a 2006 Lincoln Zephyr over the competition? The Zephyr has a few things going for it, not the least of which is the sub-$30,000 price. That puts it in the right ballpark, and actually low-balls much of the competition. Next would be the Zephyr’s interior, a space filled with leather and wood that is quite luxurious. Finally, we expect that many of the Zephyr’s buyers will end up at their Lincoln dealers because of brand loyalty – shoppers who have always owned a Ford or domestic product.
Besides all-wheel drive and stability control, are any significant changes expected for the Zephyr? Given that the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is an all-new vehicle, any significant changes are likely years out. But Ford will be launching a new, more powerful 3.5-liter V6 in the near future, and that engine will likely be shared by a number of vehicles, including the Zephyr.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Lincoln Zephyr
MSRP: $29,660 (includes a $665 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 3.0-liter Duratec V6
Engine Horsepower: 221 at 6,250 rpm
Engine Torque: 205 lb.-ft. at 4,800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Curb Weight, lbs.: 3,406
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 20/28 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 22.3 mpg
Length: 190.5 inches
Width: 72.2 inches
Wheelbase: 107.4 inches
Height: 55.9 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 42.3/37.0 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 38.7/37.8 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 15.8 cu. ft.
Competitors: Acura TL, Acura TSX, Audi A4 2.0T, BMW 325i, Buick LaCrosse CXS, Cadillac CTS 2.8L, Chrysler 300 Limited, Hyundai Azera, Infiniti G35, Jaguar X-Type, Lexus ES 330, Mercedes-Benz C280, Nissan Maxima SL, Saab 9-3, Toyota Avalon Touring, Volkswagen Passat 3.6L, Volvo S40 T5
Photos courtesy of Ford Motor Company