NEW YORK, NY - Jazz music, a draped car, and a stark turntable tell the story. Lincoln's explanation for the low-key press introduction of the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr would likely extol the virtues of simplicity in luxury, visually tying the Zephyr's clean, unadorned flanks to the lack of fanfare surrounding the debut of the car. More likely, it highlights Lincoln's cash and product starvation problem, despite recent wins in the retail sales market. Hey, why spend a ton of money to introduce a new entry-luxury sedan after making a conscious decision not to spend a ton of money to develop that entry-luxury sedan?
Darryl Hazel, president of Lincoln Mercury, promises that both of Ford's struggling upscale brands are "going to continue to refine (their) products and enter new markets." Jim Padilla, Ford executive vice president and president of the Americas, supports that statement, proclaiming that Lincoln Mercury will "deliver more products, faster."
The product offensive has already begun for Mercury with the new Monterey, Montego and Mariner. In 2006, new Lincolns start to arrive in the form of the 2006 Mark LT and the 2006 Zephyr. The latter was introduced to reporters at the 2004 New York International Auto Show.
Lincoln bases this new entry-luxury sedan on the Mazda 6 platform, which is spawning similarly sized Ford and Mercury sedans, and the upcoming 2007 Lincoln Aviator crossover suv. A higher-output version of the familiar Duratec 30 3.0-liter V6 engine employs intake variable cam timing (VCT) to make extra power, and a six-speed automatic transmission drives the front wheels. Sometime after the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr's launch, all-wheel-drive will be available.
Interior design is better executed, but might not connect with the younger luxury consumers that Lincoln seeks. Patterned after successful 1960s Lincolns, the Zephyr's innards are executed in soft leather upholstery, exotic Harewood trim, and satin-finish metallic accents. The Zephyr includes dual-zone climate control, a navigation system, THX audio and climate controlled seats whose design is patterned after the famous Eames lounge chair - some or all of which will be optional.
Despite its potential snooze factor, the exterior design is clean and incorporates traditional Lincoln design cues, from the chrome waterfall grille to the prominent Lincoln star emblems affixed to the C-pillars.
Of course, nobody can make judgment calls based on the cursory examination of a pre-production vehicle. The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr might just be the catalyst that restores this once proud American luxury nameplate's luster. Or, it could turn out to be a half-baked product that gets completely lost in a large, highly competitive marketplace…the way the Lincoln LS did.
--Photos Courtesy of Ford Motor Corporation