Domestic luxury automakers have often been tempted to pillage the lineups of their parent companies in order to see if there are any cost savings to be found in badge-engineering a vehicle with minimum development costs and a large profit margin. While the idea is to trade on the value of the company’s brand name itself, this type of vehicle typically ends up diluting the appeal of the manufacturer. The Cadillac Cimarron, a barely disguised Chevrolet Cavalier, is an excellent example of this policy backfiring. However, on occasion car companies are still willing to roll the dice that borrowing more than a platform won’t land them in hot water with loyal buyers.
The Lincoln Zephyr is one of the more successful efforts to add value to a pre-existing automobile template. The vehicle shares its engine, chassis and 35% of its body panels with the Ford Fusion and the Mercury Milan, and unless the Zephyr is viewed head-on it is very easy to mistake it for one of its more inexpensive cousins. The Zephyr marks Lincoln’s return to the front-wheel drive sedan segment, a market it abandoned when the last Continental rolled off the production line in 2002.
The 3.0 liter Ford Duratec V6 found nestled between the front fenders of the Zephyr produces 221 horsepower and 205 lb-ft of torque – hardly exciting numbers for a luxury car. One bright spot in the vehicle’s power train is the 6-speed automatic transmission which provides firm, confident upshifts that are almost imperceptible under normal driving. The Duratec also turns in decent fuel economy numbers at 28 miles per gallon on the highway and 20 in city driving.
The one area of the Zephyr which is completely distinct from any Ford or Mercury influence is the interior. Not only does the inside of the car feel roomy from every seating position, but it also represents a considerable upgrade from what most people would expect from a Detroit luxury car. A unique dashboard contains attractive readouts and gauges, along with a classic analog clock mounted directly in the middle of the car. The leather hides covering the seats are more supple and pleasant to the touch than those of recent German luxury sedans, and wood trim abounds throughout the cabin. All in all, the inside of the Lincoln Zephyr is a classy place to be.
Driving the Zephyr makes it clear that the intention was to produce a comfortable sedan rather than a high performance vehicle. Along with the lack of power from the V6, the suspension allows for dollops of body roll and under steer, reserving the sedan only for those drivers who don’t mind a disconnected, couch-like ride.
The Lincoln Zephyr disappeared in name at the end of 2006, although not in spirit – it would re-surface the next year as the MKZ. Lincoln decided that few buyers were making the connection between the somewhat whimsical name and the classic luxury vehicle it was linked, and the decision was made to introduce a naming scheme more in line with that of their imported luxury competition.