The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is an attempt at reaching out to a younger and more import-oriented clientele. It's the first entry-level luxury sedan from Ford's premium brand in many years, and it's based on the same platform as the Ford Fusion and the Mercury Milan. It's separated from its platform mates by a unique suspension tuning that successfully combines comfort and handling in a manner that has long eluded Detroit but shares their weak, noisy engine and wide turning circle. A six-speed automatic transmission helps both performance and fuel economy, but there is no manual shift mode.
Outside, the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr features distinctive angular Lincoln styling. Its interior is larger than that of many other entry-level luxury sedans, plus it is comfortable and well appointed. The Zephyr boasts a 14-speaker THX-certified audio system and Lincoln's new DVD and GPS-based navigation system. The audio system provides high-quality sound and can play MP3 CDs, but it lacks a jack for an external digital music player.
At a base price of $28,995, the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr undercuts its competition. It benefits from a standard leather and wood interior, if not from its aging Duratec V-6. The less-than-30-grand pricing disappears quickly when options are specified. On our test car, this meant the THX audio and the navigation system as a package for $2,495, heated and cooled front seats for $495, HID headlamps for $495, and 17-inch chrome wheels for $895. With a $665 destination charge, the bottom line was $34,040. The only option not on our test car was the $1,200 power moonroof.
A pleasant, conservatively styled interior with perforated leather seating and real wood trim sets the tone inside the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr, although generic HVAC vents identical to those in other down-market Ford vehicles detract a bit. The angular exterior styling looks to be a development of Ford's New Edge theme of a few years ago, with strong '70s nostalgia overtones, but it did get some positive remarks from onlookers. Puddle lamps in the outside rearview mirrors illuminate the ground at night.
The key fob has the usual locking and unlocking features, but holding the Unlock button for a few seconds opens both front windows and the moonroof (if so equipped)--a convenient feature on warm summer days. The driver's door is decorated with a longtime high-end Ford fixture: a numeric keypad that allows unlocking by code, not key. This is useful for travel if one wishes to hide keys in the car.
The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is quiet around town, if not as refined as some more expensive competitors. The driver and front passenger are treated to nice 10-way power-adjustable seats. In standard trim, they are heated; for an extra $495, they can also be cooled. The rear seat provides good room for two, with more legroom and headroom than what is the norm for the class. Three rear passengers are a more short-term proposition. A 60/40-split seat back allows extra cargo space when necessary.
The Zephyr's THX sound system, controlled from the touch-screen LCD, really stands out.
With 600 watts of power through 12 channels, the optional THX audiophile system produces exceptional sound from its 14 speakers. THX provided Lincoln with a set of audio specifications for the car based on the audio company's design so that the system could be THX certified. The car's LCD allows control of the system's digital-signal processing, which the driver can use to refine the sound and designate a sweet spot within the car's cabin. We found the sound quality very rich with a wide variety of music, hitting just the right bass and treble notes and not distorting at high volume. The system is designed to prevent speaker damage no matter how high the volume. For an in-depth look at the audio system, click here.
Source choices on the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr are standard and old school: AM, FM, and CDs come from a six-disc in-dash changer. The CD player is MP3 compatible and displays track and title information, but that is the only MP3 source, as there is no jack for an external MP3 player or an iPod. Satellite radio is prominently missing from the option list. Adjustable, speed-sensitive sound-level compensation is a useful feature.
To get Lincoln's new DVD-based navigation system, the audiophile sound system is required, as both are accessed through the touch-screen LCD. At $2,495, the package is expensive but within reason. It is well integrated and gets a decent grade for its ease of use. The touch-screen interface, aided by marked hard buttons to each side, is simple and intuitive. Press the Menu button, and there is even a bit of online help available. The display can be set to English, Spanish, or French, and the telephone number for system updates is prominently displayed at start-up.
The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr's LCD has moderately high resolution and is placed for good visibility, although the angle is not compatible if the driver wears polarized sunglasses. Map magnification and heading are adjusted by touch buttons, and destinations may be entered from the address book, previous addresses, or through a simulated keypad on the touch screen--a much easier method than any sort of joystick control. Route calculation is quick, with the usual options for routing. Voice guidance is offered, but there is no voice-recognition programming. Unfortunately, there is no Bluetooth compatibility either.
The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr shines in the chassis department. Lincoln started with a solid chassis structure, with admirable rigidity for improvements in ride and handling, as well as reductions in squeaks and rattles caused by movement of various body and chassis parts relative to each other.
While it shares the fully independent, unequal-length short-and-long arm front and multilink rear-suspension design of its platform mates, the Zephyr is tuned more softly, as befits its luxury aspiration and Lincoln nameplate. Not long ago, that would have meant a plush ride on the superslab, along with excessive and poorly controlled body roll when cornering. That is no longer the case. All of the suspension components--springs, shocks, and bushings--work together to give the Zephyr a very European luxury ride and handling characteristics. The variable-assistance steering is light at parking speeds and appropriately heavier for stability on the highway.
The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is as comfortable as expected for a luxury car, even on poor surfaces, and yet when we had the opportunity to drive it on a racetrack at a media event, it proved to be right at home at a fast touring pace. We weren't going to break the lap record, but we would have had some fast talking to do if caught at this speed on a public road.
Although the 3.0-liter Duratec V-6 has been continuously developed since its introduction in the Taurus more than a decade ago, its age and middle-class origins conflict with the Zephyr's luxury aspirations. It has an aluminum-alloy block and heads; a dual overhead cam; a 24-valve architecture with variable-cam phasing on the intake cams; a coil-on-plug ignition; and an electronic throttle control. Plus, it is appropriately quiet at city-driving speeds and low throttle openings. But it gets noisy when the accelerator pedal is pressed hard, and with more than 100 pounds added weight to move than in a Fusion or a Milan, it has to work harder. Hydraulic engine mounts keep vibration, if not noise, to a minimum.
Peak power is developed relatively high in the rev range, with 221 horsepower at 6,250rpm, nearly at the 6,650 redline, and 205 pound-feet of torque at 4,800rpm, so it has to work hard for maximum acceleration, as when merging into fast highway traffic. It's helped considerably by a six-speed automatic transmission, which allows both a wider spread of gear ratios and closer ratios for less engine-speed change between shifts. This transmission improves both acceleration and fuel economy.
Acceleration on the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr, at 7.5 seconds from 0 to 60mph, could be better, and fuel economy, at around 22mpg overall, was reasonable but disappointing after seeing better in a Fusion tested earlier. EPA ratings are 20mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. The Zephyr's power train is relatively clean, achieving a ULEV-2 rating from the California Air Resources Board, as well as Federal Tier 2, Bin 5 exhaust and LEV-2 evaporative ratings.
The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr comes with a good array of passive and active-safety equipment. Its rigid safety-cage structure is designed to protect occupants in an impact in any direction by controlled deformation, directing energy around and underneath the passenger compartment. Side impact is controlled not only by the B-pillar design and anti-intrusion beams in each door but also by blocks of energy-absorbing expanded polypropylene foam in the doors. Energy-absorbing polycarbonate-polyester materials are placed behind the front and rear bumpers.
The personal-safety system includes dual-deployment front air bags, front side and full-length side curtain air bags, energy-absorbing three-point safety belts for all occupants, and load-limiting retractors and pretensioners. Strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard equipment, as is all-speed traction control.
The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr's integrated-fob key places the physical key and fob containing the lock, unlock, trunk, and emergency buttons together in one unit. It is also equipped with the SecuriLock passive antitheft system.
All of this safety equipment gives the Zephyr four-star ratings in federal frontal, rollover, and rear-seat side-impact tests, with a five-star rating for front-seat side impacts.
Missing from the option list are the dynamic stability-control system and the telematics system.
The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is covered by a four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty on materials and workmanship, with one year/12,000 miles of complimentary maintenance. The safety-restraint system is covered for five years/50,000 miles. Perforation from corrosion is covered for five years with unlimited mileage.