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2006 Lincoln Zephyr Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Lincoln

2006 Lincoln Zephyr

Lincoln was only selling expensive luxury cars, to an older, established clientele. New, younger buyers were needed. And so the Zephyr, a smaller, less-expensive but still luxurious Lincoln was born. In 1936.

The 1936 Lincoln Zephyr featured aerodynamic styling inspired by the Art Deco movement and the streamlined trains of its time, with power from a small flathead V12 engine that had some design similarities to the Ford V8 of the day. That, and its innovative use of a unit-construction body on top of its frame, allowed it to be produced and sold for much less than the larger Lincolns.

Seventy years later there is another Zephyr. It is very much in the mold of the original in concept, if contemporary in execution. The smallest Lincoln since its namesake, the 2006 Zephyr is a platform mate to the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan, and shares their basic chassis specifications, albeit with its own calibration of the fully-independent suspension. A V12 was not in the plan - like its platform-mates, the Zephyr is powered by the 3.0-liter dual overhead cam Duratec V6. The three share a common wheelbase and greenhouse shape, but no lower body panels. Befitting its Lincoln nature, the Zephyr is much more fully-equipped than the Fusion or Milan, or, indeed, many of its potential rivals in the entry-luxury segment.

I've just finished a week with a well-equipped Zephyr, and have been impressed by Lincoln's effort to appeal to a broader clientele. It's a fully-featured and comfortable machine with good manners on the highway. Just before taking delivery of the Zephyr, it was available for laps around a well-known racetrack at a press event. Lincolns are not generally thought of as competition cars (the Carerra Panamerica notwithstanding) and I wasn't anywhere near a race pace, but the suspension handled a quicker-than-street-legal driving quite well. The Zephyr is not your grandfather's Continental.

APPEARANCE: No Art Deco here. The Zephyr is every bit a contemporary Lincoln in its exterior styling. Angular and toned, with the trademark Lincoln chromed waterfall grille and sculpted hood, it's conservative enough to please longtime Lincoln buyers yet fresh enough to attract the younger set that Lincoln desires. Alloy wheels shod with low-profile tires fill the slightly-flared wheel arches for a hint at performance. The long, boxy roof and high trunk lid help both to decrease aerodynamic drag and increase passenger and luggage space. Huge wraparound taillights highlight the rear, and are brightly lit by LEDs. Puddle lamps in the outside rear-view mirrors light the ground at night, adding convenience and safety.

COMFORT: In a class where standard equipment can mean leatherette and plastic wood, the Zephyr stands out with supple perforated leather and real wood, either ebony or maple depending on interior color scheme. It's tastefully done, and satin-finished aluminum on the center stack gives a contemporary accent. The chrome-bezeled instruments feature bright electroluminescent lighting for easy visibility day or night, and LED backlighting for most controls and switches improves nighttime ease of use. The standard heated, ten-way power-adjustable front seats can be upgraded to be both heated and cooled. Comfort is good, and the all-weather versatility of both heat and cooling is hard to beat. The standard tilt-and-telescope My test car was equipped with both key options - the new Lincoln navigation system and THX II audio sound system - in one package. The standard sound system plays AM, FM, and both regular and MP3 CDs, with a six-disc in-dash changer; the THX system boasts 600 watts through 12 amplified channels and 14 speakers for very high-quality surround sound. Integrated with the nav system, both are controlled via a simple-to-use touch-screen interface. Rear seat accommodations are better than average for the class, and the trunk is one of the largest in its class.

SAFETY: The Zephyr's safety-cage structure is designed to protect the occupants and meet or exceed all safety standards for the foreseeable future. It has the ``Personal Safety System''(tm), with dual-deployment front airbags, and load-limiting safety belt retractors and pretensioners. Front side and full-length side-curtain airbags are standard, as are antilock brakes and traction control.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Yes, the Zephyr shares its basic underpinnings with the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan. However, it feels very different. The chassis structure is the same, as is the suspension design, with unequal-length double wishbones in front and a multilink setup in the rear, but the Zephyr's greater weight - from the extra soundproofing materials and luxury features expected - and luxury status means a softer suspension tuning. Once, this would have meant a plush ride on a smooth surface in a straight line, but poor suspension control on imperfect surfaces and excessive, poorly-damped body roll in corners at speed. Adamantly not the case with the Zephyr - Springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars are all matched correctly for very good comfort on all road surfaces, and surprising handling ability. As mentioned previously, I had the opportunity to take this car around a race track at a quick pace. Which it handled quite well, and better than some similar or even more expensive luxury cars, with no bad manners and only a reasonable amount of lean in corners.

PERFORMANCE: Luxury adds weight. In the Zephyr, the 3.0-liter Duratec V6, with 221 horsepower (at 6250 rpm) and 205 lb-ft of torque (at 4800 rpm) has over 100 pounds more weight to move than in the Fusion or Milan. The effects on acceleration are not as noticeable as they might otherwise be thanks to a six-speed automatic transmission, unusual even in the entry-luxury class. It allows a wider spread of gear ratios, with lower low and higher high, and shorter steps between ratios, improving both performance and fuel economy.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr follows in the footsteps of its 1936 namesake, to bring new customers to Lincoln.

2006 Lincoln Zephyr

Base Price			$ 28,995
Price As Tested		        $ 34,040
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 24-valve aluminum
				 alloy V6
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 182 cu. in.
Horsepower			221 @ 6250 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			205 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length	        107.4 in. / 190.5 in.
Curb Weight			3410 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.4
Fuel Capacity			17.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P225/50 VR17 Michelin Energy mxv4 xse
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS and EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent short-and-long arm /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy  - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 28 / 23
0 to 60 mph				7.5  sec

heated & cooled front seats		$   495
HID headlamps				$   495
17-inch chrome wheels			$   895
Navigation system and THX II audio	$ 2,495
Destination & delivery			$   665