Up until now, if you were in the market for a near luxury sedan in the $30,000 to $35,000 range, your choices were limited to performance oriented sports sedans or flashy 4 door cars with swoopy styling. It was like going to a shoe store to by a pair of wing-tips, but all that was available were track shoes and sandals. If you preferred a suit and tie to jogging shorts and polo shirts, there is now a chariot that fits your lifestyle. Meet the new Lincoln Zephyr.
Here is a mid-sized sedan with understated elegance in a class that is dominated by high performance sport sedans. Sure, those other cars have fine leather interiors and luxury appointments, while providing sharp steering and firm, flat cornering, but often these attributes are at the expense of a plush ride or conservative style. I think that a good majority of car buyers in this class simply do not appreciate those qualities in their automobile. These folks would rather have a smooth, quiet, comfortable ride with relaxed road feel with no desire to feel G forces in their daily drives. If these assumptions are true, then this new offering by Lincoln should be a hit.www.carparts.com
The Lincoln Zephyr is built on the same platform as the recently introduced Ford Fusion, which itself is based on the excellent Mazda6 platform. Ford owns a good percentage of Mazda and often shares technology with the Japanese company.
Ford took the Fusion platform and "Lincolnized" it by taking styling cues and treatments from past Lincoln models. The design staff sifted through decades of cars, focusing on things that captured the essence of what made Lincolns of the past so great. The car they kept coming back to was the elegantly clean 1961 Lincoln Continental. Here was a car with simple, but bold styling in a period that was dominated by tailfins and glitz. It was understated elegance in a period of retched excess.
Inside the new Zephyr, you notice expanses of rich genuine wood trim in a band that traverses the drivers field of view with a brief interruption for the central control stack that is executed in satin silver. Even the steering wheel follows the horizontal theme with wood grips at 9 and 3.
The leather seats are simple and comfortable with 10 way power adjustments and heat for both the driver and front seat passenger. The interior is well executed despite the low price point of this car.
There are plenty of compromises in order to keep that price as low as it is, but the Lincoln folks did a good job for the most part selecting what to keep and what to leave out.
They used real wood which is so much richer than the imitations you see on cars these days. They also included dual mode climate controls, memory seat for the driver, heated front seats, a full complement of front, front-side and front & rear head curtain air bags and traction control. Options include premium perforated leather seats that are both heated and cooled (front passengers only), a GPS navigation system and a healthy THX surround sound system.
What they left off was equally notable. For instance, there is no stability control, neither standard nor optional. There is no manual mode for the 6-speed automatic transmission, (though most people who would be attracted to this car would never use it anyway), and there is a prop rod to hold the hood up instead of gas-charged struts which is what should be on a $30,000 plus vehicle.
In another move to keep costs down, the gauge cluster layout and components look like they were lifted from the generic Ford parts bin instead of being designed to coordinate with the rest of the dash. There is a chrome ringed tach on one side and a matching 120 MPH speedometer on the other side with small fuel and temperature gauges tacked on between them. I would have preferred to see the more elegant backlit cluster from the Lincoln Aviator.
While the original 1936 Lincoln Zephyr was powered by a state of the art V12 engine, the new 2006 Zephyr makes due with the tried and true double overhead cam (DOHC) 3.0 liter duratech V6 which delivers whatever energy it can muster through the front wheels. The low power output for a car in this class is partially offset by a smooth 6-speed automatic transmission.
People who expect high performance from their car will have to wait for the loudly rumored 3.5 liter V6 due out in a year or two. Also expected for the Zephyr is an all-wheel drive option as well as a hybrid version, both of which should bow for the 2007 model year.
The 3.0 liter engine has more than enough power for any normal driving condition and Lincoln did a good job with the way it sounds under power, but there's no mistaking that the engine is working hard to deliver the thrust in a class where competitive makes produce effortless acceleration.
I had a chance to drive the new Zephyr over a variety of roads in New York and Connecticut for the better part of a day and came away liking the Zephyr more than I thought I would. This is a relaxing, well behaved car that fared well in most normal driving situations that we encountered. A conservative driver will feel right at home and have little to complain about.
I fully expected that reverie to be extinguished as I sought to push the Zephyr to what I expected were its meager limits. To my surprise, the small Lincoln maintained a dignified stance with good steering control and more than adequate tire grip as I tossed it into corners and slammed on the brakes in an attempt to make it lose its composure.
While there was some body roll due to the soft suspension, it was well controlled and the car followed my steering inputs with little fanfare. The steering feel is not as crisp and direct as that of the Mazda6, but it feels secure and adequate for any normal driving conditions.
I have driven many Lincolns from the '60s and '70s and I can tell you that they offered an excellent, world class ride with a solid tank-like body that made it seem like you were riding in a bank vault. Driving in a straight line at highway speeds was what these cars lived for. Trying to negotiate a winding road with these early cars was like piloting the Titanic around a series of icebergs.
We have come a long way since those renaissance years. The new Zephyr blends in plenty of stately charm and panache for a very reasonable price and throws in good handling and acceptable performance. It is enough to bring a new, younger buyer into the Lincoln showroom for the first time in many a year.