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2006 Lincoln Zephyr in the Autoblog Garage: Day 1-2

Lincoln is looking to jack up its street cred with the younger crowd, which for this company means anyone born after WWII, and it’s hoping the 2006 Zephyr with its sporty chassis, 221-hp 3.0L V6 and six-speed slushbox will bring more of that fresh blood to the fold. Problem is that Lincoln has already announced that the 2007 Zephyr will be renamed the MKZ and get Ford’s spankin’ new 3.5L V6 with more power, a newer six-speed transmission, AWD and a nip-tuck on the car’s nose. So where does that leave the 2006 Zephyr?

The Zephyr already had an uphill battle to fight with the buying public who knows a similar Mercury Milan or Ford Fusion can be had for thousands less, and the unveiling of the MKZ and its upgraded internals at the Chicago Auto Show this year signals to consumers that the Zephyr was only half-baked when it launched late last year. Did Lincoln need to keep this one in the oven a little longer or can owners of the 2006 Zephyr feel good about their purchase in the face of impending obsolescence?

In its current state the Zephyr is a tough sedan to cross-shop against similar vehicles. Buyers interested in the Zephyr, which carries a base price of $28,995, may also look at other similarly priced FWD entry-level luxury sedans like the Acura TSX, Buick Lucerne and Hyundai Azera.

While Acura stubbornly refuses to put anything larger than a 2.4L four-cylinder in the TSX, it manages to get away with it by infusing the sedan with RSX-like handling. The Lucerne in V6 trim has less power than the Zephyr but a lot more room inside thanks to 12.5-inches of extra length and 8.2 inches more room between the wheels. Then there’s the Azera that pulls the old Hyundai trick of offering more of everything (power, room and safety features) for thousands less. Some may cry, “What about the Chrysler 300C and Cadillac CTS?” We think comparing the Zephyr to these RWD sedans is an unlikely match up in the marketplace for anyone except those trying to shop strictly domestic. A vehicle’s drivetrain is often a fundamental feature that’s decided on early in the buying process, so vehicles that send power to opposing ends don’t usually end up on the same short list.

It seems that in every category of comparison the Zephyr gives up something to one or another of its competitors, so it’s clear the area in which Lincoln expects it to make up ground is style. While the Fusion and Milan are about as similar as a Taurus and Sable, the Lincoln is bedazzled with polished 17-inch aluminum wheels, a chrome waterfall grille and additional bits of shiny metallic on the rearview mirrors and dual exhaust tips. Whereas the Milan shares many visual cues with the Fusion, the Zephyr shares only a basic proportioning and doors with its two platform mates.

The Zephyr also offers an upgraded light show outside with available high intensity discharge headlamps and accompanying fog lamps, as well as LED taillamps within its oversized rear taillights. Unfortunately, those rear stop lamps go a long way in mucking up what might otherwise be an attractive derriere. Their grandiose size suggests they were meant for a rear end with a lot more surface area, like the tailgate of a Navigator. On the Zephyr they dominate the sheetmetal and reach too far inwards making the car look thinner than it actually is. We’re curious as to why Lincoln decided to refresh the Zephyr’s front end for 2007 and chose to leave this, its worst angle, alone.

Each of Ford’s trio of sedans offers up a different feast for the eyes, and while one of the bunch won’t please everyone’s aesthetic taste, as a group they’re managing to attract a good amount of clientele. The Lincoln’s exterior stands out with its totally unique front and rear ends, uplevel lighting and additional chrome trim. While no one’s directly accusing the 2006 Zephyr of simply being a rebadged Ford Fusion, it’s still not clear whether Lincoln has stuffed the sedan with enough differentiating content to make it a truly unique vehicle.

One part of the Zephyr that will carry over into the 2007 model year will be its interior. Stay tuned as we punch the code on Ford’s trademark keyless entry pad and venture into the quarters of Lincoln’s little sport sedan.

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