The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is on a quest to stand out not only from its less expensive sibs, but also from the crowded entry-level luxury segment at large. As we went over in the first part of our review, the exterior is handsome yet doesn’t step outside that safe, conventional styling box where powerful impressions are often made by the daring stroke of a designer’s pen. And that tail borders dangerously on being a liability.

The Zephyr, however, does have one secret weapon in its pursuit of a peerless quality: its interior. Having driven a number of Fusions, we thought we knew what to expect after unlocking the Zephyr’s doors via its key with integrated lock/unlock buttons. But after stepping over the classy Lincoln sill plate and nestling into the comfy perforated leather seats we gazed up at a most unexpected site – the interior of the all-new 2007 Lincoln Navigator!

Read on to find our impressions of the Zephyr’s inner sanctum after we double-checked the monroney to make certain we were in the right vehicle.

The angularity and deep relief of the Zephyr’s dash is a bit shocking at first sight. Our general sense of déjà vu that followed resulted from sitting in Lincoln’s next-gen Navigator at the Chicago Auto Show in February. Both interiors feature symmetry on either side of the center console that’s highlighted by this pair deep concavities with soft-touch frames. Truth be told we were ready to pan the Zephyr’s interior early in the week for feeling too sharp, flat and truck-like. So many of today’s interiors, however, feature flowing curves and flush everything that Lincoln’s approach has grown on us and stands apart as one of the vehicle’s defining features. Not everyone agrees with our interior assessment, however, as a straw poll conducted with friends and family resulted in an even split. But that’s the purpose of a polarizing design: attract attention and create strong emotions in its audience either for or against.

At this point we’re comfortable with the interior’s aesthetics and feel downright stylish behind the wheel. But style often succeeds thanks to the failure of function, so it was important we start pushing buttons, twisting knobs and yanking levers. The HVAC controls located at the bottom of the center console are standard Fusion fare, except for class perks like controls for the heated and cooled seats. The Zephyr also gets extra points for controlling the climate of the seat backs as well as the cushions.

Dominating the center dash is Ford’s familiar touch screen nav system with GPS mapping that’s only available in combination with the superlative THX  II sound system. Fourteen speakers, including a prominently placed center channel speaker on top of the dash, divide the outgoing acoustics into distinct channels of audible bliss. A pair of amplifiers also ensures that you can thump bass with the best of them. We’re familiar with the nav system and have praised it in the past for not requiring an IT department to operate, but are dismayed at the rather large fitment gaps around the unit.

Our tester eschewed the standard polished wood trim for the optional Satin Aluminum package ($195), which replaces the bands of bark normally encircling the cockpit with ribbed aluminum trim that better compliments this interior’s color palette. A silver analog clock a lá Infiniti has been placed between the two center vents to add a touch of class, despite a digital clock residing less than six inches away on the nav screen.

Once you stop smudging the nav screen with you fingertips your hands will come to rest on the Zephyr’s steering with integrated cruise and audio controls that are easy to operate via your thumbs. Peering through the wheel you’ll find the Zephyr’s white-on-black gauges and an information display nestled between. Fortunately the Zephyr deviates here from the new Navigator, which features square gauges that resemble geriatric timepieces.

As was previously mentioned our testers seats featured both heating and cooling functions. The captain’s chairs up front earned our favor for their long cushions and comfy foam. While spirited driving will quickly have you crushing the compliant bolsters, the 10-way power adjustability on both front seats at least ensures any size driver can find a comfortable position. The Zephyr’s rear seats are large enough for two average adults to travel in comfort, though its 37-inches of legroom don’t come close to approaching the Buick Lucerne’s 41.4-inches. The Zephyr’s trunk, however, only gives up a single cubic foot to the Lucerne’s rear cellar (16 vs. 17 cu. ft.) though gains it right back by using gas struts to support the trunk lid instead of the Lucerne’s space-robbing hinges.

So far the Zephyr’s inner sanctum has pleased both our sense of sight and touch. The dash design is unique and while off putting to some stands as the sedan’s most defining feature. Love it or hate it, that dash just won’t be ignored. The black and silver colors that separate the soft touch materials from the hard plastic and aluminum trim also satisfy our aesthetic tastes. While some may niggle over the HVAC’s placement at the bottom of the center stack (a common Fusion complaint) and points are deducted for the large gap surrounding the nav unit, the Zephyr’s interior is at least one of the car’s components that lives up to the entry level luxury standard set by its competitors.

We’ve got one more review to go in which we’ll be cranking the seat heaters and heading out on the open road to learn whether this platform’s capable handling characteristics have been faithfully transferred into Lincoln’s littlest luxury sedan.

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