After a week spent with what will soon be the short-lived 2006 Lincoln Zephyr, we’ve learned that beneath its tame exterior lies a uniquely attractive interior. But there’s more beneath this sedan’s sheetmetal than leather, soft-touch vinyl and aluminum trim.
The Zephyr’s mighty heavy hood hides the same 3.0L DOHC V6 producing 221hp and 204 ft-lbs. of torque that can be had in the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan.

Though the Zephyr’s chassis has proven to be an exciting performer in past acts, will the relatively small V6 and the rest of the platform’s supporting cast be enough to prevent a harsh review? Read on to find out…

As we said earlier, the Zephyr’s chassis has earned many a thumbs up in past performances. You can catch its act while driving a Ford Fusion or Mercury Milan, and the Mazda6 features a slightly shorter and thinner version of the same platform. Those cars have earned standing ovations for their portrayal of smooth riding FWD sedans able to dial in responsive handling at the drop of a hat. Whereas the Mazda6 is perhaps the most stiffly sprung player in the pack, the Lincoln Zephyr is the most damped with a discernibly softer ride than the others.

While the Zephyr’s two sides are tied together with front and rear anti-sway bars, the car does pitch and roll a bit more than the pair of Fusions we tested last year. Despite the softer settings, the Zephyr remains a very well composed car. Inducing understeer on public roads required more gumption than we cared to muster, which means the limit to this sedan’s handling are certainly higher than the law allows.

Though the Zephyr would likely trail its platform mates through the slalom cones, it would be our first choice for any extended excursion. In fact, the Lincoln’s highway ride was surprisingly serene and the combination of its finely tuned four-wheel independent suspension and strong chassis allowed for road irregularities to be absorbed with a compliance that belied its relatively short wheelbase. In fact, we’d rate the interstate experience of a Lincoln Zephyr higher than the recently reviewed 2006 Buick Lucerne, the latter’s decade old chassis being no match for the Zephyr’s modern frame despite eight inches of extra wheelbase.

In order to get the Zephyr to dance, however, one has to ask a lot of this little six cylinder. We commented on this powerplant’s lack of grunt and coarseness when called upon in our review of the Fusion SEL V6. The issue only becomes exacerbated in a car that costs thousands more than a deluxe Fusion with all the trimmings. While the Zephyr’s six-speed auto does what it can to keep your tach in the power band, this usually means keeping the revs up where this little-engine-that-could-but-not-quite-but-maybe-with-a-tailwind shows that it just can’t muster any serious motivation without conducting a symphony of thrashing that threatens to drown out the THX II sound system.

While many people decry Lincoln’s lack of stability control in the Zephyr, it really didn’t weigh much on our judgment of the vehicle. Most of the time we’re trying to figure out how to disarm stability control systems. The absence of one in the Zephyr is not Lincoln’s nod to a bygone time when our cars weren’t saddled with electronic training wheels, but more likely an admittance that Lincoln owners usually aren’t the type that need to be reeled in from the edge by a car’s computer.

As we prepare to say goodbye forever to the Zephyr (sniff, sniff) and hello to the MKZ, we can’t help but wonder why Ford didn’t choose to hold off the introduction of this sedan a single model year until it could debut with the company’s new, more powerful 3.5L V6, all-wheel drive and the new in-house derived six-speed automatic destined for the 2007 MKZ. Such a move would’ve established the MKZ out of the gate as the premium player in this pack of sedans. Instead we have the stillborn Zephyr that’s forced to share mechanicals with its more menial mates, thereby diluting its own pedigree.

It could be possible that poor timing sealed the Zephyr’s fate. Clearly the new 3.5L V6 and six-speed slushbox weren’t ready in time for the Zephyr’s launch. Perhaps Ford would’ve lost more money by operating its Hermosillo, Mexico plant at less than full capacity for a year while waiting for development of the new engine and transmission to be complete. The Zephyr’s name change to MKZ and front-end refreshening after a single model year, however, indicate a lack of direction or a long-term plan over at Lincoln. That doesn’t mean this model’s doomed, as we expect the MKZ to address most of the Zephyr’s shortcomings and build upon its strength. In the end, Lincoln will have its desperately needed sports sedan that can justify a higher price and step toe-to-toe with other entry-level luxury competitors. It just won’t be called the Zephyr.

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