The 2006 Lincoln Zephyr is on the way to dealers.
Ford Motor Co.'s upscale brand, caught by surprise by the resurgence of its arch rival Cadillac, rolls out this new entry level, midsize premium sedan to compete against Cadillac's similarly sized CTS, as well as premium imports.
The Zephyr, whose concept version was introduced at last year's New York Auto Show. Essentially is an upscale version of the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans that also come to market as 2006 models. All three are based on the vehicle architecture of the Mazda6 sedan, which was introduced two years ago.
The Zephyr's price starts at $29,995, and the car comes with a long list of standard premium features that one would expect to find on a car bearing the Lincoln name.
To the casual observer, the Zephyr appears to have taken some of its styling ideas from the CTS.
The cars don't look alike. But the Zephyr has a grille and some other styling cues of its big brothers in the Lincoln lineup -- the full-size Navigator and midsize Aviator SUVs. Cadillac has done the same with the CTS, giving it a grille and bold front end similar to those of its SUV big brother, the Escalade, and its crossover sibling, the SRX wagon. And this new Zephyr has a lot in common with the CTS, including its size, interior space, pricing and more.
Lincoln is billing the Zephyr as "accessible luxury," believing that a large bloc of consumers will be able to afford a premium sedan that costs about the same as some popular non-luxury sport utilities.
Ford hopes the Zephyr will bring new, younger customers into showrooms the way the CTS has done for Cadillac. For now, Lincoln buyers are still mostly senior citizens. The Zephyr will show young consumers that "Lincoln can bring its hallmarks of elegant design and comfort to a new generation of customers," the company said in a news release announcing plans for the car.
A five-passenger sedan, the Zephyr will play in a rapidly growing market segment, the midsize premium sport sedan class. The CTS, Acura TL, Lexus ES 330 and Infiniti G35 are the hot vehicles in the segment now, reaching the same consumers that Lincoln will be shooting for -- those whose ages run from the 30s into the mid- to upper-40s. Among the Zephyr's design cues, Ford says, are "the bold horizontal lines of the taillights and grille, as well as the steeply raked windshield, strong horizontal themes and 19-inch spoke alloy wheels." The vehicle has a low stance, which is essential to a youthful-looking sport sedan, the company contends.
Inside, the gratuitous luxury of Lincolns past has been replaced by styling that is more to the liking of thirtysomething buyers, such as understated mixtures of satin aluminum, chrome, leather and wood.
All buttons and knobs are chromed, as are the one-touch louvered air vents, interior door handles and the control stalks on each side of the steering wheel, the company says. The car's gauges "were inspired by stylish wristwatches," with rounded rectangular housings, light faces and chrome hubs and pointers, Ford says. The tachometer and speedometer show up brightly at night with their white LED lighting.
Under the hood is a specially tuned version of Ford's Duratec 3.0-liter V-6 engine with variable cam timing, rated at 221 horsepower. It is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. For now, all Zephyrs are front-wheel drive, but eventually, all-wheel drive will be offered as an upgrade, something that buyers in Snow Belt states will appreciate..
Standard equipment includes 17-inch machined aluminum wheels; four-wheel disc antilock brakes; traction assist; side air bags and side air curtains; interiors with leather seats and dark ebony or light maple wood trim; AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD/MP3 player with six speakers; intermittent speed-sensitive windshield wipers; dual-zone climate control; front center console with adjustable armrest; universal garage/gate opener; power adjustable heated exterior mirrors with puddle lamps; tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio and climate controls; heated, 10-way power driver and passenger seats with power lumbar and recline; projector-beam headlights and LED taillights; and rear-seat reading lights.
The leather-covered steering wheel has a Lincoln star in its center. Seats are covered with a soft premium leather, and the rear seat has a fold-down armrest. As in the front, rear door panels are trimmed with satin aluminum. This will be the first new front-wheel-drive Lincoln since the Continental, which featured front drive from 1988-2002, the company said.
Ford does have plans to extend front drive to the next-generation LS model in 2007, building that vehicle, just as the Zephyr, on the platform of the new Ford Five-Hundred sedan that made its debut last fall. That car uses the same architecture as Volvo's luxury S80 sedan; Volvo, the Swedish carmaker, is now a wholly owned Ford subsidiary.
Lincoln reportedly is considering a front-drive replacement for the Town Car in 2007 or 2008 as well.
For safety, the Zephyr uses steel safety-cage construction with engineered crush zones to absorb energy in a crash. Ford's "Personal Safety System" will provide a combination of active and passive safety features, such as front and side air bags, side air curtains, occupant size sensing, three-point safety belts with front-seat pretensioners and retractors, tire pressure sensing, antilock brakes and traction control.
The name is one revived from Lincoln's past. The original 1936 Lincoln Zephyr was based on a concept by Dutch-born designer John Tjaarda of the Briggs Body Corp., Ford said.
Zephyrs were known for their performance, with a then-impressive 110 horsepower from their flathead V-12 engines, according to Ford. The 1942 Zephyr convertible was featured in the "Thin Man" movie series in the 1940s, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as crime fighters Nick and Nora Charles.
The Zephyr is one of five new Lincolns that will be introduced into six new market segments during a four-year period, the company said. The first came out earlier this summer -- the Mark LT full-size luxury pickup, which replaced the slow-selling and somewhat ridiculous Blackwood.
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G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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