We've sampled all of them -- the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr -- in the past few months and one of us puts the Zephyr at the top of the shopping list. All three of the new sedans are spun off the impressive Mazda6 platform, with the Zephyr,which will be reintroduced next year as the MKZ, leading the pack in terms of luxury amenities at a relatively affordable sticker price.
We tested an amply equipped version of the new front-wheel-drive Lincoln.
Our test car had a base price of $29,660 and included an optional $2,495 navigation system, $495 high-intensity discharge headlights and $495 heated-and-cooled front seats. Bottom line: $33,145.
SHE: If those three vehicles were actual siblings, the Zephyr would be the envy of the other two. You know, the kind of sister who is an overachiever. The one who got all the looks in the family, the best grades and dated the captain of the football team. I think the Zephyr has it over the Fusion in many ways, especially safety. You don't have to decide on whether to check the box for things like side curtain air bags or antilock brakes with the Lincoln. They come standard.
HE: So, which sister were you? I see you as a Mercury Milan kind of girl -- in between blue collar and blue blood, not too pretentious, pretty good-looking. In other words, just the right package.
SHE: Yes, and she married a Harley-Davidson F-150 and lived happily ever after. But seriously, you've got to give Lincoln a lot of credit for the Zephyr. If you can get past that unfortunate image of Lincoln, I think you're really going to like the Zephyr. It's a lot sleeker and more contemporary, with a much more satisfying ride.
HE: Lincoln is mining some new territory with the Zephyr, more of the entry-luxury class than a true premium vehicle. And that's OK. You get the cachet and additional accoutrements without paying an exorbitant price. Because of its compact dimensions and that superb mechanical base, the Zephyr rides and handles more like a sport sedan than a boulevard cruiser. The baby Lincoln is quite nimble and extremely easy to maneuver. And it's priced to compete with most of the entry-luxury models from Japan and Europe.
SHE: The Zephyr has a decent powertrain combination -- a 3.0-liter V-6 that makes 221 horsepower and 205 pounds-feet of torque. It's quite a nice performer on the highway, especially when you have to punch the throttle to merge quickly or accelerate out of trouble. The engine is mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission, which helps to squeeze the most out of every gallon of gasoline. Our test car got 20 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway -- much better numbers than what you get on a competitor such as the Cadillac CTS.
HE: The fact that the Zephyr is front-wheel drive shouldn't bother most folks. After all, we're not talking about a performance car here, although new features that are coming next year as the MKZ -- a larger 3.5-liter engine, the availability of all-wheel drive -- should really enhance this car's appeal. It already has one of the most beautiful cabins in the class, miles ahead of Cadillac and Mercedes. The combination of materials is tasteful and exquisite -- unexpected on a $33,000 mid-size sedan. .
SHE: I like the Lincoln's waterfall grille and the oversize taillights. If you're still working with a blue-collar budget, but would love to indulge just a few of those blue-blood fantasies, check out the Zephyr.
Paul and Anita Lienert are partners in the Ann Arbor-based Lienert & Lienert, an automotive information services company.
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'06 Lincoln Zephyr
Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan.
Price: Base, $29,660 (inc. $665 destination charge); as tested, $33,145.
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6; 221-hp; 205 lb-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway.
Where built: Hermosillo, Mexico.
12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $1,561. (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage, driving record.)
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Likes: Affordable price tag. Exterior looks have really grown on me -- not dowdy like Town Car. Attractive cabin, with standard luxury amenities such as 10-way power driver's seat. Great standard safety features, including side curtain air bags, antilock brakes. Easy and fun to drive and handle. Roomy and deep trunk. Quiet cabin. 4-year/50,000-mile warranty and 24-hour roadside service.
Dislikes: No stability control. No adjustable pedals. No rear-seat DVD entertainment. Steering felt a bit light and disconnected from the road.
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Likes: 3.0-liter V-6 and 6-speed automatic provide decent performance, good fuel economy. Un-Lincoln-like ride -- more agile and sporty than marshmallowy. Gorgeous selection of materials in cabin. Impressive audio system. A truly modern Lincoln.
Dislikes: Could use a little more displacement and horsepower. Not as good-looking as its Mercury sibling. No all-wheel drive until next year. Major visibility issues with high rear parcel shelf, wide rear pillars. Rear seat is a little cramped.