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Edmunds Reviews Zephyr

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Like reg, they complained about its indecisive transmission...

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A new edition of understated elegance from Dearborn

By Mike Hudson Email | Blog

Date posted: 06-14-2006

With lots of public support stemming from the relative success of the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans, it wasn't a stretch for managers in the Glass House to expect similar reactions from a Lincoln product built on the same front-drive platform.

Possibly over a bowl of hummus from the La Shish down the street, the product people giddily dreamed about how they could finally win some younger buyers to the Lincoln marque.

"They want power, we'll give 'em a 3.0-liter V6. More pita bread, please. Let's totally reinvent the interior. Could we get another round of those lemon ice things? And we'll price it to start under $30,000. Check, please. Now let's build it."

The result is the Zephyr: a wonderful car from stem to stern. Tight fit and finish. A well-conceived and coherent design both inside and out. And even a modest helping of muscle under the hood.

So Gen X — set your faces to stunned because here comes the new Lincoln…or not. When we pulled this car up in front of a group of target-market consumers, one said, "Nice car, Grandpa." Somewhere in Dearborn that hummus is coming back up.

Perhaps it was the satisfaction created by that great lamb kabob or just general complacency, but Lincoln's Zephyr blows lukewarm instead of hot. It weighs only 3,410 pounds and gets 28 miles per gallon on the highway, yet still feels big and barge-y.

Still not convinced to let this one blow through? Well, there's a replacement vehicle called the Lincoln MKZ coming out with a bigger engine, optional AWD and a similar price this fall. Although from the looks of the concept shown at the Chicago auto show, not much is changing beyond the name — so here are a few things they might want to work on before its debut.

A sharp look inside and out (but mostly inside)

Regardless of who this car attracts, it succeeds in projecting a distinct vision of American elegance. Our tester's black clearcoat exterior complemented the squared forms of the sheet metal, aggressive taillight and trunk design, and chrome-bladed grille to give the Zephyr that classic Lincoln appearance of understatement and ever-so-slight menace.

This model also came with the $895 chrome 17-inch rims, a pricey feature that — depending on your POV — either rounds out the American luxury or makes your Zephyr look that much more like a livery car.

The exterior prompts the contradictory feeling of a vehicle that looks like nothing special and nothing else — a delightful blend for those looking to stand out but not show off in a world of mall parking lots filled with the usual BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes.

Perhaps most impressive — or at least interesting — is the interior, which takes a firm stand against the clean and antiseptic looks made famous by the Zephyr's aforementioned brethren. Lincoln went for downright imperial with towering door panels and a high dash line, with an opulent clock face dominating center stage. Much like the Ford Mustang, this cockpit gives the feeling of sitting inside a tub of sorts. In this bath, however, the surroundings tickle the senses with chrome accents, wood and sharp lines in every nook and cranny.

Zephyr interior materials are top-notch. The leather-finished seats look sharp, but stand a bit firm to the tush for some tastes. On long trips, however, that lumbar support will probably pay handsome dividends.

Driving views are a bit clipped by the high beltline, but remain relatively ample and clear. Side mirrors are large and even feature ground lighting when you're getting in or out. Creature comforts, cupholders and cubbies abound, with storage spaces and lights for all. Because it's a midsize, there's generous room in the back for your guests. And friends, this trunk is soooo big. How big is it? This trunk is so big we could fit old Honest Abe himself without wrinkling his hat.

For all those engineers reading, we apologize. The trunk is a class-leading 15.8 cubic feet.

Strangely, the instrument panel seems to have been overlooked, with perhaps the most boring speedometer since Oldsmobile got the ax. But that is soon forgotten with the flip of one magic button: the control for the air-cooled seats. In the hot Southern California sun, the wave of cool breeze from the perforated leather upholstery would inspire an embarrassingly girly giggle from even the most hardened brute.

The navigation and stereo are yet another mixed bag, with a $2,495 price tag and obnoxious THX certification graphic wearing down the enjoyment of a competent map program and decent sound from the AM/FM six-CD changer.

Pedal to the metal, wait, repeat

There's something magical about punching the gas and waiting for that power to kick in — if you're driving a turbocharged vehicle from 10 years ago. When you're in a normally aspirated 3.0-liter V6 with 221 horses and 205 pound-feet of torque, you expect a little less waitin'.

When the MKZ comes out, there will be a 3.5-liter V6 added, phasing out modest and aged 3.0-liter Duratec. In our experience, the problem lay not with the engine, which performed quietly and with enthusiasm. But those opportunities were few and far between.

Time and time again, the Zephyr's six-speed automatic transmission failed to synch up with the engine for up to a full second after sudden punching of the gas. Given that our track team was able to improve the car's 0-60 times (best was 7.5 seconds) by turning off the traction-assist program and letting the tires peel a bit, it would be easy to lay the blame right at Big Brother's door.

Traction control probably isn't overriding the gas when you're already going highway speeds — but we still experience the same confusion from the tranny leaving us waiting at the station for the Z-train. And without a "manual" mode, you're stuck on the engineers' schedule.

Looking for answers deeper into the powertrain, Lincoln has an electronically controlled throttle and transaxle, which are tuned along with the gear ratios to ensure "seamless" shifts, keeping noises and jarring starts to a minimum to improve comfort. In normal driving, this system does indeed keep any hoopla surrounding the shifts under wraps. But it is also playing conductor, holding that train we've been waiting for. And in this trade-off, Lincoln shows its preference for wisdom over youth and excitement. In fact, a lot of what Lincoln has done all around this vehicle has been done to reduce jiggles; from special brake tuning to "hydromounts" (fluid-filled bushings) for the engine in hopes of reducing vibration and noise.

The end result is a car that drives much like the soupy Lincolns of the past, with little road feel coming through the steering wheel, prompting a disconnecting feeling for the driver — something many people enjoy. You know, those who tend to remember the Great Depression.

One major difference is side-to-side suspension performance — think a quick off-ramp turn or slalom run — where engineers were apparently given permission to tighten things up. There's little body roll and firm control in tight turns at speed, giving the Zephyr an impressive average of 64.4 mph through our test slalom.

But in an attempt to control "primary ride," Lincoln says, it has tuned the car to adapt well to large changes in road surfaces, like the undulations found at a rough intersection. Perhaps this is why the car will kneel (somewhat dramatically for this class) during hard braking and rear back like a speedboat during full acceleration. This hurt the braking performance, causing some actual skipping and hopping at the track when it stopped from 60 mph in a decent 124.7 feet.

Again, Lincoln was obviously not aiming for sporty and didn't accidentally hit it.

Big, bold and American

In the end, Lincoln came across with a unique vision of an entry-level luxury sedan in a market crowded with BMWs and those trying to be BMWs. It provides a great midsize option for those looking to break out from the norm in the under-$30,000-to-start range.

For those looking for a bit more space than a compact, the Zephyr's $28,995 starting price is a major bargain when pitted against the Lexus ES (starting at $32,300), Infiniti G35 ($33,200) or Acura TL ($33,300), for instance.

Very likely, this car will get eaten up by the smaller competition, particularly given the incredible leaps in the compact entry segment from the BMW 3 Series (starting at $32,300) and subsequent leaps from the Audi A4 ($28,200), Lexus IS 250 ($29,900) or Mercedes-Benz C-Class ($29,200).

Worse still, there's the MKZ coming this fall, with a 3.5-liter V6 adding more oomph and AWD perhaps adding some finesse. So for now, it's hard to argue for buying a Zephyr. But with a few tweaks and a firm commitment to freshening up the transmission and suspension, this vehicle could start getting hard looks from the crowd Lincoln says it's shooting for.

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Zephyrs are selling like hotcakes aorund here.

"Time and time again, the Zephyr's six-speed automatic transmission failed to synch up with the engine for up to a full second after sudden punching of the gas"

TRY TWO THREE FIVE SECONDS!!!!!

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Wow Ford's 6 speed tranny with the same hesitation problem as Toyota and Lexuses 5 speed tranny. Maybe GM ought to rethink about putting the 6 speed auto in the Saturn Aura or make sure all the bugs are worked out.

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Are you sure that's the GM/Ford 6-speed?  I thought that was the same tranny as the in the 500/Montego. I think that was sourced from Aisin?

You're right on that one. It's not the same tranny.

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Wow Ford's 6 speed tranny with the same hesitation problem as Toyota and Lexuses 5 speed tranny. Maybe GM ought to rethink about putting the 6 speed auto in the Saturn Aura or make sure all the bugs are worked out.

My 95 tbird did it. my 99 sho did it (really bad). my brother in law and my fathers tauruses in the early 90's did it.

Ford has never learned how to program a transmission or get it to feel like it shifts smoothly. My guess is there is always some mechanical or legal liability they are trying to avoid. i.e. shredding trannies, gas mileage, lawsuits, who knows.

There is a reflash available for my car. I'm gonna try and get it done before I make a final judgment forever on Ford's auto trannies, that and the new 6 speed next year. Since I can't get a manumatic for mine now either it makes it that much worse.

Really what it boils down to is Ford is completely incompetent and incapable of building a good automatic, much less half their powertrains. If this shared 6 speed, if the GM's shift good and the Fords don't I don't really see why Ford should reserve any jobs for their powertrain engineers over there anymore.

Tonight, making a right turn on red with a car coming up. Normally you punch the throttle, it downshifts aggressively and you make the turn in good time. Nuh uh. Tonight, I nearly floor the throttle. It doesn't kick down, it barely even revs. Now I am ozzing into the intersection and the car won't take off! All of a sudden its 3,4,5, seconds and I am fearing I am going to hear a horn from the car that miight smash me. THEN, it gains rpm and downshifts ONE gear and there's no torque available because the gear was too high! So the rpms die again! I am frantically trying to peg the throttle to get the tranny to go to first or second or whatever. NOPE. third or fourth at like 10-15 mph. My foot is nearly to the floor and the thing is stumbling along, waiting to get killed.

Honestly, fire everyone reopsonsible at Ford. If I was that incompetent in my job, I would be out of a job a long time ago already. No wonder people by crap like Kias.

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My 95 tbird did it.  my 99 sho did it (really bad).  my brother in law and my fathers tauruses in the early 90's did it.

Ford has never learned how to program a transmission or get it to feel like it shifts smoothly.  My guess is there is always some mechanical or legal liability they are trying to avoid.  i.e. shredding trannies, gas mileage, lawsuits, who knows.

There is a reflash available for my car.  I'm gonna try and get it done before I make a final judgment forever on Ford's auto trannies, that and the new 6 speed next year.  Since I can't get a manumatic for mine now  either it makes it that much worse.

Really what it boils down to is Ford is completely incompetent and incapable of building a good automatic, much less half their powertrains.  If this shared 6 speed, if the GM's shift good and the Fords don't I don't really see why Ford should reserve any jobs for their powertrain engineers over there anymore. 

Tonight, making a right turn on red with a car coming up.  Normally you punch the throttle, it downshifts aggressively and you make the turn in good time.  Nuh uh.  Tonight, I nearly floor the throttle.  It doesn't kick down, it barely even revs.  Now I am ozzing into the intersection and the car won't take off!  All of a sudden its 3,4,5, seconds and I am fearing I am going to hear a horn from the car that miight smash me.  THEN, it gains rpm and downshifts ONE gear and there's no torque available because the gear was too high!  So the rpms die again!  I am frantically trying to peg the throttle to get the tranny to go to first or second or whatever.  NOPE.  third or fourth at like 10-15 mph.  My foot is nearly to the floor and the thing is stumbling along, waiting to get killed.

Honestly, fire everyone reopsonsible at Ford.  If I was that incompetent in my job, I would be out of a job a long time ago already.  No wonder people by crap like Kias.

Shoulda got the CVT.

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Shoulda got the CVT.

I know :(

i could've got a FWD SE with CVT but not the SEL or Ltd. But the AWD has the CVT. Actually, the CVT has similar issues, that you have to murder the gas pedal to get the computer to realize it needs to kick down. they already have a software patch for that as well.

Give GM credit, they do make repsonsive shifting trannies.

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just spent a bit looking at the 07 Altima on the Nissan web site.

Hey P, that LaCrosse may just seem a bit behind in the race now.....?

go for the v6!

edit: oops wrong thread!

Edited by regfootball

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The Zephyr badly needs the 3.5 V6 and someone over at GM to program there 6 speed automatic! A less gaudy interior and a bodyside protection molding would be nice as you can get those features on the Fusion and Milan for way less $$$!

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