The Lincoln Zephyr Returns
by Dan Lienert
Following its mini-Renaissance in the 1990s, which produced such well-received vehicles as the LS sedan and Navigator sport-utility vehicle (SUV), Lincoln has been floating in limbo and awaiting new vehicles that will rejuvenate the premium American automaker.
One of the most important new models coming for Lincoln, which is owned by Ford Motor, is the 2006 Zephyr sedan, a revival of a successful Lincoln nameplate of the 1930s. The mid-size Zephyr will go on sale sometime next year.
The Zephyr's development and engineering has been an example of how an automaker can save money by sharing resources between its brands. The Zephyr rides on the same mechanical underpinnings as the Mazda6 sedan by Mazda, another Ford brand. Ford will also use the so-called "Mazda6 platform" as the basis for two other forthcoming sedans, the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan. Other new models will use the platform as well: a forthcoming Ford SUV, the next-generation Lincoln Aviator SUV and overhauled versions of the Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey vans.
The Zephyr will help spearhead a team of new Lincoln vehicles. In a statement released on Nov. 30, Lincoln said that it will introduce five new models in four years, including the Zephyr. In February, Lincoln will introduce its first Super Bowl advertisement in over a decade: a spot promoting the company's new Mark LT pickup.
Although Lincoln needs new cars, its current lineup is financially successful despite being small. The company currently offers only the Navigator, the Aviator, the LS and the Town Car sedan, but the Navigator and Town Car make more money than pretty much any other Ford vehicles. Those two cars cost only a bit more to make than ordinary Ford models, but command premium prices and thus healthy revenue.
Lincoln has not yet announced pricing for the Zephyr, but the company did offer a preview of the vehicle with a prototype of the same name, which it introduced at April's New York International Auto Show. That version of the five-passenger sedan featured such design cues as a steeply-raked windshield and wide, 12-spoke, 19-inch alloy wheels.
At the time, Lincoln said in a statement that the public can expect the production version of the Zephyr to feature the same sort of interior amenities as the prototype, whose interior used such materials as aluminum, chrome (on all buttons and knobs), leather and wood. It also featured premium audio and navigation systems.
While Lincoln hopes that the vehicle's upscale look and feel will be enough to challenge other premium, midsize sedans, the company is also expecting the Zephyr to make a statement in terms of performance. The car will be the lightest Lincoln, and although its standard front-wheel drive layout is not as sporty as a rear-drive configuration would be, Lincoln will expand the Zephyr's performance capabilities with optional all-wheel drive. The prototype used a 3.0-liter V-6 engine with a premium, six-speed transmission.
Fellow Ford brands Lincoln and Mercury have been closely associated for decades, but the association has changed. According to The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile, "In the 1950s and 1960s the Mercury was definitely a 'junior Lincoln' rather than a 'senior Ford,' but from the mid-1970s onwards the Mercury range came closer to Ford's." In fact, Mercury named a forgettable version of Ford's Fairmont the "Zephyr" in 1978.