February 17th, 2005
2006 Lincoln Zephyr strives for
Nuanced tweaks in design and platform produce nuanced car
name, Lincoln's new $30,000 (approximately) sedan refers back to the
the first entry-level Lincoln
fine-tuning of J Mays’ styling, as featured on the large
2005 Ford Five Hundred,
is somewhat nuanced.
In form, note the A-pillars sweeping inward across the z-plane. More
smooth than rigid, this is a pleasing touch that emphasizes the base of the
car over the glass house. The wheel-arches are softly turned outward at
their outermost corners, rather than being the fixed-radii circles we have seen on
several of Mays’ designs.
Standing at some paces from the car, the overall form appears as a
wedge, with a softly convex grille and a near-flush rear bumper
connected by a beltline that is not quite parallel to the ground. Mays
again features in that the front bumper, like the rear, is near-flush -
thanks to a layer of polycarbonate/ polyester plastic composite, placed
behind the front fascia and absorbing sufficient energy in a collision
so as to not require a protruding bumper
Zephyr differs from
Fords and Mercurys that have shared its geometric approach is the
appearance of brightwork: grille, waterline, wheels, and rear badging
are coated in chrome, the car drawing attention to itself as has been
enthusiasts, increasingly moving against the grain as this remarkably
poised and powerful car fades from the public eye, have regularly cited
its chrome as being key to its appeal.
In its form, Zephyr's grille has been allowed to flow below the base of the
headlamps, and to gradually turn from vertical to horizontal at its
base, rather than being resolutely rectangular. The subtle contrast
between grille and headlamps permits each to fulfill its purpose: the
former, to be emphasized for its expansiveness; and the latter, to peer outward in the suspicious manner that has characterized several
visually sinister Lincolns of the past
drawing the eye are large LED tail-lamps in the rear, perhaps one of the
car’s more controversial aspects.
Their determined angularity, and their easily comprehended outline, both
suggest that they could be more suited to a smaller footprint. Part of
the issue is that, with the car’s clean surfacing and the need for a low
lift-over height, the tail-lights have a vast expanse of metal to break
The rear window is traditionally Mays, ending at the exact point that
the flanks’ window frames leave the C-pillar.
The high rear deck is a touch bulky, but is likely aerodynamically
optimal - and the long rear overhang affords a 15.8-cubic foot trunk
is one of the best dashboards to sit behind in this corner of the
market. Real trees went into its production, with wood; leather seats,
and chrome-tinged details lending a traditional feel to the
Director of interior design strategy Marek Reichman notes this blend of
classic and modern, citing the dark ebony wood as contributing to the
former, and light maple wood and aluminum to the latter. It works, well
enough to the point that this is one of the few interiors in recent
memory to be more attractive in person than in the controlled lighting
of press shots
Lincoln Zephyr 2006
Mercury Milan 2006
Mercury Milan 2006
Note the horizontal
(thus more traditionally American) layout of the
satin-nickel-and-wood dash-board, contrasting the more
vertically-stacked, European layout of
This notwithstanding, one of the issues for Lincoln is that Mercury's
renaissance (perhaps best exemplified by the Milan) combined with
Lincoln's move downmarket now means that the mid-level division is more
likely to verge on Lincoln's territory than to recall an upscale Ford.
As has been traditional for the Lincoln-Mercury sales and marketing division since
the end of the World War II, both brands are served by the same
is widely recognized to have been the first successful streamlined car.
Its namesake is not quite as focused, but in that very relative
lack of focus - and the minimalist budget it has required - may lie the benefit of mainstream appeal.
The resulting success could give Lincoln
the profitability it needs to go back and ask Bill Ford for more money
the next time around
according to author Thomas E. Bonsall,
"suffers as a result of our distorted
cultural bias toward things American.
it comes to Mass Culture, we think – unreasonably – that no one else in the
world can hold a candle to us.
it comes to quality (from luxury goods to the fine arts) it is just the
reverse. We automatically grant special status to things foreign, while
reflexively denigrating our own achievements or, perhaps worse, ignoring
Bonsall goes on to ask,
"every educated American knows of Picasso,
but how many could name a 20th Century American painter?
is no different with high-quality automobiles. If it is built in the Black
Forest by elves, it is accorded an instant respect an American car maker has to
struggle for years to attain. In the area of our finer accomplishments, people
around the world tend to have a better appreciation for us than we do ourselves.
all, Picasso drove a Lincoln."
(‘The Lincoln Story,’ Stanford University Press, 2004)
In a peripheral
sense, Lincoln's newest car appears to be up against the exact perception
issue that Bonsall cites.
Its luxury -
what the driver sees - is American.
mass culture (in the sense that the platform for this entry-level Lincoln derives from the Mazda6),
foreign. Both of these aspects thus counter what Bonsall suggests the
American public tends to favor.
Yet both have
been tempered. Constrained by a budget that restricts its profitability
aspirations, this Lincoln needs more volume - and thus seeks a more mainstream
appeal: the best of both of its American and foreign worlds, striding the line
between luxury good and mass culture, and
Commonality, and American Differentiation
The man overseeing the new car's design, Ford Group Vice President of Design
and Chief Creative Officer J Mays, previously
worked in the Black Forest, penning
and assisting with the
In doing so, Mays developed a love of geometry: a fondness for parallel
waterlines and fixed-radii circles.
Meanwhile, under this Lincoln's body, Ford’s global resources have been
tapped in procuring perhaps the only midsize front-wheel-drive platform in
America that is capable not only of holding a corner at speed, but of
delivering the linear, precise, and unpolluted feedback expected of a driver’s car: the
Combine these two foreign philosophies into a
brand that has long been virtually abandoned, trucks apart
‘Lincoln languishes as PAG plunders’);
focus on American refinement and interior quality and ambience, and we have the
2006 Lincoln Zephyr –
Lincoln's first new car in five years.
Lincoln is neither the first nor the only division to receive the platform.
Maximizing Mercury's Gain
Somewhere between 2003 and 2005, the press stopped talking
about the impending demise of Mercury. Part of the change has been the
realization that Mercury's raison d'être
lies in providing entry-level vehicles to Lincoln dealerships.
have also witnessed surprising evidence of increased effort at Ford to
differentiate Mercury. Using the better platforms that Ford provides - namely,
those of the
Escape; Five Hundred, and
Fusion - Mercury's tweaks have a better
chance of succeeding. The division talks of progressive style, amounting
to vertical, waterfall grilles; HID headlamps that tower slightly above them; LED
rear lights, and chrome-ringed analogue clocks, together with suede inserts and
Last week in
Chicago, Peter Horbury (of Volvo renaissance fame) presented the
2006 Milan, a car Mercury
For as much
SEAT Leon as there is to
Milan's rear, one might
also consider that it seems apt: Mercury wants a Eurocentric appeal.
The issue with
all of this, of
course, is that Mercury has leapt from being simply a
division of upscale Fords to potentially verging on Lincoln's
territory. That both sit in the same dealerships makes differentiation critical.
Minimizing Lincoln's Loss
As we noted in
the aforementioned article (dated August of 2003), expecting Lincoln to once again challenge
Cadillac is currently unrealistic. The difference in allotted budgets is
approximately eight-fold, and Cadillac - unlike Lincoln, which was folded into
the Lincoln-Mercury sales and marketing organization in 1947 - has regularly
retained control over its engineering and manufacturing.
Lincoln's authenticity further is that
Zephyr will sit next to the
Mercury Milan in Lincoln/
Mercury showrooms. Both cars are derived from the same platform - and both
feature identical mechanical upgrades to the basic
Given this, one
must ask: will Mercury's
gain (in using better Ford platforms than previously) overlap with Lincoln's loss
(in its '06 Zephyr's
commonality with Ford, rather than with Jaguar, as in the
'00 Lincoln LS)?
of Lincoln's limited budget with its Ford/ Mercury sharing of mechanical pieces
makes differentiation that might justify Lincoln's higher prices excruciatingly
However, if the
platform itself is inherently rigid, it can be tuned to suit a more relaxed
character than that of the Mazda6
or Milan. Moreover,
this leaves money to maximize cheaper, peripheral differentiation.
If Mercury is
to be Eurocentric, Lincoln peripherally pushes itself to be as American as
possible, without offending the mainstream upon whose numbers it increasingly
depends as the line between volume and profit blurs.
Lincoln has -
now as almost sixty years ago - to make the best of the corporate cards it has
been dealt. Take your lemons, and make Lincolns!
Lincoln left the experimentation to Cadillac and Chrysler. The former has only
grown stronger in recent years, while the latter is now
retraining its dealers to tout the rebirth of rear-wheel-drive, having spent over
twenty years telling us (in various forms) that
"America (was) not going to be pushed around
Meanwhile, Lincoln seems content to permit
its new entry-level car to tout
safety and pander to fears about rear-wheel-drive in poor weather
conditions. The styling is safe... comfortable; the interior, a lesson in
pampering in this class.
To paraphrase Rover's old tagline, relax... it's a
American Differentiation: Tweaks to Styling
aforementioned tweaks in
Zephyr's two foreign philosophies - J Mays' styling and the CD3
platform - retain an aura of conservatism, yet add a tinge of upscale jewelry that
Americanizes the more Eurocentric appeal of the Milan.
It is inside Zephyr,
away from the brief glances of those who might dismiss it as attempting to be
something it is not, that it most differs from the other two cars - and most
resembles Lincolns of old.
The fine-tuning of J Mays’ formerly strictly geometric styling, as featured on the
Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego,
is somewhat nuanced. The first indication that Zephyr differs from the strictest
geometric approaches is the appearance of brightwork: grille, waterline, wheels,
and rear badging are coated in chrome, the car drawing attention to itself as
has been Lincoln tradition. Note that
enthusiasts, increasingly moving against the grain as this remarkably poised and
powerful car fades from the public eye, have regularly cited its chrome as being
key to its appeal.
Also drawing the eye are large LED tail-lamps
at the rear, perhaps one of
Zephyr's more controversial aspects. Their
determined angularity, and their easily comprehended outline, both suggest that
they could be more suited to a smaller footprint. Part of the issue is that,
with the car’s clean surfacing and the need for a low lift-over height, the
tail-lights have a vast expanse of metal to break up.
In the same vein, other details are
permitted more freedom than has been Mays’ way: the grille has been allowed to
flow below the base of the headlamps, and to gradually turn from vertical to
horizontal at its base, rather than being resolutely rectangular. The subtle
contrast between grille and headlamps permits each to fulfill its purpose: the
former, to be emphasized for its expansiveness; and the latter, to peer
outward in the suspicious manner that has characterized several visually
sinister Lincolns of the past.
Finally, in form, note the A-pillars sweeping
inward across the z-plane. More smooth than rigid, this is a pleasing touch that
emphasizes the base of the car over the glass house. The wheel-arches are softly
turned outward at their outermost corners, rather than being the fixed-radii circles we have
seen on several of Mays’ designs. The rear window is more traditionally Mays,
ending at the exact point that the flanks’ window frames leave the C-pillar.
Standing at some paces from the car, the overall form appears as a wedge, with a
softly convex grille and a near-flush rear bumper connected by a beltline that
is not quite parallel to the ground. Mays again features in that the front
bumper, like the rear, is near-flush – thanks to a layer of polycarbonate/
polyester plastic composite, placed behind the front fascia and absorbing
sufficient energy in a collision so as to not require a protruding bumper. The high rear deck
is a touch bulky, but is likely aerodynamically optimal - and
the long rear overhang affords a 15.8-cubic
For all the
picking and choosing that the
geometrically, we must add a quick comment on the man whose styling strategy is
being evolved. In our view, J Mays has borne the brunt of
some disingenuous criticism. Although his strict interpretation of geometry may
result in cars whose style is effortless to absorb, one suspects that the
strategy's true impact will be felt years down the road. Mercedes-Benz used to
design cars to similarly exacting proportion and form, and their evergreen
visual simplicity not only focused the eye on stance (a large part of the
gravitas appeal), but was depreciation-proof. Moreover, a
Toyota Camry and
Honda Accord are no more visually interesting than is a
All three are designed in a manner that is easily understandable from the moment
one claps eyes on them. Yet where the
Five Hundred resolves itself geometrically in the mind,
leaving an impression that is quietly pleasant if not particularly staggering, the
are comparatively frustrating in their random juxtaposition of edges and bulges
for no apparent gain.
That said, the
is a full step upward in price from the
some glitter is expected with the gravitas.
of the quietly pleasant school of thought yet raising the quotients of
aggression; elegance, and premium appeal in equal measure.
wedge form and squinting headlamps give it a hint of aggression; its
inward-sloping glasshouse lend it elegance, and its chrome touches present an
upscale front – yet none of the three aspects is pushed to the forefront, thus
rendering the car more deliberately balanced than Lincolns of the past have
It seeks a more mainstream appeal.
American Differentiation: Interior Ambience
Zephyr has been forced to differentiate itself from
Zephyr's dashboard is traditionally American in
its horizontal form and expansively satin-nickel finish. Should the form's
unmistakable nationality please you, we must add that the
Zephyr's is one of the best cockpits to
occupy in this corner of the market. Real trees went into its production, with wood;
leather seats, and chrome-tinged details lending still more traditional feel. Director of interior design strategy Marek
Reichman notes a blend of classic and modern, citing the dark ebony wood as
contributing to the former, and light maple wood and aluminum to the latter. It
works, well enough to the point that this is one of the few interiors in recent
memory to be more attractive in person than in the controlled lighting of press
The interior -
and its THX-II, 10-speaker, dual-subwoofer sound system - is where the
bulk of the budget has been spent.
Commonality, Tweaked for American Refinement
Key changes to CD3, shared with the
Milan, are largely a 30mm
greater width, and a 55mm greater length. Expect a few tweaks with regard to
the absorbers, particularly given that CD3 now mounts the steering gear
to the front subframe for reduced NVH. This is a more refined approach to the
exhuberance we have previously seen from this platform.
We must commend Ford and Mazda for the front
suspension. Purists often shun the cost-effectiveness of MacPherson struts, due
to the tendency of the roll center to migrate in hard cornering, and CD3 features a double-wishbone, coil-over-damper
suspension. Amusingly enough, Earle MacPherson was once Ford's chief engineer!
The effective kingpin axis is placed further outboard, reducing the
scrub radius and isolating the steering from undesirable feedback.
Lincoln fits large, low-profile, standard 225/50 17-inch
tires (optional on the Fusion and
Milan, albeit standard on the
Mazda6), which have forced more steering assist at lower
speeds (albeit that Lincoln promises linear torque build-up as speeds increase).
The large rubber was selected for being the largest the company could fit for
improved grip without imposing excessive road noise on the cabin. In this
effort, Lincoln also credits exclusive 4.8mm-thick side windows and
"advanced" door seals, particularly in the lower rocker
static weight distribution is
61/39, on par with those of larger Acuras, and
it is similarly unlikely to provide the last word in roadholding. On a promising
note, however, Zephyr weighs 3,406 lbs., little more than a
Fusion despite the added equipment. As on the
V6 Milan, Zephyr's
has been upgraded from the
Fusion's 16mm to a 17mm unit, the better to both
manage the extra weight and generate cornering forces at the rear more quickly.
As on the
Five Hundred, Ford's Duratec 3.0-liter
V6 sits under the hood, using Variable Cam Timing i-VCT to crank out 210hp and 200lb-ft.
Despite a new six-speed automatic (derived from a partnership with General
Motors in a more two-way affair than the 1949-1953 wholesale installation of GM
Hydramatics in Lincolns), the engine is the car's weakest link. Lincoln
has tried to at least refine it, providing engine mounts that are both
fluid-filled and mounted atop the engine in positions geometrically arranged to
more accurately focus on particular vibrations. Even the engine cover is made
from sandwiched sheet metal to help absorb noise.
Back in 1936,
the Zephyr was the
first streamlined vehicle to see commercial success. In 2006, aerodynamics plays a part in the refinement of its
namesake. Lincoln claims that the side mirrors (responsible for the majority of
wind noise on contemporary cars) are tuned to direct wind away from the glass.
Encouraging the Domestic Faithful,
Reaching Out to the Import Buyer
For better or
worse, this is a Lincoln that seeks a more
They should have launched it well before the
Milan. They could have waited for an all-wheel-drive
CD3 variant, is known to be on its way for use in other vehicles.
Yet perhaps the
most critical mistake may be the marketing.
So obsessed is Lincoln with the mainstream, in
its paranoid search for volume, that the company itself suggests that
driving experience that can be both luxurious and spirited, according to the
driver’s desires." We would decidedly advise against this
nature of promotion; a well-defined car – as a product from a storied brand
should be - does not cater to every whim, no matter how
quietly pleasant its lines!
although the Zephyr
comes closest among individual Lincolns to being all things to all people,
Lincoln strategy as a whole has long been similarly disparate. As Bonsall notes, chronicling the lack of
continuity in Lincoln's line-ups between 1949 and 1965,
"unlike Cadillac, which had a successful formula
it relentlessly pursued during good times and bad - except, significantly,
during the 1980s when it faltered disastrously - Lincoln has not had a
well-thought out, consistent mission or theme.
the brand has been sent hither and yon in search of the magic formula that
would transform it into America's premier luxury car."
strategic missteps, Lincoln still has tremendous brand equity, particularly in
as the Zephyr was
relatively ignored by the media at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, one of the officers in Cobo Hall's
security department swore up and down to us that this would be his next car.
remembered the Versailles,
the last entry-level Lincoln. Indeed, Lincoln PR would just as soon forget it,
too, briefly mentioning it only in its
pioneering use of halogen
like the Zephyr, was based on Ford underpinnings
(Granada/ Mercury Monarch). It failed to differentiate itself both
visually and dynamically from its siblings - themselves possessed of all the
underachievement one might have expected forced downsizing to produce - and
made no impact on the market.
With a much
better platform, Lincoln is at it again. The relatively disappointing
performance of the LS
on the market has forced Ford's premium American division to share pieces with
Ford, rather than Jaguar.
the LS was
rear-wheel-drive and far more dynamically focused than it has been given credit
for being, the Zephyr
goes the front-wheel-drive route with a platform simultaneously tuned for an
inoffensive combination of good roadholding and pleasant refinement.
Zephyr, Lincoln quietly encourages a
dwindling group of Lincoln car enthusiasts while seeking cross-shopping from
those who might have been turned off by Lincoln’s brashness in the past.
Lincoln enthusiasts be quietly encouraged? Those who remember the
1949 Lincolns, which Iron Age called
"conservative - but highly pleasing," might well respond.
era provides an engaging parallel to today's
Zephyr. Bonsall tells the story of
Lincoln's 1952 Cosmopolitan which, he recalls, sent the sales and marketing
people at Lincoln-Mercury into a panic due to how small Earle MacPherson at
corporate engineering had demanded it be.
aspect of the physical car over which Lincoln-Mercury had any real authority was
the interior, so they set to work with a vengeance to do everything possible to
make the new Lincoln a tour de force in interior design.
the basic interior styling themes... were executed in a newer, fresher, and
far more colorful fashion."
fifty-four years on,
ça reste le même chose.
The irony is that the
Zephyr will depend - as Bonsall so eloquently illustrates - on the
public's appreciation for American luxury in that this is how it differentiates
itself from the increasingly Eurocentric Mercury brand. This may be a quiet Lincoln,
but it is still an American design.
must also be mainstream enough to appear palatable to a wider group - a group
less likely to be critical that perhaps Zephyr
does not go far enough.
peripheral - if obvious - differences between
worth the additional outlay, even as both cars (unlike, for instance, the
mechanical twins) are sold through the same dealership
network? Has the Lincoln Zephyr's
peripheral approach been structured for profitability? Will the relative lack of
focus in this approach lend Zephyr
the mainstream appeal that will make it
successful enough for Lincoln to get more money out of Bill Ford the next time
We shall see – but, at
Zephyr certainly has the amenities to dazzle the