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2006 Lincoln Zephyr and Mercury Milan

The Fusion Is Good, Are The Milan and Zephyr Better?

     We have driven the Ford Fusion and formed a generally positive opinion about its fresh styling, 6-speed automatic and surprisingly good road manners. It’s a competitive car at its price point and they’ve been selling well-a rare piece of good news at Ford lately. Because we liked the base model so much, we skeptically asked ourselves why people would want to pay more for the Mercury or Lincoln version of the same car. We ordered up a sample of each and gave each car a week to convince us why it’s worth the premium.
     Admittedly a 4-cylinder Mercury starts only $550 higher than the comparable Fusion so the Milan didn’t have to work as hard to impress us as the V6 Lincoln and its $6,635 premium over the Fusion SEL did.
     All three cars share the same 3.0-liter Duratec V6 so none feels noticeably peppier than the other. Its 221 hp at 6,250 rpm flow through a well-sorted 6-speed automatic and on to the front wheels. This engine is completely adequate in the Fusion and the Milan but we expect a little something special for the Lincoln. For 2007 the Lincoln will get 3.5-liters’ worth of something special. The new engine is rated at 263 hp and all-wheel drive becomes available for the first time. We’ll look forward to charting the changes on the renamed MKZ soon, but for now the triplets share engines and transmissions.
     We’re happy to report they don’t share styling and even though the changes are pretty minor (basically limited to different front and rear clips and wheels) each manages to come away looking distinctive. The Milan uses the Mercury-style aluminum-look trim for the grille and trunk lid detailing and while the front end looks a tad boring to us the LED brake lights move the whole thing upscale. Which is what Mercury was aiming for, we’re sure.
     Zephyrs also look more expensive than they really are thanks to detailed headlamp enclosures, muscular lines on the hood and trunk and available 17″ chrome wheels. The brake lights look too large to our eyes but that’s minor and styling is subjective anyway. The whole look is nice but predictable and that may cause problems when the next Cadillac CTS debuts.
     In addition to sharing drivetrains the extended Fusion family also makes do with the same brake package and both the Milan and Zephyr feature Electronic Brake Force Distribution as standard. Both cars’ independent suspensions are identical save for a 1mm larger rear anti roll bar on the Zephyr. We honestly couldn’t decipher a noticeable difference in the anti rolling ability. We do know that we were pleased with the Milan’s buttoned-down ride, which remains compliant but always keeps up with whatever the road throws at it. Hustling over some back roads wouldn’t phase the Milan one bit. The Lincoln is 107 pounds heavier than the Milan and feels a tad softer but it’s still capable of spirited driving as long as you remember it’s a Lincoln and they don’t pretend to run with CTSs and 3-Series.
     Inside the Mercury is nearly identical to its lesser Ford sibling. Beside different gauges and aluminum-look trim in place of the Fusion’s piano-black finish we can’t find any other differences. We guess that’s ok because Milan’s cabin is ergonomically sound and materials are fine, although not class-leading. By now you know we’re tired of staring at the same corporate radio the past decade. The rear seatback folds down so extra-long items can fit in the trunk/backseat area. We really wish Ford would allow a manual gate for this automatic shifter because D and L really aren’t complete choices.
     The Lincoln interior gets praise for being distinctive if nothing else. The two-cowl dash design recalls Lincolns of old and our model looked particularly good in sand leather against real Figured Maple wood trim and silver painted center stack. Thanks to the powerful (we couldn’t turn it up past ¾ volume for fear of rupturing ear drums) but warm sounding THX II-Certified audio system and DVD nav system the Zephyr goes a long way toward validating its extra sticker price. The interior looks far better than the awkward textures and angles found in the CTS and our fully loaded press car had every luxury option you could want. The heated and cooled front seats continue to impress and are still a Lincoln exclusive in this price range. Our Zephyr was also commendably quiet so good music on the THX system was that much more enjoyable. Both Milan and Zephyr offer trunk space of just under 16 cubic feet and combined with the fold down rear seats storage should not be an issue.
     We liked both of these models. The Milan with an as-tested price of $26,290 is a fine alternative to the more common Fusion. For not much more you’ll get a fine domestic midsize sedan that you won’t see on every corner and should offer a ride and handling combination that will please most consumers. The Lincoln, at $33,340, is a healthy step up from the others. You can do without the fancy options and get out the door for around $30k. The problem is a revised model with more power and all-wheel drive is on the way this fall. We liked the Lincoln more than we expected to, but we can’t recommend it knowing a superior car will be available so soon.

The Good:
Surprisingly different looking than Fusion, good ride/handling balance, 6-speed auto, good fuel economy.
The Bad:
Automatic needs a manual gate, Mercury front end needs excitement.
The Verdict:
The Milan may not be different enough, the Zephyr may be too expensive; The Fusion still looks pretty good.


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