Test Drive | Lincoln Zephyr: China’s Sleek Sedan Revival

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Currently, the only place in the world you can buy a new Lincoln sedan is China, after the brand killed off production of the Continental in the US. A replacement for the discontinued MKZ the Zephyr resurrects a name last used on the 2006 model year MKZ. Curiously in Chinese, the car is simply referred to as the Lincoln Z – hence the name plates on our test car!

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Lincoln is a late comer to the Chinese market having only officially been on sale since 2014. However, the brand was actually already quite well known in China thanks to grey market imports of Lincoln Town Car limousines for use as wedding cars and even some Hongqi models in the 90s and early 00s being based on the second and third generation Town Car.

Ford has had problems in the Chinese market but the company seems to be generally doing better with the Lincoln marque. Since 2019 a growing number of Lincoln models have been produced in China via the Chang’an joint venture. The Lincoln Zephyr is the latest and deliveries began in May 2022.

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Exterior

First previewed by the stunning Zephyr concept at the 2021 Shanghai Auto Show, the production model was shown at Guangzhou later in the year and cuts an impressive profile. Design wise the Zephyr is much sharper and more aggressive looking than previous Lincolns. Running lights protrude into the grille and lead your eyes to the Lincoln shield. Our iCool trim car came with an exclusive Hollywood Red paintjob.

It is however one of a trio of cars that underpin Ford Motor Company’s plans to turn its fortune around in China. The other two cars are the Ford Evos and Ford Mondeo, with all three cars sharing the same platform and drivetrain.


Read also:
Ford Evos first test drive: Sleek and tech-savvy bet for China’s market

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Fittingly the Lincoln is the longest of the three at 4982mm however surprisingly both the Fords have a 15mm longer wheelbase at 2945mm total and are also wider and taller. Presumably, the lower height of the Lincoln goes some way to try to position this as the sportiest.

It is also the priciest by far. The Mondeo is priced RMB 159,800 – 218,800 (USD 23,200 – 31 800) and the Evos RMB 181,800 – 241,800 (USD 26 400 – 35 100). But the Zephyr only starts slightly cheaper than the most expensive Evos at RMB 240,000 (USD 35,000) and ranges up to 329,000 (USD 47,800). This however follows price cuts over the last year, our car when tested was retailing for RMB 335,800 (USD 48,800) for the highest spec iCool model.

Interior & Infotainment

Whereas the Evos and Mondeo have nearly exactly the same interior, the Zephyr while sharing many of the same elements puts a distinctive Lincoln slant on them. All three share a 12.3-inch instrument panel which blends into a 27-inch infotainment screen which can split in two. On the Fords the screens float on top of the dashboard while on the Zephyr they’re far more integrated. Unfortunately, the user interface on the Zephyr seems that bit worse than on the Fords.

In an evolution of the MKZ’s 2017 model year switch to a dashboard mounted transmission selector the Zephyr has these buttons along with the Stop/Start mounted below the infotainment screen. More tastefully done in what Lincoln refer to as piano keys they flow out into the carbon fiber like trim detail and also mirror the shape of the air vents below. Not so well done and certainly in a move which left me initially searching, the drive mode selector is via a toggle switch still on the center console and more dangerously nestled between climate controls on either side.

Materials are of a good standard with leather and Dinamica eco suede microfiber seats, and touch-point all either covered or soft touch plastics. The center-console gets a cubby hole with a lid that can open to either side. There’s a fragrance dispenser with seven scents along with a PM2.5 filtration system to combat air pollution. In the back there is amble legroom and headroom at least sufficient for those up to around 1.85m. Passengers also get headrests with adjustable sides that really cocoon you. Our test car had a largely red highlighted interior to match the exterior color which certainly promised a sporty feel.

Where things get worse is with the trunk. Firstly unlike the Evos which gets an electric tailgate the significantly pricier Zephyr makes do with a weighted system which will open the lid for you but you have to close it manually. This would be fine in a cheap car but not one that is trying to be premium. Then there is the underside of the lid which is unlined and just pure metal. This cost-cutting meant that in temperatures north of 40°C the metal was baking hot and had an add on effect to the overall temperature of the trunk.

Strangely one of my biggest problems with the drive is the seat. Bizarrely controls for the lumbar support are situated directly above those for the lateral and longitudinal positioning of the seat. As a result, while blindly groping around I would keep adjusting the lumbar support rather than the seat position. OK usually you’ll probably only adjust this once and the seat has a memory function – in fact, the car has a facial recognition login system which will remember your settings – but still, I struggled to find a comfortable driving position.

Performance and Driving Feel

In Lincolns of old, you’d expect a V8 or at least a V6 but there are no options here when it comes to engines, it’s a straight four turbocharged two liter or nothing. On paper it produces 243 horsepower (181kW) and 277 pound-feet (376Nm) of torque so for an engine of its size those figures are respectable enough and it can get the Zephyr up to 100km/h (62mph) in 6.8 seconds. That however is slower than both the Evos and Mondeo with the de-rated 235 horsepower (175kW) version of the same engine – so much for the Lincoln being premium!

Drive modes give you Eco Normal and Sport. There’s not a huge amount of difference between them but you notice it most between Normal and Sport with things tightening up and faster response times, the Zephyr also gains paddle shifts if you want to change manually. One of our biggest complaints about the Evos was the mapping of the gear ratios, luckily this is much better with the Lincoln setup. In the Zephyr, the gear changes are near indiscernible whereas in the Evos it holds gears for far too long in every drive mode. In fact, if there is one word to describe the Lincoln’s driving, it’s smooth.

Dynamically it is certainly stiffer than the Evos but the Zephyr with its front wheel drive setup doesn’t have sporty pretensions and seems far more at home wafting in a straight line. One useful addition for the driver is a head up display.

Sum up

Despite the strong relationship between the Lincoln Zephyr and the two Fords the Lincoln does manage to carve a far more distinct identity for itself than the two Fords manage from one another. Arguably it is also the best looking of the three as well, with Lincoln managing to create a modern interpretation of an American premium brand. However, ultimately it is not really premium enough. While it certainly drives better than the Fords it struggles to be competitive with the Germans for anything bar size and specifications and it struggles to justify the prices asked, as evidenced by prices already dropping significantly.

Verdict

Power & Drive feeling7
Passenger space8
Tech & UX7
Price quality ratio6
The best thingA comfortable cruiser
The worst thingIt’s really not that premium

Overall: Lack of engine choices probably hampers the appeal, like with the Evos a PHEV version would go some way to making the car more attractive. Currently, the car is trying to market itself on looks alone. It is unclear what it really offers over and above the Mondeo and Evos other than a slightly better driving experience. Some elements like the electric trunk on the Evos are actually more premium than with the Lincoln. Yes, Lincoln has a good reputation for service in China but there needs to be a long hard look at the positioning of the brand versus that of Ford, and the competition.

Based in Shanghai, Mark Andrews is one of the leading English language authorities in the Chinese auto industry. You can follow him on Twitter.

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