For 2006, Lincoln introduces a new midsize, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive sedan, the Zephyr. It’s a return to the grand old name Lincoln last used in 1942 (we can pretend the 1978 Ford Fairmont-based Mercury Zephyr didn’t happen).

The Zephyr is Lincoln’s version of the equally new-for-2006 Ford Fusion. It’s built on the company’s CD3 platform, which also forms the basis of the Mazda6, although the Zephyr has a longer wheelbase, wider tread, bigger brakes and larger dimensions. The sole engine choice is a 3.0-litre Duratec V6, mated to a six-speed electronic automatic transmission. The same engine is the top-of-the-line choice in the Fusion, which also offers a 2.3-litre four-cylinder the Lincoln does not. As does the Fusion, the Zephyr features four-wheel independent suspension.

The Zephyr comes in a single trim line, the V6 Luxury. Standard features include four-wheel ventilated discs with ABS, dual exhaust with chrome tips, keyless entry with remote and keypad, cruise control, traction assist, power windows, speed-sensitive wipers, automatic headlights, heated mirrors with puddle lamps, 17-inch aluminum wheels, genuine wood interior trim, six-CD/MP3 player, dual-zone electronic climate control, heated leather seats with ten-way power driver and passenger adjustment, 60/40 folding rear seat, leather-wrapped wheel, curtain airbags and auto-dimming mirror.

Available options include chrome aluminum wheels, TXH II Certified premium sound system, navigation system, heated/cooled perforated leather seats, power moonroof and high intensity discharge headlamps.

The Zephyr is a gamble for Lincoln: it’s nicely-sized, it has a lot of standard features, it’s well-built and it’s pleasant to drive. On the other hand, models shared with Ford have traditionally been hit-and-miss: the Navigator did well, the Aviator did not. If you spend that much for a Lincoln – it’s an $8,700 difference over the loaded V6 Fusion – you want it to be unique in the line-up. The target audience is younger, first-time luxury or first-time Lincoln buyers; the discontinuation of the LS’ V6 model may bring in those who need the lower buy-in that you can’t always get with a V8.

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