Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Big luxury SUV with smooth ride and agile handling.
The Lincoln Navigator is big, smooth and luxurious. Totally re-engineered for 2003, it boasts an independent rear suspension. That's an unusually high level of refinement for any sport-utility, much less one as large as the Navigator.
And it is large. Navigator is based on the Ford Expedition and uses body-on-frame construction, the preferred design for trucks. So the Navigator can tow up to 8600 pounds, when properly equipped. It carry up to eight passengers and it can haul a lot of gear. Yet the Navigator offers a silky ride and surprisingly nimble handling. Its ride and handling belie its size.
For 2004, the Navigator gets a tire pressure monitor as standard equipment. It also gets more stereo speakers. The optional electronic stability control system (called AdvanceTrac) gets a new feature called roll stability control, which reduces the risk of tipping over during an emergency maneuver.
The 2004 Lincoln Navigator is available with rear-wheel drive ($48,635) or all-wheel-drive ($52,185). All Navigators come with the same 300-horsepower 5.4-liter V8 engine and four-speed automatic transmission. All have three rows of seats (with leather in rows one and two), a fully independent suspension with load-leveling at all four corners, rear park assist, and nearly every luxury you would expect in a premium vehicle.
The Ultimate Preferred Equipment Package ($3,625) adds high-intensity-discharge (HID) headlamps, a power-operated rear liftgate, AdvanceTrac electronic stability control with the new Roll Stability Control, a power glass sunroof, heated and cooled driver and passenger seats, and a third row seat that folds flat under power.
Options include a voice-activated DVD navigation system ($2,495), power retractable running boards ($1,095), a 40/20/40 split bench second-row seat (replacing the standard second-row buckets), rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,415), Class III/IV trailer tow package ($350), chrome wheels ($695-$895), and a monochrome appearance package ($995-$1195).
The Lincoln Navigator offers a commanding appearance, but effuses a softer, more sophisticated look than other large SUVs. Navigator was completely restyled for 2003, but the changes were subtle and it takes a reasonably keen eye to distinguish the current model from the 1997-2002 Navigator.
Power-retractable running boards are available ($1,095) on all Navigators for 2004. When a door is opened the running boards quietly extend out by four inches to allow easier access to the vehicle. When the doors are closed the running boards automatically retract under the rocker panels. This feature, adapted from luxury RVs, was an auto-industry first when it appeared last year, and to the best of our knowledge it remains unique.
The large door mirrors fold in to the body at the touch of a button for tight quarters, such as the entrance to your garage. As before, auxiliary turn signals are incorporated into the lower edge of the mirrors. An approach lamp housed in the mirrors illuminates the ground alongside the vehicle when the key fob unlock button is activated, a nice feature on stormy nights or in dark public garages and especially helpful when you drop something.
The Navigator's interior has a modern, elegant feel, with luxury touches you might expect from a sedan, yet it does not look like a sedan interior. The interior was totally redesigned for 2003 and looks completely different from the previous model's.
Lincoln says the Navigator's symmetrical instrument panel was inspired by the 1961 Lincoln Continental's. It certainly works well in the Navigator, enhancing the spaciousness of the interior as it curves up from the wide center console across the top of the instrument pod on one side, and across the glove box on the other. The surface is grained with a pebble texture. Subtle bands of American walnut burl are used to divide sections of the dashboard and door trim. Other interior surfaces are finished in a pleasant low-lustre satin-nickel color that matches the rest of the trim nicely.
LEDs (120 of them) are used throughout the cabin to illuminate buttons and controls. The label for each control is laser etched into the satin nickel surface so that it appears black in daylight yet illuminates at night with a nice white glow. The driver and front-seat passengers enjoy a dual-zone climate control system. Passengers in both the second and third row of seats get their own auxiliary control panels.
All seats are finished in a leather with a milled pebble finish. Front seats are power operated. The two-position memory for the driver's seat also includes the mirrors and the standard power-adjustable pedals.
Second-row seats are also buckets, although a bench seat is available. The bench seat is split 40/20/40, and the narrow center section can slide forward 11 inches to position a child seat conveniently close to the driver.
The third-row seat is actually comfortable for adults. The independent rear suspension introduced on the 2003 model allowed the engineers to lower the floor in the back, making for a more comfortable seating position. The third-row bench seat is split 60/40 and can hold three people. On paper, the Navigator's third row provides slightly more legroom than the GMC Yukon XL or Cadillac Escalade ESV, and significantly more than the Tahoe or Escalade.
One of the Naviagator's neatest features is the power folding mechanism for the third row of seats (included in the Ultimate package). At the press of a button the rear seat folds down to provide a flush floor space for increased cargo carrying capacity. The second row of seats can also be folded down to provide a large cargo area. A power rear tailgate comes with the Ultimate package also; it opens in about 10 seconds and is handy when approaching the Navigator with an armload of groceries.
Considering its size, the Lincoln Navigator is remarkably agile. It's easy to manage and actually fun on a twisting, winding highway. There's little body lean and it's possible to drive fairly quickly without upsetting passengers. Power rack-and-pinion steering transforms the Navigator's handling dynamics. Lincoln worked hard on the steering system and the Navigator turns in quickly for corners, moving almost instantly once the steering wheel starts to turn.
The independent rear suspension keeps the wheels firmly on the ground with no axle tramping over bumps or undulations. Anybody who enjoys driving a European car would be happy with the steering on the Navigator. On the other hand, we can imagine some loyal Lincoln buyers having a little difficulty adapting to a steering system that reacts to a driver's input with precision.
With such great handling the Navigator's acceleration performance is perhaps a little lacking. The engine sounds nice, with a throaty roar when you open the throttle, but the Navigator does not accelerate as fast as one might expect. The Navigator has more power and torque than the two-wheel-drive Cadillac Escalade, but less than the more powerful all-wheel-drive Escalade or the Escalade ESV. Still, most owners will be happy with the Navigator's performance, even when it is loaded. The Navigator's V8 has excellent torque, which is really more important to the overall driving experience. It also makes Navigator ideal for towing.
The 2004 Lincoln Navigator combines the towing and hauling capabilities you'd expect from a full-size SUV with the smooth and pleasant driving experience you'd want in a luxury sedan. Its interior is modern and stylish and, thanks to its independent rear suspension, it has third-row seating space comparable to that of the much longer Chevy Suburban and Cadillac Escalade ESV. That should make Navigator exactly the right choice for a large number of buyers.
Lincoln Navigator 2WD ($48,635); AWD ($52,185).
Options As Tested
Ultimate Package ($3,625) includes power glass sunroof, AdvanceTrac electronic stability control w Roll Stability Control, heated/cooled front seats, power liftgate, power-folding third row seats, HID headlamps; power deployable running boards ($1,095); navigation system ($2,495); 18x8 inch chromed aluminum wheels ($895).
Lincoln Navigator AWD ($52,185).
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