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Expert Reviews 1 of 7
By Jim Flammang
September 23, 2002
Vehicle Overview After five years with a single sport utility vehicle on the market the full-size Navigator Lincoln is adding a smaller SUV for the 2003 model year. Including the Navigator and the posh Blackwood SUV/pickup crossover vehicle, Lincoln will offer three truck-based models when the Aviator goes on sale in the fall of 2002. But after a slow entry into the marketplace, the full-size Blackwood will disappear shortly after the 2003 model year begins.
Related to the midsize Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer, the new Aviator is designed to offer a distinct personality and its own selection of appealing features. It will come with optional seats that are both heated and cooled. Brian Kelley, who was president of Lincoln Mercury when the Aviator was unveiled, called the new SUV distinctively Lincoln and pointed out the intentional resemblance to the larger Navigator, which has been redesigned for 2003. The Aviator name is especially timely, because 2003 will be the centennial of the Wright Brothers first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.
The developers of the Aviator sought to make the SUVs driving experience an addictive one, says Mike Renucci, Lincolns engineering director. For instance, work on the steering system involved 15 parameters: five for high speed, six for middle speed and four for low speed. Isolation from noise and vibration was also a prominent goal.
Two distinct models Luxury and Premium will be offered when the Aviator goes on sale. Lincoln is certain that the midsize SUV field is growing and theres a place for strong Lincoln sales. About 85 percent of Aviator buyers are expected to be new to the Lincoln brand, and half will be new to Ford products of any sort. The companys AdvanceTrac electronic stability system will be offered on the Aviator later in the 2003 model year. Teamed with a roll-rate sensor, AdvanceTrac provides additional stability. A tire-pressure monitoring system will also be available after the start of production.
Exterior Designers made a special effort to keep the Aviators appearance Lincoln-like. All new models must be instantly recognizable as a Lincoln, says Renucci. The Aviators styling themes include a large Lincoln signature grille with dark argent vanes flanked by large clear-lens headlights, which give the new SUV what Chief Designer Mike Arbaugh calls a bigger presence. Round fog lamps are built into the front bumper fascia. The bumpers are designed to align with passenger-car frames for greater compatibility in a crash.
The tires measure 17 inches in diameter, and the Aviator features a fully independent suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. A hood presenter pops out of the hood front when the inside latch is released to help the driver get the hood open without hunting for a secondary release lever.
The Aviator uses body-on-frame rather than unibody construction, which provides an extra layer of isolation between occupants and the pavement. Many chassis parts have been specially fabricated with the goal of keeping noise and vibration at bay. An extra-thick 6.2-millimeter windshield should also aid in keeping the interior quiet. The Aviators back end includes a two-piece liftgate with flip-up rear glass.
The Aviator rides a 113.7-inch wheelbase, stretches 193.3 inches long overall and stands 70.9 inches tall. The Premium model adds such features as high-intensity-discharge headlights and machined-aluminum wheels, and a power moonroof is optional.
Interior Either bench or bucket seats can be installed in the second row. The Aviator carries seven occupants when it is equipped with the 40/20/40-split second-row bench or six people when twin bucket seats are installed. The second-row console folds forward and includes a removable cover that fits over either the front or rear section. Interior space in the third row is enhanced because the rear floor pan is 7 inches lower than usual due to the Aviators independent rear suspension. The rear seat folds flat into the floor. Lincoln says the Aviators legroom is 5 inches better and its headroom is 3 inches taller than theAcura MDX, its closest rival. Cargo space in the Aviator totals 77 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats folded.
The controls appear black in the daytime, but they illuminate at night to make them easier to see at dawn and dusk. A new analog clock sits on the dashboard and is touted by the manufacturer as comparable to a fine Swiss timepiece. Interior cues also include the use of a satin nickel finish, American burl walnut wood and premium leather upholstery.
Both models have standard dual-zone air conditioning, power heated mirrors, six-way power front seats with power lumbar, a two-position memory system, a cassette/CD stereo, keyless entry, and adjustable brake and accelerator pedals. Lincoln will retain the five-button keypad that is mounted outside the drivers door and lets a person armed with the correct code gain access to the vehicle. The Premium model also gets heated and cooled seats. Options for both models include a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and a DVD-based navigation system.
Under the Hood Lincolns 4.6-liter V-8 engine generates 302 horsepower and 300 pounds-feet of torque and drives a five-speed-automatic transmission. Towing capacity amounts to 7,300 pounds, which the company touts as best in class. Three drive systems will be offered: two-wheel drive, viscous-coupled all-wheel drive and an electronically controlled torque-on-demand system that will be introduced at a later date.
Safety In addition to all-disc antilock brakes and dual-stage front airbags, the Aviator will be equipped with Fords Safety Canopy, which deploys during rollovers and side-impact collisions to protect passengers. When sensors determine that a rollover incident is imminent, the extended-length airbag inflates to help keep occupants from being ejected from the vehicle. A sonar-operated Rear Park Assist system will issue a warning when the Aviator approaches an obstacle while backing up.