Lincoln has redesigned its full-size sport utility vehicle for 2003, moving it away from its pickup-truck origins and turning it into a purpose-built SUV. Chassis changes promise a different sort of driving experience less of a trucklike ride than in the previousNavigator, which debuted as a 1998 model. With a solid rear axle and torsion bars, the old chassis could not help but yield trucklike ride and handling qualities. The new model features a four-wheel-independent suspension, and a revised rear frame height allows the third-row seat to be lowered substantially.
The new rack-and-pinion steering promises to eliminate the previously ambiguous on-center feel for better control and handling. Lincoln says the new Navigators cornering effort is improved, and brake pedal travel has been modified to produce a shorter dead spot. Developers also sought to improve interior quietness as part of their quest for added refinement.
New luxury and convenience features are part of the redesign. Power-extendable running boards available on the top model are touted by the manufacturer as an industry first, along with the optional, powered, third-row seat that folds into the floor. In fact, the 2003 Navigator offers several exclusive power features that are not available on Lincolns new, smaller Aviator SUV. Two-wheel-drive (2WD) and four-wheel-drive (4WD) Navigators will be offered in Luxury, Premium and Ultimate trim levels.
Lincoln has a singular vision, says Mike Renucci, the companys engineering director. The goal is to become one of the top luxury automotive brands, on a global basis, [by initiating a] high degree of consistency among the models. He says another objective is to develop Lincolns own version of the addictive driving experience. Although Navigator sales fell 16 percent in 2001, with 31,759 units going to U.S. customers, the SUV has been a reasonably strong seller for Lincoln, according to Automotive News.
The design of the roof and front doors was carried over from the previous model. But fresh bodywork elsewhere embellishes the original design and is said to offer better aerodynamics, cleaner surfaces and a more dramatic stance. Lincolns signature grille consists of vertical argent vanes. Torsional rigidity of the frame is 70 percent better than before, and vertical bending has improved by 67 percent. About 10 feet of the new frame is hydroformed. Standard and optional tires both measure 18 inches in diameter. Options include a power moonroof and chrome wheels.
The front edge of the hood has been raised 4 inches, which makes it possible to see the vehicles corners. The frame rails have been lowered by 2 inches, and the rear floor pan has dropped 9 inches. Lowering the bumper beam by 2 inches provides better compatibility with other vehicles in a collision. 4WD models have been lowered by an inch to be on par with their 2WD counterparts. The vehicle also lowers itself by an inch when the ignition is turned off to allow easier entry and exit.
High-intensity-discharge headlights, a power liftgate and power running boards are installed on the Ultimate model. The running boards extend outward by 4 inches when the door is opened and they retract automatically when the door is closed.
Depending on the second-row seating configuration, the Navigator carries either seven or eight occupants and includes a standard, 60/40-split third-row seat. Lincoln claims it is the only manufacturer to offer either a bench seat or twin buckets for the second row. A power-operated third-row seat that folds into the floor is optional, but even the manual version folds flat.
A new interior blends walnut burl with premium leather trim. The doors feature large map pockets, and the automaker says the glove box is 16 percent larger.
Standard equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control, an auxiliary climate system for rear occupants, heated power mirrors, a six-CD changer, and a memory system for the drivers seat, mirrors, and brake and accelerator pedals. The Premium edition comes with heated and cooled seats and Lincolns AdvanceTrac electronic stability system, and the Ultimate has the power third-row seat. A navigation system is optional for $1,995. A DVD rear-seat entertainment system is also available, and the company plans to offer a Sirius satellite radio at a later date. A telematics system is also expected at the end of 2002.
Under the Hood
Lincolns 5.4-liter V-8 engine develops 300 horsepower and 355 pounds-feet of torque, and it mates with a four-speed-automatic transmission. The Navigator is rated as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) under California standards. The 4x4 model can tow as much as 8,300 pounds.
All-disc antilock brakes and dual-stage front airbags are standard. A curtain-type airbag Safety Canopy system enhances occupant protection in side impacts and rollovers. The revised rear park-assist system uses ultrasonic sensors and radar, taking into account both vehicle speed and distance. The newly optional AdvanceTrac system can help control skidding. A tire-pressure monitor will be available later.
Lincoln has made some significant improvements in the Navigators driving experience, just asFord has moved ahead with the 2003 Expedition, which is a close relative to Lincolns SUV. The Navigators ride is pleasantly satisfying overall, and the suspension responds quickly to bumps without overreacting. This SUV does a fine job of keeping its tires on the pavement.
The 2003 Navigators handling is unquestionably more refined than its predecessors, but a short run with the previous model demonstrated on the highway, at least that it wasnt a bad vehicle at all. The revised model performs capably on twisting two-lane roads, but its still a tad unsure of itself at times. Its not seriously carlike in personality, which could be a good thing, because making an SUV too carlike might detract from its other virtues.
Although the automatic transmission reacts easily most of the time, multiple downshifts when the gas pedal is pushed hard can be jarring. The Navigators braking is linear and effective.
One Navigators engine proved to be noisier than expected even during moderate acceleration but two other test models driven later in the day were pleasantly quiet. A clapping sound was noticeable when rolling over pavement separators.
The Navigator is still a big SUV, but even on narrow roads, it doesnt feel horribly bulky. Construction quality appears to be excellent, with no rough edges or other evident defects. The automatic-extending running boards are handy and wide enough to be useful, but their surfaces are a little slick. Electroluminescent gauges are helpful, but some drivers may want them on the brightest setting for the best visibility. The seats are excellent; the passenger seat, in particular, felt almost form fitting, with just the right cushioning.