Versus the competiton:
Lincoln Large or Lincoln Lite?
Those desiring a Lincoln-made sport-utility vehicle not only have a choice in 2003, but the two offerings from Ford Motor Co.’s luxury division are all-new for the model year.
For the record, Lincoln is making no attempt to be clever here. The company’s advertising describes the newly introduced Aviator thusly: “Like Navigator, just smaller.”
That also applies to the price. On equivalent models, expect to pay about $10,000 less for an Aviator than you would for the big-boy Navigator.
What else to look for? Well, let’s start with the Navigator.
The Navigator is a luxury liner, plain and simple. And at 206 inches long, nearly 78 inches high and almost 6,000 pounds, the big SUV could be mistaken for a cruise ship. Besides bulk, however, it’s those other, flashy Lincoln touches that set the Navigator apart from other full-size sport-utes you might have sampled.
When I opened the driver’s side front door on the tested model, a running board sprang from underneath the vehicle and presented itself to be stepped upon. This startled the first time, but I managed to catch myself before launching my body into the bushes for cover.
Other electronic goodies abound. The rear liftgate is powered, yawning open at the touch of a button on the key fob or slowly closing at the touch of another button. Likewise, the third row of seats can be powered down out of harm’s way or opened up to accommodate human beings instead of cargo.
Exterior design changes for 2003 include touches that hark back to the 1961 Lincoln Continental — a look that had high priority when designers set to reworking the Navigator for 2003. The look is stout and imposing, but the 2003 Navigator has a more-rounded look than the previous generation. Lincoln engineers say that translates to better aerodynamics.
Navigator’s interior cabin remains appropriately luxurious, with walnut, leather and “satin nickel” surfaces so abundant that one feels inclined to ask if there is a fee to simply sit in the vehicle.
Navigator’s most obvious enhancements for 2003 come to the fore when it is rolling. The ride is quieter and tighter than that experienced in the previous Navigator, and the steering is decidedly more responsive. Lincoln said the improvements were produced by a new four-wheel independent suspension, top-notch rack-and-pinion steering and an upgraded frame that is much firmer than what held up the previous-generation Navigator.
No argument here. The ’03 Navigator is way more civilized in city and highway driving than its predecessor. Power was no problem with a robust 5.4-liter, 300-horsepower V-8 under the hood. Most of the 355 foot-pounds of torque available was delivered in the low-revolutions-per-minute range.
Things that might make you blink while pondering the Navigator include thirsty fuel economy ratings of 12 miles per gallon in city driving and 17 mpg on the highway. Expect to spend nearly $2,000 a year on fuel, given the current conditions.
Another blink-inducing factor is price. The tested model was a comparatively humble 4X2 Navigator, which meant a still-hefty starting price of $50,660. Opt for the primo 4X4 version, and the starting fare is nearly $55,000.
Too rich for your blood? Maybe you should think about the Aviator.
The new-for-2003 SUV rides on the same platform shared by the Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer siblings, but make no mistake, the Aviator is not a dressed-up Ford/Mercury product. It’s a Lincoln all the way.
The Aviator is just as advertised — a slightly shrunk Lincoln Navigator. Aviator looks like a little Navigator on the outside and feels like a Navigator Lite on the inside.
Besides the lower price — Aviator comes in two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive Luxury and Premium versions, starting from $39,255 to $45,125 — here are the pertinent dimensions on the smaller SUV: 4,957 pounds, 193.3 inches long and 71.4 inches high.
So, comparatively speaking, an Aviator it not that much smaller than a Navigator.
But here’s the best part: The Aviator actually performs as well, if not better, than the Navigator in most driving situations.
Throw out the fact that the tested Aviator had all-wheel drive and its accompanying advantages over the tested Navigator’s 2WD. The Aviator comes with a 4.6-liter V-8 that produces 302 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds of torque — again, most of that dished out in the low-rpm range.
From a standing start, the tested Aviator walked away from scores of Sacramento-area passenger cars and SUVs of all stripes. In freeway traffic, it powered in and out of tight spots with little strain. The Navigator felt more stable twisting up and down Sierra Nevada roads, but I’d give the Aviator the nod on the flatlands.
The Navigator is the better towing vehicle — an 8,500-pounds maximum, when properly equipped — but the Aviator is better equipped for the diverse challenges of urban driving.
Although the dividing lines of SUV segments have been blurred by the proliferation of crossover vehicles, Lincoln makes its case for the Aviator with a blizzard of what it calls “best-in-class” measurements in the midsize SUV category.
Undoubtedly, the numbers are impressive. They include 8.9 inches of ground clearance, 38.9 inches of head room in the third-row seats, 58.3 inches of shoulder room in the first row, 39.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats in the six-passenger Aviator (40.2 cubic feet in the seven-passenger version) and maximum towing capacities of 7,100 pounds in AWD and 7,300 in rear-wheel drive.
Again, fuel economy is not great, with a rating of 13 mpg in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway for the 2WD Aviators. But considering Aviator’s pricing, it falls short of being the frustratingly unobtainable fantasy vehicle that one might call the Navigator. The Aviator is certainly in range of many American households.
And for those fortunate enough to afford the fare, the Navigator lives up to the long, luxurious line of Lincoln models.
It’s all a matter of choice, something new this year in the land of Lincoln.
Lincoln Navigator at a glance
Make/model: 2003 Lincoln Navigator.
Vehicle type: Seven-to eight-passenger, rear-wheel drive, four-door luxury sport-utility vehicle.
Base price: $50,660 (as tested, $55,615).
Engine: 5.4-liter V-8 with 300 horsepower at 5,000 revolutions per minute and 355 foot-pounds of torque at 2,750 rpm.
EPA fuel economy: 12 miles per gallon city; 17 mpg highway.
Transmission: Electronic four-speed automatic with overdrive.
Steering: Power rack and pinion with speed-sensitive feature.
Brakes: Power four-wheel discs with anti-lock a nd special assist features.
Suspension type: Four-wheel independent type with monotube dampers, air springs and stabilizer bars.
Cargo volume: Maximum 54.5 cubic feet behind second seats; 104.7 cubic feet behind front seats.
Fuel tank: 28 gallons.
Front track: 67 inches.
Rear track: 67.1 inches.
Wheelbase: 118.8 inches.
Tires: P255/70R18 cross-terrain Michelins.
Maximum towing capacity: 8,500 pounds (with specified towing package).
Curb weight: 5,760 pounds.
Height: 77.8 inches.
Length: 206 inches.
Width: 80.2 inches.
Ground clearance: 8.6 inches.
Assembly site: Wixom, Mich. Lincoln Aviator at a glance
Make/model: 2003 Lincoln Aviator.
Vehicle type: Six-to seven-passenger, all-wheel drive, four-door luxury sport-utility vehicle.
Base price: $42,205.
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8 with 302 horsepower at 5,750 revolutions per minute and 300 foot-pounds of torque at 3,250 rpm.
EPA fuel economy: 13 miles per gallon city; 18 mpg highway.
Transmission: Electronic five-speed automatic with overdrive.
Steering: Power rack and pinion with speed-sensitive feature.
Brakes: Power four-wheel discs with anti-lock and special assist features.
Suspension type: Four-wheel independent type with coil springs, shock absorbers and stabilizer bars.
Cargo volume: Maximum 40.2 cubic feet behind second seats; 77.3 cubic feet behind front seats.
Fuel tank: 22.5 gallons.
Front track: 60.9 inches.
Rear track: 61.2 inches.
Wheelbase: 113.7 inches.
Tires: P245/65HR17 Michelin Pilot LTX.
Maximum towing capacity: 7,100 pounds (with specified towing package).
Curb weight: 4,957 pounds.
Height: 71.4 inches.
Length: 193.3 inches.
Width: 83.9 inches.
Ground clearance: 8.9 inches.
Assembly site: St. Louis, Mo.