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2003 Lincoln Navigator
More, but also better


By ROGER HART "AutoWeek"


When Lincoln launched Navigator in 1997 the vehicle was the first player in the full-size luxury SUV segment. Since that time, the field has gotten crowded with trucks from Cadillac, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes. Formidable competition, to be sure.

Navigator has held its own in the high-end SUV marketplace, commanding a whopping 40 percent share. Engineers in charge of Navigator’s first major redesign had to create an almost all-new vehicle while not messing up a good thing. But wholesale changes were called for to defend its position.

Lincoln engineers had to dial in Ford global chief of product development Richard Parry-Jones’ “driving dynamics DNA” initiative, which demands high standards for ride and handling characteristics—even though Navigator is a body-on-frame truck.

So, while the 2003 Navigator boasts several new features, it is the ride and handling that improve most significantly. Does it handle like the rear-drive, body-on-frame Town Car that, like Navigator, is all-new for ’03? Not exactly, but several driving characteristics are close, especially steering feel.

To meet the driving dynamics target, Lincoln engineers employ a new rack-and-pinion steering system and four-wheel independent suspension. They say they stiffened the torsional rigidity of the chassis by 70 percent over last year’s model using hydroformed steel frame rails. In driving the 2002 model and the 2003 on the same roads back-to-back, the reduction in noise, vibration and harshness in the new truck is significant. The suspension absorbs much more of the bumps, transferring very little harshness back into the cabin. You’ll never mistake the handling for that of a BMW X5, but within the parameters of interstate cruising and cross-country towing, the Navigator is nimbler than before.

The front doors and roof are unchanged, and the distinctive chrome Lincoln grille has been retained, but the rest of the exterior is fresh. The ’03’s hoodline is four inches higher than the previous-generation while the bumper is two inches lower, better for car-to-truck crash compatibility, Lincoln engineers say.

Beneath the new hood resides what may prove to be Navigator’s Achilles’ heel: the 5.4-liter dohc V8, a carryover from the previous model. While the engine produces 300 hp and 355 lb-ft, a truck this big begs for more power. When stacked up against the 6.0-liter V8 in the Cadillac Escalade that produces 345 hp and 380 lb-ft, the Navigator feels downright anemic, especially noticeable at launch, although both vehicles claim 8500 pounds of towing capacity.

There is a possible engine fix on the way. The Navigator’s engine bay will accommodate Ford’s Triton V10 (used in the Excursion, among others), along with all of its 305 hp and (more importantly) 420 lb-ft of torque. Several V10-equipped Navigators are cruising Dearborn right now, and while the horsepower gain is minimal, the V10’s stump-pulling torque will make all the difference. Lincoln folks, keen to sell V8 models, are mum about when—or if—the V10 will be offered for sale, so we can’t advise you to wait for it. But if your need for a new truck isn’t urgent, it’s something to think about.

The high-end luxury vehicle segment demands bells and whistles and the ’03 Navigator doesn’t disappoint, with optional power-deployable running boards, power-folding third-row seats and a power liftgate. The second-row seats can be ordered with two low-back buckets or a three-passenger, 40/20/40 split bench with a center sliding section, good for kids in car seats.

When Navigator’s redesign began almost three years ago, Lincoln marketing folks were chanting the “American Luxury” mantra, so designers looked to the marque’s heritage for inspiration. (“American Luxury” has been jettisoned, replaced by “There are those who travel and those who travel well.” Go figure.) They went back to an American luxury icon, the 1961 Lincoln Continental, for design cues for the dash. The broad, symmetrical design has been updated with modern finishes. The interior, flush with leather and wood, is accented by more than 120 white LED lights, giving it a warm, soft glow.

Navigators are on sale now with prices starting at $48,775 for a 4x2 model; 4x4 models command at least $52,325.

In a segment where sometimes more is simply more, the ’03 Navigator strives to make the case that more can also be better.
 

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When I first saw that shot I liked it. Not so sure now.

I would assume that Ford and Landrover are talking over what models that are trying to sell in the US in years to come. LandRover seem hell bent in designing new models and changing exisiting models with this market specifically in mind.

The claim about the competition has me confused. I would have thought Merc and BMW version would have had a fair size disadvantage over the Ford models
 
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