2003 Lincoln Navigator 4 x 4
Lincoln’s newly redesigned Navigator is as plush as its cars, yet pulls with authority.
You could say one drawback with luxury sport-utility vehicles is that they’re long on luxury, and often short on utility. In the case of Lincoln’s newly redesigned Navigator, it was as plush as a Town Car—yet it towed like a real truck.
New from the ground up—save for the roof panel and front doors—the 2003 Navigator came equipped with the new independent rear suspension that Ford Motor Company has been installing under many of its trucks. Unlike the Expedition we tested in March, the Navigator came standard with a load-leveling air-spring suspension system at all four corners. This system also should be standard on the Expedition.
With this setup, the Navigator was far better suited to towing substantial trailers than was the Expedition. The difference was the Navigator didn’t squat in the rear or sway side to side in corners with a trailer in tow. That side-to-side sway was our chief complaint with the Expedition, so it’s nice to know that the air springs correct it.
During our weeklong test, which included towing a 24-foot boat to Las Vegas, the Navigator was as hardworking as it was luxurious. We loaded it to overload with a bag of scuba gear, two cases of wine, four boxes of wine glasses, four boxes of trophies, two boxes of magazines, two cases of water, a cooler, computers, briefcases—and two tubs of test equipment and four suitcases on the sole of the boat. All that gear filled most of the Navigator’s 103.3 cubic feet of cargo volume and made the inside rearview mirror virtually useless.
The point is that the truck was laden with cargo, yet it handled the chore with little protest. For example, while traveling up the grade between Baker, Calif., and the Nevada state line, the Navigator tached up to high rpm, but it didn’t falter under the load. It actually would accelerate uphill, loaded as it was.
Tuned for low-end response, the 5.4-liter dual-overhead cam V-8 featured four valves per cylinder and offered up 90 percent of its 355 pound-feet of torque between 1,750 and 4,700 rpm. A couple of notable engine features include hypereutectic alloy pistons that expand 15 percent less than aluminum, connecting rods that are “cracked” in half at the big end for a precise fit, and cross-bolted aluminum main-bearing caps. Because of a 9.5:1 compression ratio, Lincoln recommends at least 91 octane but we accidentally filled it with 87 octane, twice, on the trip to Vegas, yet the engine never uttered so much as a ping. Tip-in was silky and unabrupt, just what you need for towing. About the only downside to the engine was its abysmal fuel mileage, which never topped more than 11 mpg.
The transmission was equally remarkable. With a boat in tow, the truck shifted into the next gear with a gentle nudge, just what you’d expect from a luxury car. Without a boat latched to the receiver, the truck exhibited virtually seamless shifts. And we only use the word virtually, because seamless shifts are nigh on impossible. But this was as close as we’ve seen in any truck we’ve tested.
According to Lincoln literature, the four-speed transmission adapts its shift points, depending on throttle position, engine vacuum and load. While towing, the truck did tend to hang in one gear for awhile before it upshifted, but it wasn’t a negative trait.
As for the brakes, nothing really negative to report here. They functioned appropriately, offering decent feel and power, though most of the power was at the bottom of pedal travel.
The Navigator also offered a great ride, especially for an SUV. A rubber-insulated frame-mounted differential, a specially tuned intake resonator, a 70 percent stiffer frame and flex couplings that connect the exhaust manifolds to the exhaust pipes were among many significant features targeted toward minimizing noise, vibration and harshness. They helped deliver what a buyer would—or even should—expect from an SUV with a Lincoln badge. Turns out it was no accident.
“We drove more than a dozen of the best luxury products available, but not with an eye to copy any particular model or brand,” said Engineering Director Mike Renucci. “Rather, we set out to identify and measure individual vehicle attributes such as steering, ride, handling, brakes and NVH to assist us with identifying the exact positioning needed to deliver our vision for Lincoln.”
The results were admirable. In addition to the supple ride, the interior of the Navigator was, again, as luxurious as you’d expect from a Lincoln. Leathers used for seating surfaces were soft and textured. Materials throughout the cabin exhibited the look and feel of high quality, and more important, felt as though they would last.
The dashboard, intentionally reminiscent of the 1961 Continental featured a twin-cowl design, with American walnut burlwood appliqués and LED-illuminated gauges in the instrument cluster. A navigation console was integrated with the stereo system, all of which could be concealed neatly behind a brushed nickel-finish lid festooned with the Navigator name. We didn’t find much opportunity to close the lid during our week with the Navigator, but we could see that it would be handy when long-term parking the truck at an airport. Above the door was a really cool analog clock with, you guessed it, LED illumination.
Redundant steering wheel controls also were lighted with LEDs. That feature made nighttime operation a snap, though the cruise control was inoperative while we had the truck.
We did however get a lot of use out of the rear tailgate, which operated electrically. Just unlatch with the handle and the motors raise the gate. To close it, gentle downward pressure caused the motors to kick in and close it for you. To be frank, it was awkward and silly. We would have preferred a simple gas-strut-assisted hatch. And since the power liftgate was part of the 4 x 4 Ultimate package, there really was no way to delete it, short of special ordering a vehicle. We switched off the optional power-operated running boards during the week we had it, and if it were ours to buy, we’d have deleted them, too, and saved the $925.
But that was about the only feature we took issue with. True to its roots, the Navigator was long on luxury, but it lacked for nothing in the utility department, and that was something we didn’t expect.
Towing... 10 +/- mpg
Non-towing... 11 mpg
0-60 towing... 23.98 seconds
40-60 towing... 14.31 seconds
0-60 non-towing… 11.98 seconds
40-60 non-towing... 7.92 seconds
Engine... 5.4-liter DOHC V-8
Horsepower... 300 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque... 355 pound-feet @ 2,750 rpm
Compression ratio... 9.5:1
Transmission... four-speed electronic automatic
Axle ratio... 3.73:1
Fuel capacity... 28 gal.
Tire size... P255-70R-18
Brakes... four-wheel disc with antilock
Suspension... Front: double wishbone with monotube dampers and air-springs; Rear: independent double wishbone with monotube dampers and load-leveling air springs.
Tow rating... 8,300 lb.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating... 7,300 lb.
Gross Combined Weight Rating... 15,600 lb.
Overall length... 206"
Maximum width... 80.2"
Curb weight... 5,994 lb.
Base price... $54,210
Price as tested... $61,335
1994 24’ Nordic
Customer service... 800-392-3673
Web site... www.lincoln.com