Since it was introduced for1998, the full-size Lincoln Navigator has made a big impact. Its aggressive but polished posture hit a cord with buyers, and spurred Cadillac to match it with the Escalade. But not every high-end SUV buyer wants a 17-foot long, 3-ton land yacht. So Ford’s domestic luxury brand has readied a new mid-size SUV, the Aviator. Lincoln promises that the Aviator delivers all the extravagance and prestige of the Navigator, in a more manageable package. But will the Aviator take off with luxury SUV buyers?
It had better reach lift off, since Lincoln wants to fly 35,000 copies of this 2003 Aviator into upscale garages during the first year! To do so, Lincoln has equipped the mid-size Aviator with most of the luxury fittings of its full-size kin Navigator, and the styling as well. The Aviator is almost a dead ringer for the Navigator, thanks to family styling cues like the wide chrome grille, quad headlights, and inset fog lamps.
But with a length of 193.3-inches, the mid-size Aviator is over a foot shorter. Wheelbase, at 113.7 inches, is virtually the same as that of the body-on-frame Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer on which it is based. But Aviator’s chassis is beefier, and features 2-piece urethane/rubber body mounts to minimize noise and vibration. The front unequal-length A-arm suspension uses cast lower control arms and large diameter monotube shocks, while the independent rear features cast upper arms and larger bushings to increase lateral rigidity.
The steering system has also been substantially upgraded, to a ZF Servotronic speed- sensitive rack-and-pinion design. Power is supplied by a more free revving aluminum-block version of the Navigator’s 4.6-liter dual-overhead-cam 32-valve V8. It delivers 302 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission.
Aviator is available in both 2-wheel or automatic all-wheel-drive. All-wheel-drive Aviators use either a viscous coupling that splits torque 35/65 front to rear, like our test model, or, when equipped with the optional Advance Trac electronic stability system, a single speed transfer case that switches from rear to all-wheel drive on demand.
With all four wheels engaged, the 4,957 pound Aviator sprints to 60 in an impressive 6.9 seconds. The 1/4 mile sails by in 15.4 seconds at 93 miles-per-hour , almost fast enough to fly. All-wheel-drive feeds power in a flat, even flow, with the 5-speed gearbox shifting smoothly under hard acceleration.
The Aviator also delivers in the corners, its ZF rack-and-pinion steering offering sharp, precise response. Turn in is quicker than Explorer or Mountaineer, with fine balance and very little understeer. If the Lincoln LS was an SUV, it would be the Aviator. On rougher public roads, the suspension displays excellent wheel control, with the tires hugging the bumps instead of hopping over them. Aviator also tows up to 7,300 pounds, so hitch up that horse trailer! You will use some fuel though; EPA mileage ratings are 13 city/18 highway. We averaged 15 miles-per-gallon in mixed driving.
Braking power is provided by big 4-wheel discs with standard ABS. They stop the Aviator from 60 in an average distance of 125 feet. The brake pedal feels soft and offers very little feedback, but power and stability are plentiful.
Also plentiful in the Aviator are the luxury features that upscale buyers demand. The cabin is roomy and superbly equipped. The dash has a slightly retro look that’s classic Lincoln, and again almost identical to Navigator, with a clean layout. Driver and front passenger find plush, 6-way power leather seats. Both heat and ventilation are available. The driver’s gauges are cold cathode analog units that look classy, and are very easy to read day or night. The center console houses standard dual-zone climate controls, and behind a somewhat flimsy plastic door , our only trim complaint , a standard 6-disc CD changer. A DVD navigation system comes soon. Entertainment for rear passengers is provided by an optional DVD entertainment system
Second row seating is a choice of buckets, or a split folding bench. Both flip forward for easy access to the standard third-row bench which folds into the floor. The manually folding bench offers better-than-average head and leg room, though the seat itself is hard and flat. But why did Lincoln choose not to make a power folding design like the Navigator? Either way, folding it down opens up 40.2 cubic-feet of cargo space. Fold the second row seats, and carry a total of 78.5 cubic-feet.
Big cargo numbers, but not as big as the price! Two-wheel-drive Luxury-grade Aviators start at $39,995. In Premium trim you’ll pay $42,915. Luxury-grade all-wheel-drive models start at $42,945, and then jump to $45,865 for the full-on Premium model. That’s quite a hit in the old pocketbook, but it’s still 10-grand less than a Navigator.
The 2003 Lincoln Aviator is American luxury through and through. All the refinement and aggression of a full-size luxury SUV, but in a package that’s a little more affordable, and a whole lot easier to park!
Engine: 4.6-Literdohc 32-valve V8
Torque: 300 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.4 Seconds @ 93 MPH
60-0 MPH: 125 Feet
EPA Mileage: 13 MPG City 18 MPG Highway
Motorweek's Mileage Loop: 15 MPG Mixed City/highway