New Car/Review

The Lincoln Navigator, The Art of Perfection

by Larry Weitzman

Lincoln
Lincoln Full Line factory footage (3:29) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

The New Lincoln Navigator is Lincoln's (Ford's) first foray into the luxury, up-scale sport utility market. Originally introduced in 1998, it was an instant success with sales far exceeding expectations. For 1999 it only gets better.

First let's get the relationship between the Expedition and Navigator cleared up. This is a different vehicle. Only the doors, roof panel, frame and some of the running gear, the entire front and rear end, lighting, suspension, interior and engine are completely different.

New for 1999 are power adjustable pedals, third row seat rollers and two new engines. The Navigator is available as a 4X2 and 4X4. Most sales are of the 4X4 variety.

My test vehicle didn't have the new 5.4L In Tech 4 valve 300 hp engine, which is now standard and exclusive to the Navigator on all vehicles produced after December 7, 1998. My rig had the improved 5.4L two valve Triton V-8 that produces 260 hp at 4,500 rpm and 345 lb-ft of earth orbit altering torque at a down low 2,300 rpm (this engine is used in the 1999 Expedition). In 1998 the Lincoln had the 5.4L Triton engine but its horse power rating was 230 at 4,250 rpm with 330 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm.

How much of a difference could 30 hp make in a 5,585 pound sport ute? Big, if you like performance. This 260 hp engine could haul this rhino machine from 0-60 mph in 9.6 seconds with one run at 9.32 seconds. 50-70 passing times were 5.8 seconds on level ground and 9.0 seconds up a steep grade. In comparison to the previous 230 hp engine, these times show a half to a full second improvement.

In a quick sampling of a pre production 300 hp In Tech engined Navigator, I was able to knock off 0-60 times in the low 8's. It felt very powerful. That model will be evaluated at a later date.

The four speed super smooth electronically controlled automatic was one of the best I sampled. Shifts were imperceptible, but precise and crisp when required.

Fuel mileage was surprisingly good. The EPA rates the Navigator 4X4 at 12/16 city/highway. My overall average was 15 mpg for the entire test, which included a lot of time going up, down and around mountains and valleys. At a steady 70 mph the fuel computer was indicating a constant 18 mpg. With its huge 30 gallon fuel tank, expect a highway range approaching 500 miles.

But this vehicle is about luxury and sport and it acquits itself very well in both departments. It is built on a massive ladder box frame. This provides exceptional rigidity and the bank vault solidity required for luxury and quiet. Lincoln adds to the mix a load leveling, air suspension system in conjunction with fully independent front and a well located live axle in the rear with a five link system.

To really appreciate the quality of these mechanicals, taking a look under the front end will make you a believer of the strength of the suspension components. They are beautiful in design and probably could be used on a Sherman Tank. With 8.5 inches of minimum ground clearance it's easy to do.

It all works extremely well. Besides smoothing out washboard roads like Ponderosa and lower Latrobe, absorbing bumps like a giant sponge, it controls body motion and noise like no other sport ute I have ever driven. Lincoln has paid special attention to sound attenuation. A limousine doesn't do this good under these conditions.

On the highway, the only sound comes from the powerful sound system with the optional ($595 and a must) six disc CD changer located in the center console. There is no engine, road or wind noise. Expansion joints and tar strips and minor undulations are eliminated. The ride is simply sublime.

Handling is excellent considering the strong cornering inputs required to change the direction of nearly three tons of moving mass. With its trick air suspension, the Navigator sits about 2 inches lower than an Expedition which lowers the center of gravity. At low speeds, the Navigator is quick and nimble. It is easy to maneuver gracefully. The steering is accurate and the responsive throttle action gives complete control.

At speed, Green Valley and Bass Lake Road could be carved at the speed limit effortlessly without tire squeal. But this is a 4X4 and performance during inclement weather is what this mobile living room is all about. The four-wheel drive system has three positions, automatic 4X4, 4X4 high and 4X4 low. The automatic system runs in two-wheel drive until it senses wheel slippage at which time it instantly transfers power to the all four wheels.

The 4X4 high is for part time use under severe conditions such as deep snow and the low position is for pulling the Queen Mary up a boat ramp under slippery conditions. I had the chance to put this system to the test in a drive to Yosemite going down Highway 49 to 120, through the Park, up to Badger Pass and out through highway 41 to Oakhurst and then Highway 49 back to Placerville.

I encountered snow, rain and ice during the trip. I left the system in 4X4 automatic and the chains at home. It performed flawlessly. Even in snow, other cars with chains and other 4X4's used turnouts to let me pass. The Navigator never lost its footing or its composure. Coming back up Highway 49 from Oakhurst in the rain, I was followed by a Honda Accord for 40 miles who had trouble keeping up with this Navigator even in the twisties. And the Honda was pushing me. When I got to Jackson where there were two lanes, he finally pulled along side to wave and check out the Navigator. He never saw a sport ute perform like that before.

The standard, large ABS four wheel disc brakes worked perfectly and added to my confidence during this excursion into inclement weather. Stopping power and control were excellent, especially considering mass.

Just how big is the Navigator? It rides on a 119 inch wheelbase with an overall length of 204.8 inches. Overall width is 79.8 inches and height is 76.6 inches including the standard roof rack in the 4X4. The 4X2 is about an inch lower. In comparison, a Suburban is about 15 inches longer. The massive height and width make the Navigator appear bigger than it is. The design grows on you. The Lincoln grille and great looking headlights create a classic, powerful look. Large windows give great visibility. The built in, lighted running boards make access to its sumptuous interior easy. It is considered one of the best looking and most elegant of all sport utes.

Once inside, the driver and passengers are surrounded by leather and wood. Even the steering wheel is beautiful in thick walnut and leather. It also contains controls for cruise and the audio system. The large front seats are comfortable with excellent support offered for long distance cruising. Position memory for the driver (and one other lucky person) is standard. But I think Lincoln could do a better job in the selection of foam densities as the seats seem a little too firm. The leather seats in Ford's Super Duty pickup are better.

A new option worth special mention are the power adjustable pedals. Controlled a rocker switch on the dash, the pedals (gas and brake) can be moved for and aft three inches and work in conjunction with the seat memory. This is a great innovation.

The dash has been changed for 1999. Changed but not made better. I liked the 1998 instrument layout better. This year there is the usual speedo and tach left and right and equal in size and shape. But the shape is a little unusual. They are not circular or round but appear to have a hump in their curvature. Fuel, temp, voltage and oil pressure are paired left and right of the main instrumentation in groups of two. It is clear and very legible, but so was last year. Picky, picky.

The super sound system and electronic controls for the powerful HVAC system are grouped in the center of the dash. The continuous read out of outside temperature is a nice feature to let the driver know if it approaching freezing and to exercise a little more caution if there is moisture on the road.

The center console has two large cupholders and more touches of more gorgeous walnut. The rear of the console has large HVAC vents and separate sound system controls and headphone jacks, another thoughtful feature.

The second row of seats are two large buckets like the front separated by its own large console. My preference would be to opt (no extra charge) for the 40/60 split second row bench, which offers seating for three and more cargo flexibility.

The third row of leather comfort is done theater style. It sits up about four inches so the rear passengers have forward view as well as great visibility out the large side windows which can be powered opened by switches in the front center overhead console. The seat has new rollers for easy removal and can be folded with the flick of a lever.

Leg, head and hip room in all rows is extremely generous (third row hip room is more than found in many full size cars) and with the rear seat removed, cargo capacity is nearly a closet swallowing 64 cubic feet. With the second row of seats down, capacity nearly doubles to a Bekins moving van equivalent 118 cubic feet. This thing is roomy. Install a big screen TV, and tailgate parties will never be better.

What does all this luxo sport utility cost? The base price of my test Navigator was $43,160 plus $640 for destination. Add to that the following options: P255/75X17 inch tires ($305 and recommended), power adjustable pedals (a real bargain at $185), power moon roof ($1655, nice but expensive. But with the moon roof rear air is not available. I rather have rear air for $705 and pocket the difference of $950.), 17 inch chrome wheels ($350, but for the same money I would go with the cast alloys), heated front seats (another bargain for $290 and an option I will purchase on my next car if available and it better well be), six disc CD changer ($595 and a must) and the Alpine audio system ($570) which sounds like Carnegie Hall, but I didn't sample the standard system which probably sounds nearly as good.

The total was $47,750, which puts it in lofty territory. But someone is buying these wonderful machines, because the factory supply is down to a 30 day inventory that is half of normal. The two valve 260 hp is no longer in production. The 4 valve In Tech engine model has a new base price of $44,310 but power pedals are standard, so the real price increase is $965. For power freaks, it's worth every penny of the extra money (I'd pay even more).

SPECIFICATIONS

Price

loaded                         $41,300 (4X2) 
                               $48,000 (4X4)           

Engine

5.4L SOHC 2 valve V-8          260 hp @ 4,500 rpm
                               345 lb-ft of torque @ 2,300 rpm

5.4l DOHC 4 valve V-8          300 hp @ 5,000 rpm
                               355 lb-ft of torque @ 2,750 rpm

Configuration

front engine (longitudinal)
rear wheel drive, all wheel drive

Transmission

4 speed electronically 
controlled automatic

Dimensions

Wheelbase                      119.0  inches
Length                         204.8  inches
Width                          79.8   inches
Height                         76.6   inches
Weight                         5,585  pounds (4X4)
                               5,177  pounds (4X2)
Ground Clearance               8.5    inches
Tow Capacity                   8,100  pounds (4X2) 
                               7,700  pounds (4X4)     
Fuel Capacity                  30     gallons
Maximum Cargo Capacity         117.6  cubic feet

Performance

0-60                           9.6    seconds
50-70                          5.8    seconds
50-70 uphill                   9.0    seconds
Top Speed                      Without a governor, well over a 100
                               mph, but it and the driver will be
                               much more     relaxed at more legal
                               speeds
Fuel Economy                   EPA 12/16 mpg city/highway.  My
                               estimate is 13-14 mpg in El Dorado
                               County and 17-18 mpg on the highway               

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