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Lincoln Aviator, Navigator Win Winter Awards

* New Aviator named best in its luxury mid-size class. * Navigator called best of all full-size sport utility vehicles.

BOSTON, March 4 -- Lincoln's new Aviator and Navigator sport utility vehicles topped their classes in tests for the best winter vehicles by New England's top motoring journalists.

"Notoriously fierce winters with ice, snow, sand and frost-damaged roads combine to make New England the ultimate testing ground for winter preparedness," New England Motor Press Association said.

Lincoln's brand new luxury model, Aviator, won the title of "Best in Class Midsize SUV - $35,000 and up." Aviator is Lincoln's first midsize sport utility vehicle. In addition to its long line of luxury and safety features, Aviator has the best front-seat headroom and legroom in its class; a third row of seats that fold flat to the floor and provide excellent leg- and head-room when unfolded; and an all-aluminum 4.6-liter V-8 engine that produces 302 horsepower and 300 pounds-feet of torque for exceptional towing yet qualifies as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle.

In a press release announcing the awards, NEMPA said its members "felt the Aviator offered the best blend of performance, practicality and design in this category."

The New England journalists will present the awards March 18. They are the second group of auto writers to recognize Aviator and Navigator. The Texas Auto Writers Association recently named Aviator "SUV of the Year." They also recently named Navigator "Luxury SUV of the Year."

Testing at the other end of the climactic spectrum, the New England writers voted Lincoln Navigator "Best Full-Size SUV." They wrote: "Would you like to super-size that class-winning Lincoln Aviator, sir? If the answer is yes, then the vehicle is the Lincoln Navigator, which beat out the competition in this highly competitive, rapidly expanding segment." The New England journalists singled out the leather and brushed satin finish of the Navigator's passenger compartment for special praise: "The Navigator's beautiful interior alone should give the European manufacturers pause."

Lincoln introduced the concept of a large luxury sport-utility vehicle to America when it unveiled the first generation of the Navigator in 1997. The second generation debuted in 2002 with a totally redesigned body and interior, upgraded powertrain and power folding rear seats that fold flat to eliminate the need to remove seats when carrying cargo. Customers may order power running boards that automatically extend when the doors open.

Navigator also pioneered for Aviator a host of safety equipment, including a Personal Safety System that deploys air bags according to the size of the driver and whether the seat belt is fastened, and side air curtains that protect not only in side impacts but also sense and protect the first two rows of passengers during rollovers.

"The Lincoln team and its dealers are gratified by these high honors for our new Aviator and Navigator from New England's most respected automotive writers," said Thomas Shelley, Lincoln Mercury Boston regional sales manager. "They test hundreds of vehicles throughout the year and their judgment is recognized by their readers and viewers in New England and by their peers throughout the country."

Shelley continued: "Navigator was well received in New England from the moment the new 2002 model debuted, and we believe the award for our brand-new Aviator will bring customers into showrooms to experience for themselves what the journalists reported. The midsize sport-utility vehicle market is the fastest growing sector among all luxury vehicles. Three-quarters of all luxury SUV sales take place in this midsize segment, so we are particularly pleased that these experts rate our new Aviator so highly."

Lincoln vehicles are built by Ford Motor Company , the world's second largest automaker. Ford employs approximately 335,000 people in 200 markets on six continents. Its other automotive brands include Aston Martin, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, Mercury and Volvo. Its automotive-related services include Ford Credit, Quality Care and Hertz. With world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, Ford Motor Company will officially observe its 100th anniversary on June 16, 2003.