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2003 Lincoln Aviator Kitty Hawk Edition Review

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SEE ALSO: Lincoln Buyer's Guide


Lincoln hit a home run with its full-sized Navigator. If it wasn't 
the first full-sized luxury sport-utility, the Navigator was the one that 
seriously jump-started growth in the class. It also jump-started 
Lincoln sales.

How to follow such a success? With more of the same, of course. 
And so Lincoln now has the mid-sized Aviator. In looks and in 
character it is very much a smaller sibling to the second-generation 
2003 Navigator. Offered with rear- or all-wheel drive, the Aviator 
features fully-independent suspension for luxury sedan comfort and 
handling and a 302-horsepower V8 engine for effortless cruising. 
That strength has other uses, too. With the optional Class III 
trailering package, towing capacity is at the head of the mid-sized 
luxury SUV class at 7100 lbs for all-wheel drive models and 7300 
lbs for rear-drive versions.

The Aviator's two standard trim levels  tell all: ``Luxury'' and 
``Premium.'' As is necessary for success in the luxury class, it is 
sumptuously and comprehensively equipped, and options like a 
DVD-based navigation system and DVD-based rear seat 
entertainment system give it parity with the competition. Useable 
interior space puts it ahead of the competition, with a choice of 
second-row captain's chairs or a 40/20/40 split bench, and a standard 
third-row seat that can actually hold real adults in comfort. 

And if ``Premium'' isn't premium enough, there is the limited-
production ``Kitty Hawk Edition.'' Ford Motor Company is 100 
years old in 2003, and 2003 is the 100th anniversary of the Wright  
brothers' first successful powered flight, at Kitty Hawk, North 
Carolina. The vehicle name is Aviator, which leads to the Kitty 
Hawk Edition, the official vehicle of the Experimental Aircraft 
Association's ``Countdown to Kitty Hawk'' celebration. It is, like 
Henry's Model T, available in any color you want as long as it's 
black, and features unique exterior and interior trim and badging on 
top of the Premium-level specification. One has been my 
transportation for the past week. I've been surprised and impressed 
by its power and competence on the road and its excellent interior 
design, spaciousness, and comfort. With trucks like this, there is no 
wonder that an increasing number of luxury cars are trucks.

APPEARANCE: Set up an Aviator the correct distance in front of a 
current Navigator so that they look the same size and you will be 
hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two. Did someone in 
the design department just bring up the Navigator plans on the CAD 
machine and press the ``smaller'' button? The gently-rounded two-
box SUV shape becomes Lincoln courtesy of a large, bold chrome-
trimmed grille and bulging hood with a small clerestory strip down 
the center. Integrated bumpers with foglamps merge with the line of 
the wheel arches and side cladding. The taillights say ``Navigator'' as 
well. Befitting the Aviator's luxury and pavement-oriented nature, 
running boards are standard fare. The Kitty Hawk Edition is, as 
mentioned, monochrome black, and its discreet special badging 
features the Wright Flyer. 

COMFORT: The Aviator's interior combines shapes from Lincoln's 
heritage with contemporary design and trim for a fresh, youthful, 
and original look. The Kitty Hawk Edition features black leather 
seats, embroidered floor mats, and mink zebrano wood trim. 
Depending on configuration, second row bench or buckets, there 
really is room for up to seven people. Unlike most other mid-sized 
SUVs, the Aviator's third-row bench has enough leg and head room 
so that two occupants will still be friendly after time spent there, and 
three are possible. The third-row seat folds flat when not needed. 
My test vehicle had second-row buckets, which flip and fold for easy 
third-row access. The dual-level second row center console adds 
passenger convenience but detracts from cargo ability - but Aviator 
owners can use a rather large trailer (7000-plus lbs worth) if serious 
cargo is necessary. Why mess up the interior? If fitted, the DVD 
entertainment system is easily viewed from the second and third 
rows. Up front, the driver and front passenger get very comfortable 
heated and cooled bucket seats. The perfect driving position can be 
easily found thanks to good adjustability plus the tilt-adjustable 
wood-and-leather steering wheel and power-adjustable pedals. 
Backlit instruments are easily visible in any lighting. My Aviator had 
the optional DVD navigation system. The screen can be hidden 
behind a flip-down panel, and the six-disc CD changer is behind the 
LCD nav system screen. That sort of space utilization extends to the 
many storage spaces in the cabin.

SAFETY: Safety features of the Lincoln Aviator include the 
``Personal Safety System''(tm) of dual-stage air bags, safety belt 
pretensioners, and load-limiting retractors, the ``Safety Canopy''(tm) 
side curtain air bags, and the optional ``AdvanceTrac''(tm) stability 
enhancement system.
ROADABILITY: The Aviator has truck-standard body-on-frame 
construction, but you'd never know that from the driving experience. 
Both the frame and body structures are very rigid, and a fully-
independent suspension dispatches any hint of truck origins. Other 
than the high-eyepoint driver's perspective from its height, the 
Aviator could be a contemporary American luxury sedan in its ride 
and handling, with a smooth, moderately firm and well-damped ride 
and good handling considering its high center of gravity. A relatively 
small turning circle makes maneuvering and parking easy.

PERFORMANCE: A sports car engine in a sport-utility? Believe it. 
The specs for the Aviator's dual overhead cam, aluminum alloy V8 
don't tell the whole story. While 302 horsepower at 5750 rpm and 
300 lb-ft of torque at 3250 rpm are impressive, the power delivery 
and excellent five-speed automatic transmission are what make it 
work, and work well. There is plenty of torque right from a 
standstill, useful for both traffic and towing, and no shortage as 
engine and vehicle speed increase. Acceleration and merging are 
absolutely no problem, and when it comes time to stop, large four-
wheel antilock discs do the job.

CONCLUSIONS: Luxury comfort meets strength in the Lincoln Aviator.

2003 Lincoln Aviator Kitty Hawk Edition

Base Price			$ 45,125
Price As Tested		        $ 54,635
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 32-valve aluminum 
                                 alloy V8
Engine Size			4.6 liters / 281 cu. in.
Horsepower			302 @ 5750 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			300 @ 3250 rpm
Transmission			5-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		113.7 in. / 193.3 in.
Curb Weight			5002 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        16.6
Fuel Capacity			22.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P245/65 SR17
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
                                 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent short-and-long arm with 
                                  coil springs /
				  independent short-and-long arm with 
                                   toe link, coil springs
Ground clearance		8.6 in.
Drivetrain			front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		13 / 18 / 14
0 to 60 mph				est. 8.5  sec
Towing capacity (class III)		7100 lbs

Power moonroof and medium
  overhead console			$ 1,595
Kitty Hawk Edition - includes:
  17-inch chrome wheels, tire pressure
  monitoring system, special trim	$ 2,295
Class III trailer towing package	$   295
Navigation system package - includes:
  navigation system, steering wheel,
  and mirror				$ 2,495
Interactive vehicle dynamics		$   795
DVD entertainment system		$ 1,295
Destination charge			$   740