Upscale interior is dressed with wood accents, leather upholstery, and premium carpeting. Remove the Lincolnized elements and you're left with an attractive and functional interior design, rife with comfort and convenience items.

Riding the coattails of the seemingly unstoppable sport/utility craze, Lincoln made a bold move by adapting Ford's successful full-size Expedition to the luxury division for '98. In '99, the Navigator pushed Lincoln annual sales beyond Cadillac for the first time in years, and the heated sales race inspired General Motors to hastily affix a crested-wreath badge to the premium GMC Yukon Denali.

The formula for the Navigator's popularity was to transform the mainstream Expedition into a high-end vehicle with prerequisite Lincoln attributes and a significant styling update. Package in the "Lincoln Commitment" four-year warranty, roadside assistance, and service loaner program, and the Navigator seemed poised for success.

We ordered a four-wheel-drive Navigator to test the leather-lined behemoth for a year to get to know first-hand what the fuss was all about. Building on a $42,660 base price, we were able to assemble a healthy list of options and still keep the price under $46K. For interior comfort, we added auxiliary climate controls ($705), premium 290-watt audio system ($355), CD changer ($595), and electrochromatic rearview mirror ($110). For sheer functionality, we ordered a 17-inch all-terrain tire upgrade ($305) and skidplate package ($105). And for Al Gore and CARB, we absorbed a mandatory California emissions system for $170.

This may seem like unusual order-sheet restraint for us, but the Navigator comes with so many standard features, there's little room to heap goodies and additional cost onto it. Beyond basic power features and air conditioning, the Navigator offers true standard luxury features such as leather upholstery, remote keyless entry, passive anti-theft system, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, aluminum wheels, load-leveling air suspension, real wood trim, illuminated running boards, heated mirrors, and so on. Welcome to sport/ute high society.

At first glance, the Navigator appears to be an Expedition washed in contact cement and rolled through the J.C. Whitney truck accessories warehouse. On closer inspection, it becomes clear that the Lincoln shares little sheetmetal with its more plebeian sibling. Skeptics take note: the hood, prison-cell-door-sized chrome grille, front fenders, front fascia and bumper, reflector headlamps, wheel arch moldings, roof rack, door handles, rear hatch, and taillamps are all Lincoln-specific. The result still looks like a tarted-up Expedition to us, but the snazzy appearance was the primary factor in surveyed owners' purchase.

An affluent group, more than 50 percent of respondents reported household incomes above $140,000. A combination of business professionals and retirees, financing owners shouldered an average $813 monthly payment with 11.2 percent choosing to lease. The Navigator proved effective in keeping current owners within the brand and conquesting from others, as 36.7 percent of our group were prior Lincoln customers and 23.3 percent graduated from the ranks of Ford sport/ute ownership. Not surprisingly, the Ford Expedition was the most popular alternative, trailed by the Chevrolet Suburban, Town Car, Chevrolet Tahoe, and Toyota Land Cruiser, respectively.

Delivered with a refined 5.4-liter/230-horsepower SOHC V-8, the massive 5557-pound luxo/ute tackled the quarter mile in 17.7 seconds at 78.7, ticking through 0-60 mph on the way in 10.3 seconds. While a fair measure behind the Chevrolet/GMC competition, it seemed respectable for the mammoth machine. Surveyed owners were quite pleased, with 82.1 percent rating acceleration as above average. Although our four-wheel-drive model touts an impressive 7700-pound tow rating, our staff found the powerplant could be taxed on long hills when fully laden. Later in 1998 the Triton V-8 output grew to 260 horsepower, edging torque up by 20 pound-feet and pushing the tow rating to 7900 pounds. Measured performance gains are nominal, but the stronger engine feels more responsive. Good news for '99 was the addition of a 300-horsepower DOHC variation of the same powerplant making a massive performance gain, lowering 0-60-mph times to a mere 8.5 seconds.

Certainly athletic ability is not intended to be the Navigator's strong suit, but 92.1 percent of owners rated overall performance above average. Through our battery of track tests, the Navigator recorded a 54.9-mph slalom time and pulled 0.62 g around the skidpad, with the results falling between the more nimble GMC Yukon Denali and the longer Chevrolet Suburban. The four anti-lock-fitted disc brakes halted the big rig in 149 feet, with minimal dive due to the ride-leveling air suspension.

Huge andlumbering in bustling city traffic, the Navigator feels as if it needs little tugboats to avoid flattening an unseen Mazda Miata. More at home on the open road, the Navigator provides a pleasantly compliant ride well-suited to long journeys. As an Arizonian wrote, "My husband wanted a sport/utility vehicle and I wanted a good ride. In the Navigator, we got both." As you can see from the high mileage, our staff traveled more than a presidential hopeful during our 12-month evaluation.

Key to spending 27,419 miles in the Navigator in a year when we tested over 300 vehicles (not including driving impressions) last year was the sumptuous interior. The voluminous cabin reminds us of a rolling lawyer's office (sans shark tank), with highly polished wood, puffy leather buckets, and elbow room galore.

Although the Jaguar-inspired half-wood/half-leather steering wheel looks romantic, we'd prefer a traditional full leather wrap for prolonged drives. Redundant wheel-mounted audio and climate controls were well appreciated, though the staff was confounded by a couple of head unit functions. Having the CD changer in the center console was well appreciated, as it wouldn't take much to bury the limited rear cargo space when the third-row bench was in place, thereby limiting access to a more traditional changer location.

Accommodations for the front two rows are excellent, with large bucket seats, adequate ventilation, and both audio and climate controls for each row. Unless we were shuttling a Pee Wee football team, the cumbersome rear bench was left out. Like many staff families, the Bartletts employed the Navigator as a vacation vehicle, driving the indulgent RV from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, then on to the Grand Canyon. The week-long adventure revealed the numerous reasons owners are attracted to the Navigator that simply can't be revealed creeping through SoCal traffic.

Loading the vehicle with necessary luggage and survival gear meant leaving the "children and in laws only" rear bench behind, opening up adequate cargo space without travel sundries blocking view. The immense Porta Potti-looking second-row console made a great impromptu cooler, and all the various cupholders and storage nooks proved useful for miscellaneous consumables, past and present.

Reminiscent of board-room seats, the leather perches proved quite comfortable during long hours spent traversing the arid desert landscape. After a decadent day spent in Vegas, the family circus drove to America's favorite secret military base, Area 51. The recently rain-eroded 13-mile dirt road leading to the main gate provided an opportunity to test the behemoth's low-traction abilities.

After setting up for pictures, armed guards began approaching (probably something to do with the "no photography" sign), so we naturally removed the Motor Trend license plate and headed for pavement. Driving through a loose-sand washout, we rotated the dash-mounted Control Trac dial to engage the automatic four-wheel-drive mode, permitting us to hastily retreat without incident. Although 54 percent of surveyed owners report never driving on a dirt road, 8.8 percent do so more than three weeks a month. The numbers break down to show that the Nav is venturing off-pavement frequently, with 17.6 percent claiming they tackle trails with their big SUV. Of those adventurous types, 87.3 percent rated off-road performance as above average, and we found the Navigator to be quite effective when the Men In Black were on our tail.

Moving on to Arizona, the comfort-enhancing benefits of the overly assisted steering and lux-tuned suspension were apparent, for the Navigator doesn't beat up riders as most trucks will on day-long trips. Although fuel economy averaged a meager 13.1 mpg, the immense 30-gallon gas tank still permitted upwards of 400 miles per fill up. Trouble-free and perfectly suited for our multi-faceted journey, the Navigator created a truckload of converts during that week.

Over the year, the constantly moving sport/ute paused for a few brief dealer servicings. Beyond manufacturer recommended work, the Nav received warranty-sponsored attention to resolve an ABS warning light issue and stubborn brake light problem.

Any way you slice it, the Navigator is a huge machine blurring the lines between traditional truck and luxury sedan. A true do-it-all vehicle well-suited to shuttling duties, impromptu exploration, and ideal vacation cruiser, with its biggest shortcomings being in a parking lot and at the fuel pump.

As value seekers, we'd enter the Ford showroom before the Lincoln one when shopping. However, successful professionals can waltz right into their local Lincoln dealer and purchase 2-3/4 -tons of luxury and status with the muscle to tackle the demands of hard-core recreation and active family.

OWNERS' PURCHASE CONSIDERATIONS
What influenced you to consider a Navigator?
Luxury features 83.3%
Looks/style 63.3
Interior comfort 59.3
Passenger capacity 52.0
Safety features 51.3
Handling 42.7
I would buy another Lincoln 85.0%
I would recommend the Navigator 96.8%
OWNERS' VITAL STATISTICS
Surveyed group, percentage M/F 51.4/48.6
Average age of owner 50.7
Average purchase price $43,134
Average monthly payment $813
Average total mileage 19,710
Average fuel economy, mpg 13.7
Percentage buy/lease 88.8/11.2
Average number vehicles per household 4.4
NAVIGATOR OWNERS' REPORTED STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES
Specific likes
Comfort 43.8%
Style 33.1
Handling 23.1
Ride quality 23.1
Interior space 13.1
Safety features 12.3
Specific dislikes
Fuel economy 25.2%
Cargo space 18.5
No hideaway rear seat 5.9
Handling 5.9
Price 5.2
OTHER VEHICLES CONSIDERED
Ford Expedition 24.2%
Chevy/GMC Suburban 18.2
Lincoln Town Car 8.1
Chevrolet Tahoe 7.1
Toyota Land Cruiser 7.1


PERFORMANCE/CREATURE COMFORTS AS RATED BY OWNERS
  ExcellentGoodAverageFairPoor
Overall performance 67.1% 25.0% 4.6% 2.6% 0.7%
Fun to drive 68.4 21.7 5.3 3.3 1.3
Acceleration 44.4 37.7 11.9 5.3 0.7
Braking 53.3 35.5 6.6 4.6 0.0
Handling 61.2 24.3 10.5 1.3 2.6
Off-road ability 41.8 45.5 10.9 1.8 0.0
Overall comfort 78.8 17.9 2.0 1.3 0.0
Rear-benchseat comfort 28.6 36.4 20.7 7.9 6.4
Cargo capacity 26.3 30.9 17.1 15.1 10.5
Overall quality 63.2 29.6 3.9 1.3 2.0
NAVIGATOR OWNERS' REPORTED STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES
Specific likes
Comfort 43.8%
Style 33.1
Handling 23.1
Ride quality 23.1
Interior space 13.1
Safety features 12.3
Specific dislikes
Fuel economy 25.2%
Cargo space 18.5
No hideaway rear seat 5.9
Handling 5.9
Price 5.2
Specifications
PRICE
Base price $42,660
Price as tested $45,880
Motor Trend Auto Program current value, wholesale/retail $29,525/$33,090
Total operating cost $2848.37
Operating cost/mile 10.4c
Total ownership cost $19,203.37
Ownership cost/mile 69.8c
*Based on Motor Trend Auto Program wholesale price, excluding insurance, tax, title, and registration.
GENERAL/POWERTRAIN
Body style 4-door, 7-passenger
Vehicle config. Front engine, four-wheel drive
Airbag Dual
Engine configuration V-8, SOHC, 2 valves/cyl.
Engine displacement, ci/cc 330.1/5410
Horsepower, hp @ rpm, SAE net 230 @ 4250
Torque, lb-ft @ rpm, SAE net 325 @ 3000
Transmission 4-speed auto.
Axle ratio 3.73:1
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase, in./mm 119.0/3023
Length, in./mm 204.8/5202
Height, in./mm 76.7/1948
Ground clearance, in./mm 8.6/220
Curb weight, lb 5557
Weight distribution, f/r, % 53/47
Fuel capacity, gal 30.0
Fuel economy, EPA city/hwy, mpg 12/16
CHASSIS
Suspension f/r Upper and lower control arms, torsion bars, air springs, anti-roll bar/live axle, trailing arms, Panhard rod, air springs, anti-roll bar
Steering/ratio Power recirculating ball/16.5:1
Brakes, f/r Vented disc/disc, ABS
Wheels, f/r 17x7.0, cast aluminum
Tires, f/r Continental Contitrac AT, 255/75SR17
PERFORMANCE
Acceleration, 0-60 mph, sec 10.3
Quarter mile, sec/mph 17.7/78.7
Braking, 60-0 mph, ft 149
Slalom, mph 54.9
Lateral acceleration, g 0.62
MAINTENANCE
Total mileage 27,514
Test mileage 27,419
Fuel consumed, gal 2090
Fuel cost $2380.51
Average mpg 13.1
Additional oil cost 2 qts./$3.98
Total maintenance $463.88
Problem areas ABS & brake lights



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