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.