So there we were, barreling down the highway in a Lincoln Navigator. The music on the DVD suddenly swelled, filling the cavernous SUV with orchestral thunder. The kids were watching The Pirates of the Caribbean; the bit where Captain Jack Sparrow enters the harbor on a sinking skiff. Although the scene is played for laughs, the music is magnificent: grand yet lyrical, suffused with romance and adventure. Grasping the big Lincoln's wood and leather helm, I felt like the captain of a huge vessel heading for the open sea. At that moment, the SUV's enormous size and endless creature comforts made perfect sense. I was piloting a first-class ship of the line: safe, fast and well-provisioned. The only cloud on the horizon was…
The Sierra Club. SUVs may own the road, but Gaia's guys and their media minions have captured the moral high ground. Where unlimited consumerism was once considered a good thing, Americans are now instructed that their family truck triggers global warming, kills Bambi and endangers US troops. Never mind that many anti-SUV crusaders live in air-conditioned mansions with heated pools. SUVs are bad. The bigger they are, the badder they be.
If that's the case, the Navigator is b-b-b-bad to the bone. It's huge (5947lbs in 4WD trim) and thirsty (13mpg in the EPA's urban cycle, less in the real world). The Lincoln Navigator is full size in the same sense that videogame vixen Lara Croft is full figured. You wouldn't know it to look at it; the SUV's designers have worked hard to hide the heft. They've divided the Navigator's prow into two horizontal halves, each with its own set of headlights. Amidships, they've run a chrome strip underneath the first two windows (but not the third), carved a visual chunk out the lower extremities and fitted perfectly proportioned, black-on-black tires. The aft is featureless. Taken as a whole, the clever cladding makes the Navigator seem tall, rather than large.
Any doubts about the size of this beast are dispelled the moment you open the door. Provided you stump-up for the "Ultimate" options package (and why wouldn't you?), a gangway whirrs into place below the portal. The Navi's slide-out running board is surprisingly useful for both small children and fitness-challenged Baby Boomers. As is the key fob controlled power tailgate. We may be a nation of carb counters, but American luxury still means never having to physically exert yourself.
It also means never having to say "Your BMW has what?" These days, all luxury cars have all the toys. Lincoln's gussied-up Ford Expedition is no exception. The test truck came complete with sat nav, sat radio, wheel-mounted stereo controls, cruise control, heated and cooled power seats, dual zone climate control, kicking stereo, DVD, automatic headlights, rear power points, park assist, garage opener, autobox with finger buttons, trip computer, tire pressure monitor, etc. Industry insiders call this trend towards taken-for-granted gizmology "feature creep". We call it fun.
But the Navigator's biggest selling point is the final frontier. The $50k truck has enough space for seven adults in a leather-clad two – two – three configuration. Thanks to its newly acquired independent rear suspension, the Navi's back row offers proper chairs– unlike the kiddy shelves found in most seven-seat SUVs. Equally important, Lincoln has replaced the old model's coil springs and torsion bars with air springs. So there's no more back of the bus bouncing, with the attendant risk of roadside "relief".
Lincoln's big rig also received the benefits of an engine upgrade. Specifically, Ford's power brokers liberated an extra 20ft.-lbs. of torque from the 5.4-liter 300hp DOHC V8. With 355ft.-lbs. of twist on tap, the Navigator can now steam to 60mph in 9.3 seconds– despite adding 460lbs. In real world terms, the truck jumps off the line like a gigantic muscle car, then, thankfully, spreads its shove equally throughout the rev range. New brake calipers and larger rotors add to the user-friendly dynamics by supplying some serious (if wooden feeling) stopping power. In short, it's a truck your mother could drive.
Cornering? Let's not go there— at least not at anything more than a jogging pace. The Navigator's understeer-biased chassis and air suspension help keep the truck from embarrassing itself around the bends, but press-on drivers will quickly realize that the little tippy-over icon on the driver's visor ain't just decoration.
The worst thing about the Lincoln Navigator is its size. It's just not big enough. If you ferry seven people, there's only enough room for one lucky passenger's luggage. If you carry five or six kids, or one baby, well, forget it. This beast needs to be at least four feet longer. Extreme environmentalists might react to an even larger Navigator by firebombing dealerships, but, as Captain Spratt might say, "If you're going through Hell, keep going."