New & Used Lincoln Aviator: In Depth
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The Aviator was a somewhat more luxurious, Lincoln-badged version of the Ford Explorer, sold from the 2003-2005 model years. The Lincoln MKX officially succeeded the Aviator (and was originally intended to carry on the name); however today's MKT lands closer to the purpose and size of the original Aviator.
The Aviator was powered by a 302-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8, with a five-speed automatic transmission and a choice between rear- or all-wheel drive systems. Rear-drive Aviators could tow up to 7,300 pounds.
While the Aviator was quick, it didn't handle well, and the Aviator's ride was soft and well-suited for flat, Midwestern-style highways and not at all hilly, curvy roads. With a hefty curb weight of about 5,000 pounds in all-wheel-drive form, even a four-wheel independent suspension couldn't save this vehicle from pitching, bounding, and wallowing.
While these models have proven reliable over the long run, the Aviator's embarrassingly low fuel efficiency can make it a poor choice for an everyday-driver used vehicle. The Aviator arrived with EPA fuel economy ratings of 13 mpg city, 18 highway (or 11/16 mpg for AWD models) back then—under a more lenient test method—and we can say from our drives from that era that you're likely to see combined numbers in the low teens with either version. Keep in mind that the all-wheel drive system here is one that maintains a permanent torque split (65 percent rear, 35 percent front) under normal conditions, so it adds thirst to the Aviator at nearly all times.
For the second row, you could choose between two captain's chairs with a center console or a bench for three, so the Aviator could fit either six or seven in all. The third row was usable by kids, although there really wasn't significant cargo space back there when you had the third row up. In either case, the third row flips forward, while the second row—no matter which configuration—has a fold-and-tumble feature for third-row access. Fold it all and there is a very significant 77 cubic feet of cargo space.
Standard features were abundant on the Aviator and included dual-zone climate control, a separate climate system for the second and third rows, cruise control, power front seats, power windows, locks, and mirrors, and a 60-watt 'premium' sound system. Interiors were plush, with satin-nickel trim, white LED ambient lighting, real walnut wood trim, and pebble-grain leather.
By the time the Aviator was discontinued, in 2005, it was clear that Americans' obsession with truck-based SUVs was over, and most shoppers were either stepping up to the Expedition-based Navigator if they wanted space and trailer-towing, or settling on a car-based crossover utes like the Acura MDX, Chrysler Pacifica, or Lexus LX if passenger comfort was the priority.