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TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan — Noodle around in the Navigator, Lincoln's luxurious full-size sport-utility vehicle, and from the driver's seat you may observe a curious phenomenon that occurs among sidewalk spectators when this huge hunk of a wagon moves down the street. Heads turn and eyes follow, as everyone seems to notice it.
Of course, Navigator stands tall and stretches long, measuring bigger than other vehicles, so it's bound to stand out in traffic. Yet the reason so many eyes follow a Navigator when it moves in traffic extends beyond mere physical dimensions. That massive prow, you see, commands attention.
The stunning face looks unusual, as accented by the shapely composite hood capped by chrome glints of a turbine-vaned grille. More chrome shows up in complex reflector headlamps and twin foglamps mounted in bodycolor front bumpers, which wrap smoothly into side sculptured bodyside cladding underlined by etched running boards with indirect lighting. At the rear, chrome rings the license plate in a top-hinged door that adds pop-out window glass. It looks so bold, so big, and so powerful that you simply cannot fail to notice a Navigator.
So many have apparently paid attention to the Navigator since its development two years ago that the wagon has become the runaway best seller in an elite class of luxurious full-size sport-utility vehicles. It appeals to those who desire the go-anywhere capability of a vast four-wheel-drive wagon that can venture off-road if necessary but also perform the seemingly contradictory duty of a plush and cushy limousine cruiser.
Armed for combat on pavement or dirt
Lincoln arms the Navigator to combat any type of terrain and weather. It contains not only an all-wheel-drive system that distributes power selectively yet automatically to any of four wheels with grip, but also, through the flick of a dashboard switch, evenly balanced four-wheel high or low gears for venturing off-pavement through dirt and mud.
Among many sophisticated mechanical features, the Navigator packs a hunky new 5.4-liter V-8 Ford engine that musters 300 horsepower plus an air-charged suspension system that levels loads and allows it to traverse road bumps or off-road lumps without disturbing riders ensconced in an elegant passenger compartment.
Four side doors and up to three rows of seats provide space for as many as seven riders, while the back bay stows their luggage. The second row of bucket seats, divided by a console like the seats up front, scores as the only standard application of back-seat buckets in this luxury class.
Also, the optional third-tier bench seat has new rollers attached that permit quick rollout removal to expand the luggage space.
1999 Lincoln Navigator interior
1999 Lincoln Navigator interior
Despite the full-size dimensions with a wheelbase extended to 3 yards and an overall length of 17 feet, the Navigator acts lively on pavement and is easy to maneuver in traffic or even in a crowded parking lot.
Recent road tests in a four-wheel-drive edition wound through rolling hills on the northern tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, running out from Traverse City. On previous occasions, we also spent considerable time behind the wheel in each of the two variations, which differ primarily in traction mode, either rear- or all-wheel drive.
Driver and riders perch high in this Lincoln's form-fitting seats. With generous expanses of window glass wrapping the cabin, the outward visibility looks good. A functional dash design integrates easy-to-view and easy-to-reach instruments and controls in a system housing twin airbags. The dashboard mounts through a unique cross-truck beam welded to the frame for no-squeak durability.
The big Lincoln wagon rides on the chassis of the Ford full-size F-150 pickup truck and it is a direct descendant of the Ford Expedition wagon, with even more fancy fittings. The texture of the ride feels refined for an SUV, thanks to a suspension with control arms up front and a five-link rear axle with coil springs and stabilizer bar. On pavement it rides firmly like a car, while off-road, in the 4x4 edition, through dust and mud alike it acts sure-footed and stable.
The optional Control Trac system has an all-wheel-drive mode for pavement ventures. It constantly monitors wheel slippage and can automatically distribute traction to whichever set of wheels has traction. For moving off-pavement, the 4WD system also has both high and low gears with a lock on the differential so engine torque can be applied evenly to both sets of wheels.
A power mechanism in the steering system relates to vehicular speed, so the driver has more assistance for turning the wheel at low speed, such as in a parking lot. At higher speeds, like on a highway, less power assistance is added, so the driver needs only a slight touch on the steering wheel to turn the wagon.
For strength, the Navigator pumps up its muscles. The original single-cam and two-valve 5.4-liter V-8 engine, aboard when Navigator debuted as a 1998 model, has been replaced with a sophisticated dual-cam and four-valve 5.4-liter V-8 that soars to 300 hp at 5000 rpm and exerts massive torque to 360 lb-ft at 3000 rpm. Ford's excellent four-speed automatic transmission mates to Navigator's engine and shifts unobtrusively.
New adjustable foot pedals
A new optional feature lets the driver move brake and accelerator pedals closer toward the driver's seat. Adjusting the closeness of the pedals can be of particular interest to drivers of small stature because they can more effectively reach the pedals. An electric motor for the pedals allows up to 3 inches of linear pedal travel. The driver can control this movement with an illuminated switch on the instrument panel.
The Navigator also provides important safety equipment such as four-wheel anti-lock brakes and dual airbags. Throughout the cabin, carlike details for comfort and practicality may be found — from cup holders and multiple support handles to hooks and handy levers.
Base two-wheel-drive Navigators go out the door for $40,755, while a 4x4 will run you $44,405. Both models will incur a $640 shipping fee, too. Options have been limited to special stereo sound equipment, a power moonroof, secondary climate control system, second-row 60/40 split bench seat, the power pedals plus larger 17-inch wheels and tires.