2003 Lincoln Navigator Photo
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It seemed like an odd invitation: test-drive the new, 2003 Lincoln Navigator in the hill country that surrounds Santa Barbara, Calif. At best, it seemed an opportunity to test the effectiveness of heavy-duty Dramamine as we weaved and wallowed through the twists and turns of a beautiful section of country better suited to sports cars. At least that’s what I thought when I skeptically agreed to go to the introduction of Lincoln’s second-generation full-size SUV. Was I in for a surprise.

At first blush, there doesn’t appear to be much of a change with the ’03 Navigator. Lincoln designers chose an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary approach. Though when you see the old and new models, you definitely see the difference and the new model is clearly more refined and elegant.

But the real surprise is the way it drives. Product development chief Al Kammerer likes to talk about the “50-meter test.” Can you tell the difference in those first few seconds behind the wheel? Is it a car you’d like to keep driving? With the 2003 Navigator, the answer proved a resounding, “yes.” The difference really is overwhelming, and, TheCarConnection discovered, the new sport-ute is actually a fun vehicle to drive.

Steering clear

The biggest and most immediately apparent improvement is in the way the new Navigator steers. It uses a new variable ratio, speed sensitive rack-and-pinion system that is tight, responsive and precise, reflecting the development team’s goal of making the big rig steer like a much smaller vehicle, with the same basic characteristics of the Lincoln LS sport sedan.

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