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2003 Lincoln Navigator

Grand Touring, SUV-style.

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by John Rettie April 2003


Large SUVs are extremely popular for their ability to carry lots of people and a decent amount of cargo. However, because they are based on trucks, they have left a lot to be desired in the handling department. They have never delivered a rewarding driving experience due to a rough ride and/or sloppy steering and handling. If you're using a large SUV strictly for its utility this does not really matter, but more and more people are buying a luxury SUV as an alternative to a large luxury sedan.

No manufacturer has been able to produce a large luxury SUV with anywhere near decent handling. Cynics would say that's impossible as no large tank built on a truck chassis could even be made to handle like a nimble small sedan. The laws of physics work against it.

Until now that is.

Amazingly, Lincoln engineers have taken a truck chassis and totally reengineered it such that the new 2003 Lincoln Navigator does handle and ride much like a large luxury sedan.

Now if you need to carry up to eight passengers and/or cargo and enjoy the experience as a driver, you can. Even those who do not like large SUVs have to be impressed with what Lincoln has done. The fact that many of the engineers who worked on this vehicle came from Jaguar is no coincidence.

Model Lineup

Navigator is available with two-wheel drive or all-wheel-drive. All models come with the same 300-horsepower 5.4-liter V8 engine and four-speed automatic transmission.

All Navigators have the same interior loaded with a host of standard features.

Three versions are available, Luxury, Premium and Ultimate. Features such as advanced traction control and power folding rear seats are standard on the Ultimate model but optional on others. The power running boards shown in the commercials are optional only on the Ultimate model. Prices begin from just under $49,000 and rise to over $60,000.


The first thing you'll notice about the new Navigator is that it does not look much different from the model that has been on sale since 1997. In fact the external differences are so subtle that you only see them when you compare the two vehicles side by side. The 2003 Navigator retains the same commanding appearance and a somewhat softer, more sophisticated look than many large SUVs, which is undoubtedly why Lincoln did not feel any need to change its external appearance.

An optional feature on the Navigator Ultimate is power running boards, an industry first. When a door is opened the running boards quietly extend out by four inches to allow easier access to the vehicle. When the doors are closed they automatically retract under the rocker panels.

The large door mirrors are slightly bigger for a better view rearward. They fold in to the body at the touch of a button for traversing narrow openings. As before, auxiliary turn signals are incorporated in the lower edge of the mirrors. An approach lamp housed in the mirrors also illuminates the ground alongside the vehicle when the key fob unlock button is activated, a nice feature on stormy nights or in dark public garages.

Interior Features

The interior of the new Navigator is totally different from last year's model, or any other SUV for that matter. For 2003, Lincoln started from scratch and designed an interior with a host of luxury touches more akin to a car. Yet it does not look like a car's interior. Instead it has a modern, elegant feel.

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Lincoln says the symmetrical instrument panel was inspired by the 1961 Lincoln Continental. It certainly works well in the Navigator as it enhances the spaciousness of the interior as it curves up from the wide center console across the top of the instrument pod on one side and across the glove box on the passenger side.

The surface is grained with a pebble texture and is available in two-tone light parchment and espresso finish or monochromatic black. Subtle bands of American walnut burl are used to divide sections of the dashboard and door trim. Other interior surfaces are finished in a pleasant low-lustre satin nickel color that matches the other trim nicely.

LEDs (120 of them) are used throughout the cabin to illuminate buttons and controls. The legend for each control is laser etched into the satin nickel surface so that it appears black in daylight yet illuminates at night with a nice white glow.

Front passengers have a dual-zone climate control system. Passengers in both the second and third row of seats get their own panels with auxiliary controls.

All seats are finished in a deep leather surface with a milled pebble finish. Front seats are power operated with a two-position memory for the driver, which includes mirror and the adjustable brake and gas pedals settings. The second row can be ordered as a pair of captain's chairs or as a bench seat. The bench seat is split 40/20/40, featuring a narrow center piece that can be slid forward 11 inches for holding a child seat conveniently close to the driver.

The third row is actually comfortable for adults. The new independent rear suspension allowed engineers to design a much lower floor in the back, which makes for a more comfortable seating position. The third-row bench seat is split 60/40 and can hold three people, and provides slightly more legroom than a Chevy Suburban or Cadillac Escalade.

One of the neatest optional features available on the Navigator is a power folding mechanism for the third row of seats. At the press of a button the rear seat folds down to provide a flush floor space for increased cargo carrying capacity. The second row of seats can also be folded down to provide a large cargo area. A power rear tailgate is available as an option, handy when approaching the Navigator with an armload of groceries.

Driving Impressions

Toward the end of a long day, traversing a variety of roads, we were driving along a winding twisty highway that would have been delightful in a sports car. We caught up to a guy in a Honda Civic and followed him for about ten miles. It was only then that we realized we were driving in a spirited manner. We weren't on the limit, the tries were not squealing, the body was not rolling, the two passengers were not complaining Those of us who had been taking turns behind the wheel were actually heard to say "this is fun." Who would ever have dreamt that the day would come when those who enjoy driving in a spirited fashion would say such a thing of a SUV.

More than anything it's the steering that transforms the Navigator's handling dynamics. It is so precise it reminded us more of the new Mini. The vehicle moves almost instantly once the steering wheel starts to turn. The independent rear suspension keeps the wheels firmly on the ground with no axle tramping over bumps or undulations. Anybody who enjoys driving a European car would be happy with the steering on the Navigator. But, dare we say it, we can imagine there might be some drivers more accustomed to the sloppy steering of an older Lincoln having trouble adapting to a steering wheel that reacts to a driver's input with precision.

With such great handling the Navigator's acceleration performance is perhaps a little lacking. The engine sounds nice with a throaty roar under acceleration but it does not accelerate as fast as one might expect. The engine produces 300 horsepower, which is the same as in the old model but some 45 hp less than in the Cadillac Escalade. Most owners will be happy with the Navigator's performance, even when loaded. It has excellent torque, which is really more important for an overall driving experience. It also makes it ideal for towing.


Many many years ago a large luxurious sporty car was called a "Grand Touring" car because it was capable of carrying passengers long distances in a more sporty fashion than a regular sedan but in a more luxurious fashion than a sports car. The term GT has changed its meaning over the years but perhaps it's fair to call the 2003 Navigator a modern "Grand Touring" car. After all, it can transport up to eight passengers in comfort while delivering a decent driving experience at the same time.

Model Line Overview

Model lineup: 4x2 Luxury ($48,775); 4x4 Luxury ($52,325); 4x2 Premium ($50,025); 4x4 Premium ($53,575); 4x2 Ultimate ($51,400); 4x4 Ultimate ($54,950)
Engines: 5.4-liter dohc 32v V8
Transmissions: 4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard): ABS, load-proportional braking bias, rear park assist warning system, safety canopy side (front & second row) airbags, dual front airbags
Safety equipment (optional): AdvanceTrac stability and traction control system
Basic warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in: Wayne, Michigan

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): Navigator 4x4 Ultimate ($54,950)
Standard equipment: integrated running boards, remote keyless entry, rear park assist, dual power folding heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, integrated antenna, 60/40 third row fold flat seats, power adjustable pedals, dual zone climate control with second row controls, premium sound system with in-dash 6-disc CD player, 8-way power leather bucket seats; Ultimate adds AdvanceTrac stability and traction control system, heated/cooled front seats, power liftgate, power-folding third row seats, HID headlamps
Options as tested (MSRP): power deployable running boards ($925); moonroof ($1,495); navigation system ($1,995); 18x8 inch Euroflange chrome aluminum wheels ($675)
Destination charge: ($740)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $60,780
Layout: front engine, four-wheel drive
Engine: 5.4-liter dohc 32-valve V8
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 300 @ 5000
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 355 @ 2750
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 12/16 mpg
Wheelbase: 118.8 in.
Length/width/height: 206.0/80.2/77.8 in.
Track, f/r: 67.0/67.1 in.
Turning circle: 38.7 ft.
Seating capacity: 7
Head/hip/leg room, f: 39.6/58.0/41.1 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: 39.7/58.0/38.7 in.
Head/hip/leg room, r: 37.8/50.2/36.3 in.
Trunk volume: 103.3 cu. ft.
Payload: 1456 Lbs.
Towing capacity: 8300 Lbs.
Suspension, f: independent
Suspension, r: independent
Ground clearance: 8.6 in.
Curb weight: 5994 lbs.
Tires: P275/65R18
Brakes, f/r: disc/disc with ABS
Fuel capacity: 28.0 gal.

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of June 01, 2002.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges.

N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-521-4140 - www.lincoln.com

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2003 Lincoln Navigator - Autotrader