The Lincoln Navigator is roomy and luxurious. It's capable of towing nearly 9,000 pounds, but it's soft and smooth on the roughest of pavement. It's big and roomy, with a full-size third-row seat, seating for up to eight passengers, and acres of cargo space.
Smooth and quiet, the Navigator benefits from a fully independent rear suspension and technology aimed at reducing noise and vibration. However, it is essentially a truck, with a ladder-type box frame and separate body, so it is not as responsive as the new unit-body crossover SUVs such as the Lincoln MKX. The Navigator offers its occupants lots of protection and comes well equipped with safety features, including full-cabin head-protecting airbags, electronic stability control and a rollover protection system.
The styling seems deliberately retrogressive, probably in an effort to re-create the romance of Lincoln's glory days. The grille draws mixed reviews. Those who embrace the styling will find a nice finish inside, with rich wood and leather, and nearly all the features available in luxury sedans. All that size means the Navigator is a bear to handle in tight corners and exhibits lots of body lean in changes of direction. The independent rear suspension helps the Navigator ride smoothly, though, as smooth as any vehicle of this size. The V8 engine and six-speed transmission combination also works smoothly, though it is outperformed by the powertrains of most competitors.
With the upward trend in gasoline prices, big, luxurious sport-utility vehicles have lost some of their luster as a group. Still, the strengths that made them popular to begin with remain: real space for eight passengers, the towing and load potential of a truck along with the comfort and convenience of an expensive sedan. The Lincoln Navigator shares those strengths at a competitive luxury-class price, and it doesn't even require premium fuel.
The Navigator was redesigning for 2007. For 2008, Lincoln adds more standard equipment. A rearview camera is available for the 2008 Navigator, a feature we highly recommend.
The 2008 Lincoln Navigator is available with a standard or long wheelbase. Any version of this full-size sport-utility vehicle can seat either seven or eight. All are powered by a 300-hp 5.4-liter V8 with a six-speed automatic transmission. Navigator is available with either rear-wheel drive (2WD) or electronically engaged four-wheel drive (4WD) that can be driven on dry pavement and includes low-range gearing. A Class III trailer hitch is standard.
The Lincoln Navigator 4x2 ($47,755) and Navigator 4x4 ($50,655) come with features expected in the luxury class. Leather upholstery and a choice of Dark Ebony or lighter Anigre wood trim are standard. Two second-row captain's chairs and a third-row bench seat are also standard, though a three-place second-row split bench seat is available at no charge. For 2008, the front seats add a standard heating and cooling feature, and power-folding third-row seat and power liftgate come standard. Other standard features include a high-watt stereo with six-CD changer, 14 speakers and auxiliary input jack; three-zone automatic climate control with rear-seat fan and controls; leather-and-wood steering wheel with audio and climate controls; 10-way adjustable front seats; power-adjustable pedals; keyless entry keypad; remote keyless entry; front seat position memory; power-deploying running boards; roof rack; high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights; power-folding mirror with memory; fog lamps; and 255/70R18 tires on alloy wheels.
The Navigator L 4x2 ($50,755) and Navigator L 4x4 ($53,655) are 14.7 inches longer than the standard models. Passenger accommodations are essentially the same, but the Navigator L provides an additional 25 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the third seat, and has power-deploying running boards and a rear cargo management system.
The Elite Package ($5,460 base, $4460 L) is the full ride. It includes a voice-activated DVD-based navigation system, rear-seat DVD entertainment package with eight-inch screen, power sunroof, power running boards (standard wheelbase) and the new rearview camera. The navigation system ($1,995) and rear-seat DVD entertainment ($1,295) are available separately. Other stand-alone options include a remote starter ($445), 20-inch chromed wheels ($1,495) and a heavy-duty tow package ($595). Added for 2008 is the Monochromatic Limited Edition Package ($995), which includes unique badging and body-color exterior accents.
The Navigator's standard safety features meet the luxury-class baseline. They include dual-stage front airbags, front occupant side-impact airbags and curtain-style head protection airbags for all outboard seats. The curtain bags feature a rollover sensor. All Navigators are equipped with Lincoln's AdvanceTrac anti-skid stability program. This system features Roll Stability Control, which uses a gyroscopic roll-rate sensor to enhance rollover resistance. Four-channel antilock brakes (ABS), rear obstacle detection and a tire-pressure monitor also are standard. The only optional safety item is the rearview camera.
The Navigator is a truck. It's built on a pickup-style ladder frame, with a separate body bolted to that frame, rather than welded into one unit. But unlike most truck-based vehicles, the Navigator features a fully independent rear suspension, which tends to promote smoother ride and handling than the solid rear axle on the typical truck.
The Navigator L is nearly 15 inches longer than the standard model, extending its full length to almost 19 feet. The extra length does not significantly change passenger accommodations, however. Besides making this big sport-utility even more challenging to park, the Navigator L's additional size translates entirely into an additional 25 cubic feet of storage space behind the third seat. That extra space (by itself) is about 30 percent larger than the trunk in a full-size luxury sedan like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or Lexus LS460. The 2008 Navigator L is the largest luxury-class sport-utility available, and one of the largest passenger vehicles on the market.
The Navigator's basic shape is clean, if slightly bland. It consists of mostly sheer, tapered surfaces that are consistent across the vehicle, with a chrome strip running below the windows. The profile is tidy for such a big vehicle, almost lean.
The front and rear were clearly designed in Lincoln's retro-style brand theme. The eye is immediately drawn to the big, intricate grille in front. Its horizontal and vertical lines are supposed to inspire thoughts of Lincoln's Star logo, and the high-intensity beam headlights on either side add a jeweled, classy look. A second, thinner grille below the bumper replicates the bigger one above, flanked in this case by the fog lights.
The taillights could be lifted from Lincoln's MKZ sedan. They're shaped like wings that cut into the liftgate and wrap around the rear corners, with chrome edging and a hard contrast between the red and white sections.
The details seem to be an attempt to spice up an otherwise staid look, as if Lincoln is trying to out-bling popular competitors like the Cadillac Escalade. The optional chrome hood accent is basically a thick piece of chrome tacked on the end of the hood above the grille. We'd call it hideous, and find the Navigator much more attractive without it. We don't care much for the shiny steel plates at the bottom of the doors, either, but you might. Look at both options.
The available Monochromatic Limited Edition Package extends the body color to the lower grille, upper chrome grille, lower bodyside cladding and side mirrors. The resulting look has less bling, but arguably more style.
The Navigator comes standard with 18-inch double-spoke alloy wheels. The optional chromed 20-inch wheels aren't as disturbing as the chrome hood schnoz, and we like their size. They do, however, have an adverse effect on ride quality and interior noise. We prefer the 18-inch alloy wheels.
Two exterior features have definite benefits. The outside mirrors are large, with repeating turn signals along the bottom edge and approach lamps underneath. The lamps light when the doors are unlocked with the remote key fob, and cast a nice circle of visibility around the doors. More than that, the big mirrors retract against the windows with the touch of a button. You'll appreciate this convenience when you pull a vehicle as large as the Navigator into a garage.
This Navigator also retains its trademark retractable running boards. When the doors open, these drop and extend about five inches, creating a step that makes climbing in and out easier. They are artfully integrated into the overall exterior design, and are almost impossible to detect when the doors are closed.
Deliberately retrogressive styling touches outside the Lincoln Navigator carry through inside, only more so. Presumably the thinking goes something like this: re-create the charm and romance of a simpler time, and the glory of Lincoln Continentals and Zephyrs past, updated with the convenience and function of a new millennium.
The Navigator interior may do that for some. For others, it may simply inspire memories of sitting in their parents' (or grandparents') behemoth sedan in the early-to-mid 1960s.
Either way, if you like the retro design you won't be disappointed with the finish. Particularly with the lighter Anigre wood trim, the square-ish shapes and flat switch clusters inside the Navigator generate a kind of post-modern, Scandinavian feel (furniture, not cars). The leather is thick and soft. The plastics, with some retro-looking graining, are nice to the touch. There's a mix of satin-nickel and chrome peppered throughout the cabin, and nothing looks overtly cheap, as it does in some other recent products from Lincoln's parent Ford Motor Co. The only real gripe in our test vehicle was the seam where the wood panel for the center stack blended down into the wood on the center console. It felt more like a bump.
One of the Navigator's obvious strengths is space, seemingly acres of it, in all directions.
The front seats are large and thickly padded, yet they adjust to accommodate all sizes, from NBA forwards to those who must sit up close to the wheel to peer over the tall dash. Power adjustable pedals are standard, and they can be moved forward or back with a button on the dash. These pedals have their advantages, but they would be more valuable if the power-adjustable steering column telescoped in addition to moving up and down. Without a telescoping wheel, the pedals don't really add anything to the adjustment mix. If we had to choose one or the other, we'd choose the telescoping wheel.
One minor annoyance with the Navigator's driver's seat is the speed at which it automatically moves backward or forward when the key is removed or inserted. In most cases, this is a welcome feature that makes it easier to climb in and out of a tall vehicle, and the Navigator's slow-moving seat may or may not have been related to sub-zero temperatures during our test drive. Yet at times the driver's seat moved so slowly that you could literally be backed out of a parking space and going forward before it had returned to its set position.
Once the driver gets comfortable, however, it's hard to beat the commanding view ahead. A Greyhound bus or tractor-trailer rig are about the only vehicles on the road that can obstruct the driver's forward vision in a Navigator.
The gauge package is the weak link in the Navigator's interior. The dials look like they're straight out of the 1960s, with black script on a white background and white lighting. They're not as crisp as some other, more contemporary schemes. The speedometer and tachometer are fine, but the four auxiliary gauges across the top (fuel level and coolant temperature among them) aren't. They're small to begin with and essentially covered by the steering wheel rim if a driver likes to keep the wheel low in its travel range.
Switches and control buttons are generally well placed, concentrated in the center stack or on stalks on both sides of the wheel. Most are big enough to hit with gloved fingers, and they have a nice, positive operating action. The gripe here is a row of switches near the bottom of the stack controlling the fans and seat heating and cooling, among other things. The buttons are on the small side, but the illuminated pictographs on them are tiny, so they seem even smaller than they really are in the dark.
The navigation system works very well. The video screen is small, but the system is easy to figure out without studying the owner's manual. We found it easy to program destinations. Its context-sensitive volume control makes turning the audible instructions up or down easy and logical. And unlike some navigation systems, we found it had information about some obscure roads far from the beaten path. In other words, it keeps working when you're likely to need it most.
We rate storage options in the Navigator slightly better than average. The front center console is big, with more than enough room for a fairly large purse, but it's countered by a small glove box that's all but filled by the owner's manual. There are hard pockets or bins at the bottom of all doors, with enough width and depth for phones, wallets or CDs, and flexible map pockets are located on the front seatbacks. The cupholders are deep and fairly useful, and front passengers can share those for the second row, which are located on the back of the center console. There are three more cupholders for the third seat.
The standard second-row seating arrangement is two captain's-style bucket seats. These are the choice if comfort for second-row passengers is the primary objective. On the other hand, a three-place second-row bench is available at no charge, and it doesn't give up much (except another storage console that goes between the buckets). The bench is not brick flat, as it is in some sport-utility vehicles. It offers some contour and bolstering to improve comfort without diminishing the value of the middle space. The bench seat is also split 40/20/40, so kids can fold down the back of the center section and feel as if they have their own space.
Second-seat passengers have their own adjustment for temperature and airflow (between the floor and overhead vents), as well a power point located on the back of the front center console. The optional rear DVD entertainment system is mounted in its own overhead console, with the controls and input jacks. The eight-inch screen drops down in the center, and it includes two pairs of wireless headphones.
Headrests on the second- and third-row seats can fold down when the seats are empty. Good thing, because when they are up they reduce the scope of the rearview mirror considerably. The view rearward isn't all that broad in any case. Lincoln has offered a solution to this problem with its new rear backup camera. The camera is less expensive, but less impressive, than most. The image is shown in the rear-view mirror. It is quite small, no more than three inches across. While the image is useful, obstacles are not as easy to spot as they are in systems that show their images on six- or seven-inch dash-mounted screens.
Access to the third seat is easy, with a one-hand flip lever that folds the second seat forward and clears a wide path to the rear. Passengers already in the third seat have a strap release that reverses the process. The third seat is another of the Navigator's strengths. It will actually seat adults approaching six feet in reasonable comfort, as long as they're willing to climb back there. The longer Navigator L does not increase rear seat legroom, though it does add a few millimeters more hip and headroom.
Lincoln's power-folding rear seat is easy to use and can be handy, but it could be even better. The seat is split, and operates with a pair of toggle switches just inside the power liftgate. Simply press one or both, and one or both seat halves fold flat to the load-floor level. We'd like it better if there were redundant switches on the dash, as there are for the rear sliding doors on a minivan, for example. And if the rear-seat headrests are up, the driver has to lean into (or climb into) the rear to manually release them before the power folding mechanism will work.
Presumably size matters when it comes to full-size sport-utility vehicles, and the Navigator's advantages in passenger accommodations also extend to cargo capacity. With the Navigator L, for example, there is 42.7 cubic feet of storage space behind the upright third seat. That's considerably more than any other luxury sport-utility, and almost as much as in the typical mid-size wagon with its rear seats folded. There's also a standard cargo divider that folds up out of the floor behind the seats. It essentially splits the load area in half, and limits the space over which packages or bags might slide back and forth.
Fold both the second- and third-row seats, and the Navigator L opens a whopping 129 cubic feet of cargo space. For perspective, that's more space than the entire interior volume of most passenger vehicles. It's tops among luxury SUVs, beating Infiniti's big QX56 by three cubic feet. Moreover, the dimensions of the Navigator L's load floor are largest in the class, with enough space for four-by-eight sheets of building material.
The 2008 Lincoln Navigator and Navigator L are very large vehicles, with advantages and disadvantages that go with large vehicles. One of the advantages is the view forward from the driver's seat. Very few fellow motorists will be able to obstruct your sight lines when you're driving a Navigator.
Another advantage is space. The Navigator is as big or bigger inside than any luxury-class sport-utility vehicle. The driver almost needs an intercom to converse with someone sitting way back in the third seat.
Well, not really. The Navigator is very quiet inside for a truck, and generally quite smooth, almost placid. If you tend to drive conservatively you will probably like this vehicle. Initially, the brake pedal feels a little soft, but it's very progressive in application and easy to master for smooth, even stops, despite a curb weight exceeding 6,000 pounds for all-wheel drive models. With a little practice, the driver can avoid the fore-aft bobbing that can make motion-sensitive passengers feel car-sick.
The Navigator is full of noise-mitigating technology, including acoustically dampened glass in the windshield and side windows. The body boom familiar in vehicles that are essentially big steel boxes, which often comes across as pulses of air hitting the eardrums, is nearly eliminated in the Navigator. The quiet seems to emphasize noise generated by the tires, which is the only noticeable encroachment on the solitude inside. The optional 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires are plain noisy, be it whacking over bumps and pavement joints or just the steady hum of tread on the road surface. Typically, we prefer the appearance of larger wheels, but the price of style is high in the Navigator. We recommend the standard 18-inch wheels and higher-sidewall tires.
The Navigator is as smooth inside as any body-on-frame truck we've tested, and generally free of annoying vibration. The ride is smooth, too (except for the effect of the 20-inch wheels), thanks partly to the fully independent rear suspension. Moreover, the rear suspension helps keep the rear tires pressed to the pavement on bumpy surfaces, eliminating most of that skipping feeling familiar in trucks with solid rear axles. There's no axle tramping over bumps or undulations, and a reasonably smooth driver can keep the Navigator's body (and those inside) nice and level through turns.
Steering is on the heavy side, perhaps surprisingly so in this type of vehicle. The good news here is that, for tracking curves or changing lanes, the steering feels responsive, direct and reasonably quick. The bad? In big, slow-speed turns, such as trying to whip into a parking space, the heavy steering feel can slow things down. Those who like the steering in smaller sedans will probably like the Navigator's. Those expecting airy, old-school Lincoln Town Car response may not.
Bottom line, the Navigator rides comfortably and handles competently in nearly every situation. Just don't try to get racy. This vehicle is a lot of mass to move, and in quick, hard, left-right turns, all that weight wants to sway in the direction opposite of your choosing.
In 2001, Navigator was the first full-sized luxury sport-utility vehicle to hit the 300-hp barrier. Seven years later, its 5.4-liter single-overhead cam Triton V8 still generates a maximum 300 horsepower, and virtually every other big SUV has passed it by. The Triton delivers torque evenly, with similar thrust whether the engine is already turning 1,000 or 4,000 rpm, and the six-speed automatic transmission is a definite plus. There's more than enough acceleration in the Navigator to merge safely or turn quickly across traffic, and it's probably quicker than what we considered a fairly quick car in the mid-1990s. Yet at the bottom line, the Navigator accelerates more slowly than just about any luxury sport-utility we've driven in the past few years.
The automatic transmission, on the other hand, might be the best. The Navigator's six-speed comes from ZF of Germany, and it was the first of its kind in a full-size SUV. This is the same transmission used in Jaguar's flagship XJ sedan and other big luxury cars, and it's both smooth and responsive. It performs almost exactly as we like, shifting up or down when we would if we were doing it with a gear-change and clutch, and almost never shifting inappropriately. It will hold a gear when going downhill, for example, maximizing engine braking and reducing the need to use the wheel brakes.
While Navigator is down on power compared to competitors, a combination of factors, including the transmission, give it excellent towing capacity of 8,950 pounds. Moreover, its Triton V8 runs on 87-octane regular, while nearly all the other vehicles in this class demand premium fuel.
Navigator's size will appeal to some buyers, but it also brings some obvious disadvantages. It's not an easy vehicle to park (even the shorter model), and if you can parallel park this truck with any kind of consistency, you deserve some sort of award. Rear park distance control is standard, but the system offers only an electronic beep, without the graphic indicators available in some vehicles. Again, the rear back-up camera can help, but the image it displays is very small.
The 2008 Lincoln Navigator hits the most important marks for a full-size sport-utility vehicle. It's relatively smooth, quiet and huge both inside and out. It comes equipped with lots of safety features and nearly all the luxury bells and whistles. The Navigator's tow rating is among the highest in the class, and it runs on regular gasoline where nearly all others require premium. The base price is lower than most of its competitors, before dealer incentives, but its sister vehicle, the Ford Expedition, can be equipped with almost as much luxury at a considerably lower price. Some will find Navigator bland. Those who regularly transport lots of passengers and stuff, and those who tow heavy loads, should find it worthy.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent J.P. Vettraino reported from Detroit, with Kirk Bell in Chicago, and Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.
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