1999 Lincoln Navigator
1999 Lincoln Navigator Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The Out-of-Town Car.
Luxurious Lincolns are nothing new, but a leather-lined machine that brings together the ambience of a Continental with cavernous load-carrying space and go-anywhere ability was sure to cause a splash. And that's what the Lincoln Navigator has done. Sales are increasing at a pace that has seen the big Lincoln sport-utility surpass the Continental in popularity and edge steadily closer to the nameplate's leading model, the Town Car.
The Navigator's success has three primary elements. It has all the requisites to appeal to buyers looking to be part of the SUV trend, including the high seating position, brawny looks and roomy cabin for passengers and cargo. To these it adds a host of features that coddle its occupants in a quiet, soft environment. Last, it is built on the rugged structure of the Ford F-150, the best-selling truck in the U.S.
Good as it was right from the start, the Navigator has received substantial improvements for 1999, although the most noticeable of these, a new standard powerplant, won't appear until midway through the model year. Even in early-'99 form, however, Lincoln's off-road limousine makes a big impression in every respect.
Though based on the popular Ford Expedition, the Navigator has its own distinct identity. Few exterior panels are shared between the two, with the Lincoln version carrying a unique hood, fenders, bumpers, doors and rear liftgates. Roof panels and window glass are interchangeable.
Navigator's front end incorporates a version of the traditional Lincoln grille into a rounded treatment that emphasizes mass and a kind of beefy elegance. Driving lights are set into the bumper, flanking a smaller undecorated air inlet. From the side, the hefty running boards -- lighted at night -- and large rub strips provide the emphasis. Apart from the grille, plated trim is confined to strips below the side windows, door handles and the rear license plate surround.
A rigid steel frame, suspension pieces and the majority of the mechanical hardware come from the Ford F-150 pickup. Navigator is available with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. All come with a 5.4-liter V8, a single overhead cam engine that produces 260 horsepower. (Look for that engine to be replaced during the year with a double overhead cam version that produces 300 horsepower.) All Navigators come with a four-speed automatic transmission. Except for a short list of extra-cost options and color choices, all Navigators are essentially alike in terms of trim and equipment.
Big on the outside means big on the inside. Even tall drivers can wear a hat while driving the Navigator. Those seated in the front and center seats have ample stretch-out room in all directions. Individual front and center-row seats have the right shape and padding to make their four occupants comfortable. The third-row bench seat, which comes standard, is adequate for three small children or two adults during short runs. It comes with rollers that make it easy to remove it to allow room for cargo. The center seats may be replaced with a three-across folding bench seat.
A curved dashboard houses instruments and controls where they can easily be seen and reached. A large center console offers additional storage space and a place for front-seat occupants to rest their arms; the roof-mounted center console carries switches for the rear power swing-out windows and a trip computer and compass.
All materials used inside the Navigator are first-class, from the leather upholstery to soft-touch coverings applied to practically everything else including dashboard and door panels. The window switches are lighted internally at night, a nice touch that not all vehicles carry.
One new optional feature, shared with the Expedition, is an industry first: At the touch of a dashboard-mounted switch, the pedal cluster can be electrically adjusted fore-and-aft. Though the range of adjustment is small -- only three inches -- this new feature allows shorter drivers to find their most comfortable seat/steering wheel/pedal position with increased ease. The pedal adjustment settings can be captured in the standard memory-seat feature, thus allowing two drivers to change places and get comfortable at the touch of a button.
The Navigator is, despite its size, easier to handle than many first-time drivers will expect. It is, in fact, slightly shorter than the Town Car, has superb outward visibility, and its speed-sensitive variable-assist power steering works in the driver's favor by keeping steering effort down to a reasonable level. Brake pedal feel is light, yet precise. Extra care and attention is required when maneuvering in close-quarters, however.
The ride quality is good, though it is not as soft as that of a traditional family sedan or wagon. An advantage of the Navigator's long wheelbase is a resistance to pitching over freeway expansion joints and other irregularities. When driven on twisty roads, the Navigator does not lean unduly in corners, nor does the front end dive excessively under hard braking. The Ford Expedition seems to handle a bit better, however; it feels better connected to the road, with more feedback through the steering and the suspension.
Though reasonably quiet, the Navigator is not silent on the road. We didn't mind the sounds coming from under the hood, but wind and tire-tread noise were evident. Fortunately, the Navigator was equipped with a new Alpine audio system that automatically adjusts the volume as speed increases.
Performance is a Navigator strength. Acceleration is good, even with a full load of passengers on board. Equipped as a two-wheel-drive with 16-inch wheels, the Navigator can pull a trailer weighing up to 8100 pounds. The big Lincoln does have a substantial thirst for fuel. In moderate use, the best an owner can reasonably expect is a 16 mile-per-gallon average.
Four-wheel-drive Navigators are equipped with a four-corner load leveling system, which uses compressed air to compensate for varying loads while improving ride quality. Built into the system is a one-inch increase in ride height. When parked, the system can make the Navigator kneel down to lower the step-in height, thus making getting in and out of the vehicle easier. A simpler rear-only system is standard on two-wheel drive models.
Off-road driving is not a problem in a Navigator. Length and width do keep it from being quite as handy in the woods than, for example, a Ford Explorer, but if narrow trails and serious rock-climbing are avoided, occasional forays off the beaten path can be undertaken without fear of being left stranded. By simply turning a rotary knob on the dashboard, the driver can choose between part-time four-wheel drive, full-time four-wheel drive and low-range four-wheel drive. The driver can switch between the first two modes at will, but must bring the Navigator to a halt before engaging low range.
For little more than the price of a fully loaded Ford Expedition, the Lincoln Navigator carries more dramatic styling and a longer-running warranty. Navigator has a slightly softer ride as well, without sacrificing decent handling or much in the way of off-road capability. Fuel economy isn't a strong point, however.
A new 300-horsepower engine is expected later in the model year that will give the Navigator a performance edge as well.
Options As Tested
Heated front seats, all-terrain tires, skid plate package, power glass moonroof, power-adjustable pedals, 6-disc CD changer.
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