2003 Lincoln Aviator

Full Front Grill View

The Lincoln Navigator raised a few eyebrows upon its debut in 1997, but that Ford Expedition in pancake makeup proved to be a rousing success. It brought new customers to Lincoln and sent Cadillac scurrying to cobble together the Escalade. So why not try it again, this time using the Explorer? Just to be safe, Lincoln slavishly copied the Navigator's look and even came up with a name that rhymes: Aviator. It's as obvious as the Whopper Jr.

As with its more grandly proportioned progenitor, creating an Aviator involves more than merely checking all the option boxes on a Ford. The Aviator's 4.6-liter V-8 gets four-valve heads and a new intake manifold, which boost output by 62 horsepower and 20 pound-feet of torque. A unique exhaust system helps make this engine exceedingly quiet—more hushed than the V-8 in the Lexus LX470, according to Lincoln. The chassis modifications include a larger front crossmember, aluminum lower control arms, more robust brakes, and a ZF power-steering rack with variable assist and a variable ratio, as well as the expected springs, bushings, and (monotube) dampers. The result is a plush ride that not only blunts impacts but also controls body motions. The steering is accurate and well weighted, but this remains a heavy (600 pounds more than an Explorer) body-on-frame vehicle with a high center of gravity, so don't expect BMW X5like nimbleness.

Passenger Side Rear View

Of course, most buyers will be more interested in what's inside the Aviator than what's underneath. The large, twin-hooded dash and wide center console are tastefully decked out with silver trim and white LED lighting. The front seats can be heated and cooled. In back is a choice of a 40/20/40 split bench or Navigator-style buckets with a console. A surprisingly hospitable and accessable third-row seat is standard. Don't expect the power-fold operation or the power liftgate and running boards, all of which are reserved for the Navigator. After all, the original Whopper needs to offer something besides sheer size.

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