Evolving luxury keeps Lincoln’s 2005 Navigator fresh and exciting

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

When the Lincoln Navigator entered the marketplace in 1997 as the first full-sized American luxury sport utility vehicle it was little more than an optioned-out Ford Expedition.

But it was a gigantic hit and left General Motors scrambling to put some competition on the road even after they swore that Cadillac would never have a truck based vehicle. Little did Lincoln know that they created a monster at GM as the birthing of Escalade ensued from the handy Chevy Tahoe.

Even though Navigator’s initial luster has worn off it has not only held its own against the cross town rival but the big sport ute has evolved into a true family luxury truck that offers the features and performance one would expect in a vehicle that can easily top 60 grand.

The Navigator was completely redesigned for the 2003 model year addressing most of the truck’s initial shortcomings. And for 2005, the Lincoln has undergone further renovations.

We were left with a very favorable impression overall of the new Navigator, which we drove in top-of-the-line Ultimate trim. But what bothers us about Ford is its penchant to do things on the cheap to save a few bucks even on a high-priced and very profitable vehicle. A couple of examples will suffice and then we’ll move on to the things that make the ‘05 Navigator a vehicle worthy of consideration in the big-SUV ranks.

We discovered in the first five minutes that the steering wheel has to be manually raised and lowered. Before all you drivers of Camry, Accord and Altima shout in unison, “so what’s the big deal,” let us say that there probably isn’t another luxury car or truck in the world that stickers for more than 50 grand that doesn’t have a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel.

Here’s another example. Not only does the luxury cadre have one-touch down windows, most are also equipped with one-touch up as well. You guessed it the only window in our $63,000 Navigator test vehicle with the one-touch feature is the driver’s. You have to hold the button down or up to move the other glass in the cabin. Also for some inexplicable reason, Lincoln has positioned all the window switches on the center console. Several cars have carried this design for years, usually due to lack of room on their small doors. But the Navigator has huge doors. And window switches on the doors should be much more user friendly than those in another location in the vehicle.

We realize these complaints are small potatoes, perhaps falling even into the ever popular category of nitpicks, but it shows the flawed mindset of the bean counters at Ford who are out to save $40 or $50 in the wrong places on their most expensive vehicle.

And what is even more aggravating about these little oversights particularly if you are a fan of the big Lincoln, which we are, is that the Navigator has some of the best owner-friendly features and perhaps the most intuitive switchgear in the segment.

We’ll get to many of the Navigator delights later, but a few examples of good stuff that most of the competition doesn’t have include power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals, a power liftgate and power folding third-row seats.

The biggest change for 2005 is felt, but not seen. Lincoln has re-engineered its 5.4-liter V-8 engine. The more refined engine produces the same 300-horsepower, but torque is up 10 pound feet to 365.

The biggest improvement is a new 6-speed automatic transmission, a giant leap from the 4-speed automatic used since the vehicle’s inception. The transmission, which is also used in the flagship Jaguar XJ sedan, is designed for quiet operation and smoother shifts.
In our opinion, its wider overall ratio has added to the Navigator’s performance giving the vehicle a little more urgency.

The extra torque and the new transmission have also created measurable differences in towing capacity and maximum payload. Towing capacity, according to Lincoln, is up from 6,000 pounds in the 2004 model to 8,300 pounds. And the payload has been increased from 1,410 pounds to 1,608 pounds.

Although the Navigator still falls behind the Cadillac Escalade in horsepower, we found it very acceptable in all driving situations including stoplight-to-stoplight cruising and in passing and merging.

Road manners are excellent. The ride is pleasant and the power rack-and-pinion steering is well weighted, and on-center feel is good. This is important for the average Navigator driver, who is more likely than not to be a woman, although men are noted for liking the same things as well.
The Navigator is more maneuverable in the parking lot, too. The turning circle has been reduced from 40 feet, 4 inches to 38 feet, 7 inches. This translates to fewer headaches at the mall. Adding to the driver’s close-proximity confidence is standard rear park assist.

The Navigator is comfortable and spacious and gives its passengers a sense of refinement with brushed aluminum trim, splashes of dashboard walnut, and excellent-feeling leather surfaces.

All trim pieces fit neatly and seams line up perfectly for the quality look one should expect in a vehicle in this price range. Second-row passengers are pampered with nice seats and their own air conditioning and heating controls. If you opt for the excellent DVD entertainment system, a 7-inch screen affords a good picture.

The Navigator has one of the most useable third-row seats in the big SUV ranks. Two adults can easily settle in and be comfortable for a lengthy ride.

When carrying cargo, the rear seats can be powered out of the way with the touch of a button, a standard feature in our top-of-the-line Ultimate edition.  Cargo capacity is excellent, ranging from 17.9 cubic feet with all three rows of seats in use to 104.8 cubic feet with the four rear seats folded.

Safety is a big issue with people these days, especially with sport utilities and their proclivity for rolling over. The AdvanceTrac stability control system now comes with something Ford (Lincoln’s parent company) calls Roll Stability Control (developed by Volvo) to help reduce the chance of rollover accidents.

While typical Electronic Stability control systems are designed to control yaw or spin-out only, Ford’s stability system goes one step further. The system adds a second gyroscopic roll sensor to determine the vehicle’s body roll angle and roll rate. If this sensor detects that the vehicle is about to roll, the system automatically applies additional countermeasures such as reducing engine power 15 percent and/or applying brakes to one or more wheels.

Other standard safety features include four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Brake Assist and side curtain airbags.

We’ve found Ford’s navigation system user friendly over the past couple years, but a feature in the 2005 Navigator puts the system ahead of the field. Unlike other systems, the arrow marking the location of the car never moves. Instead, the map rotates as the car turns. This means the arrow is always pointing in the direction the car is headed with objects to the left and right of the driver always to the left and right on the navigation screen.  It certainly simplifies things for the driver, an innovation that makes reading the navigation screen a no-brainer.

The Navigator comes in just two trim levels, Luxury and Ultimate. Prices start at $50,585 for the 2-wheel drive Luxury model and $53,688 for the 2-wheel drive Ultimate. Our test vehicle, an all-wheel drive Ultimate, carried a base price of $57,085. Several options including the navigation system with THX audio and rear-seat entertainment system brought the bottom line to $63,830.

The Navigator is a well-mannered big sport utility with a myriad of features that give it a true luxury demeanor. Lincoln has done a commendable job in keeping the Navigator fresh and exciting for those buyers with deep pockets.