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2003 Lincoln Aviator
A Mid-Size S
UV That's 'Just Right'....

by Ann Job

2003 Lincoln AviatorDon't forget to wear your Goldilocks outfit if you're shopping for a luxury sport utility vehicle.

It's appropriate as Goldilocks, the little girl in a popular children's story who tried out everything from beds to food to find which one was right for her, would have fun at Lincoln showrooms these days.

Lincoln added a second SUV, the 2003 Aviator, to its line, and the Aviator lookslike a smaller-sized version of the big, full-size Lincoln Navigator SUV. In fact, during my Aviator test drive, some of my neighbors just naturally assumed that the chrome grille-laden SUV with the Navigator styling that I was driving was a Navigator. They didn't notice the badge on the sheet metal that said "Aviator."

Lincoln officials said the resemblance is intentional, since the Navigator's styling was successful in bringing new customers to Lincoln after the vehicle's 1998 debut. Sixty percent of Navigator buyers were new to Lincoln, in fact.

Now, with the market for smaller, mid-size SUVs a hot one, Lincoln officials said they expected up to 85 percent of buyers of the new, mid-size Aviator will be new to Lincoln. And I suspect a good many will be women who, after trying out both the Navigator and Aviator, Goldilocks-style, at dealerships, will opt for a more nimble, manageable SUV package than the Navigator.

Sizing it up

Don't let the looks fool you. The Aviator is based on the Ford Explorer, so it's several hundred pounds lighter in weight and more than a foot shorter than the bigger Navigator.

2003 Lincoln Aviator interiorThe Aviator is a couple inches narrower than the Navigator and is 6.4 inches shorter in height. As you might guess, there's less cargo room — a maximum 77 cubic feet with all the rear seats folded down vs. 104 in the Navigator.

But the Aviator still includes three rows of seats inside, and interior in the SUV didn't feel cramped.

Front bucket seats are roomy, and the center console is wide.
And just like the Navigator, the Aviator offers separate second-row seats that have a sizable floor-mounted console between them. It's adds a posh touch to this leather-swabbed interior.

But a more conventional second-row seat arrangement is available, too, that can accommodate three riders, thus pushing the Aviator's maximum seating to seven. You can only fit six people in the Aviator if you get the individual second-row seats.

I found I enjoyed the separate second-row seats in the test Aviator for another reason. Using just one lever, I could get them moved up and out of the way easily when I wanted to climb all the way back to the third-row bench seat. There's a nice plastic cover on the floor there, under these seats, too, so you don't have to worry about getting a heel caught inside a seat track.

And if you're height-challenged as I am, be sure to try out the Aviator's standard power adjustable brake and accelerator pedals. They help shorter drivers get comfortably positioned in the driver seat without sitting right on top of the steering wheel.

Noteworthy interior

2003 Lincoln Aviator interiorLincoln modernized and upgraded the interior this year of its Navigator, and the same interior is in the Aviator, too. In a word, the look is pretty. The satin nickel metallic finish on the dashboard and center console adds a light and unique look to an interior area that might otherwise have the same old wood accents there that you find in so many other luxury SUVs.


You better believe that everyone will take note. This finish, itself, is an interesting story. Lincoln designers wanted each button and control to appear to have black letters on them but didn't paint them on. Instead, letters are laser-etched into the satin nickel material then backlit by light-emitting diode white light.

There is some wood inside the Aviator. It's above the glovebox and on the top of the steering wheel. There's a new Lincoln clock, too. It's analog timepiece with a circular face, reminiscent of the one that luxury carmaker Infiniti uses in its vehicles.

Pleasing ride

Best of all, the Aviator's ride is quiet and pleasant. There's a good amount of insulation in this vehicle, and I didn't hear much from other, noisy vehicles nearby. I only heard the Aviator's strong V8 when I floored the accelerator. In fact, the most noticeable sound was mild wind noise at highway speeds.

The Aviator is designed to provide a bit of road feel, rather than an isolating ride. Yet, there's a sense that riders are being carried competently over rough stuff without a lot of fuss. I did notice my body jiggling mildly on rough pavement, and on occasion, the Aviator bobbed up and down gently. Because of the Aviator's tall stance, I also hesitated in taking curves at high speeds, lest body motions make me and my riders uncomfortable. But over time, I became more aggressive as the Aviator's four-wheel independent suspension showed it had the capability to manage body sway.

The rack-and-pinion steering was commendable. I found I didn't need to make many corrections as I drove along winding country roads. The Aviator comes standard with 17-inch, Michelin tires.

V8 only for this mid-size SUV

The test, two-wheel-drive Aviator moved with good spirit, thanks to its 302-horsepower, 4.6-liter V8. Torque is an impressive 300 lb.-ft. at 3,200 rpm, but Lincoln officials point out that 90 percent of the torque is available at a low, 2,000 rpm. It's the only engine offered and puts the Aviator's towing capacity up to 7,300 pounds _ more than the Mercedes-Benz ML500 and BMW X5 4.4. This is even better than the 6,500-pound towing limit for the bigger, Lexus LX 470. Power is managed by a standard five-speed automatic. In the test Aviator, shifts were mostly smooth.

Power didn't come on in a sports-car-like fashion. Rather, power delivery was strong and steady. Don't expect great fuel economy, though. In my combined city/highway driving, I averaged 15.4 miles a gallon. The Aviator's recommended fuel is premium, too.

Watch out for all the control buttons on the steering wheel that let you operate the radio, ventilation, etc. On the test Aviator, I sometimes hit one of the buttons while making a turn and in the process inadvertently changed the radio station. The classy-looking door that covers the Aviator stereo area at the top of the dashboard isn't quite as nicely done as I'd like. In the tester, I had to grip the bottom edge of the thing and give it a tug before I could put it back down.

2003 Lincoln Aviator rear viewThe Aviator's blinkers also had an old-style, clickity sound that seemed out of place for such a modern interior.Goldilocks will want to check out the size of the price tag on this new SUV, too.

Though Aviator is smaller than the Navigator and doesn't offer all the same features — the Navigator's power running boards and power fold-down rear seats aren't available here — the Aviator's price tag isn't as small as I expected.