The Lincoln Aviator is the luxury division's mid-size sport-utility vehicle. Based on the Ford Explorer, the Aviator combines a rugged, truck-based platform with a smooth luxury car ride. Properly equipped, Aviator can tow up to 7,300 pounds, significantly more than most imported SUVs in its size class.
The Aviator's mission is to deliver the style of the Lincoln Navigator in a smaller, more manageable, and less expensive package. Aviator lists for about $8,700 less than Navigator. Aviator is also priced lower than most V8-powered luxury sport-utilities. Aviator costs less than a Lexus GX 470, Mercedes-Benz ML 500, Infiniti FX45, and less than the V8 versions of the Cadillac SRX and Volkswagen Touareg. Aviator is also priced just below the six-cylinder BMW X5 3.0.
All-new last year, the Lincoln Aviator returns for 2004 with more options to enhance safety. Electronic stability control, which Ford calls AdvanceTrac, together with a new system called Roll Stability Control, reduce the chance of skidding and to help drivers maintain handling control. A tire-pressure monitoring system is now standard. The voice-activated DVD navigation system has been improved and refined, and now comes with an in-dash six-disc CD changer.
Lincoln Aviator 2WD ($39,940); 4WD ($42,890)
The Lincoln Aviator was deliberately designed to look like a 9/10ths-scale Lincoln Navigator. Aviator is more than a foot shorter than the Navigator, 4 inches narrower, and about 6-1/2 inches lower. Aviator seats six or seven, depending on the seating configuration ordered, while the Navigator has room for eight.
Like the Navigator, the Aviator sports a generous application of chrome trim, from the grille to the roof rack to the rear license plate holder. Aviator wears the same chrome-framed waterfall grille as the Navigator, though it looks somewhat less imposing in the Aviator's smaller size. The Aviator comes with truck-like running boards, which are a necessity for short-legged passengers.
The Aviator shares its basic structure with the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer, both of which were re-engineered for 2002. The Aviator is more than just a re-badged Explorer, however. For starters, the Aviator is slightly longer and wider than the Explorer. It uses the Explorer's independent rear suspension, a design more common on luxury cars than trucks, to improve ride quality and allow room underneath for the third seat to fold flat into the floor. The Aviator's suspension has been specially tuned, and lightweight components have been substituted, for improved on-pavement ride.
The Lincoln Aviator's interior is stunning, and every bit as elegant as a luxury sedan's. The two-tone leather in cream (Light Parchment) and charcoal gray (Espresso) with American walnut burl wood trim is quite attractive. The interior also comes in a two-tone Medium and Dark Ash.
The most distinctive touch in the interior is the pewter-colored satin-nickel finish used on the center dashboard and shifter surround. Another distinguishing feature is a small panel that pulls down to hide the audio system. It is finished in the same satin-nickel color. You won't forget what you are driving when you close it, as its cover spells out Lincoln. The clock in the center of the dash, with delicate gold hands and numbers, resembles an expensive watch. This clock design is becoming a signature feature in Lincolns.
The 1961 Lincoln Continental was the inspiration for the Aviator's symmetrical instrument panel. Switches and controls, either rectangular toggles or rotary dials, are backlit with white LED lighting. The steering wheel trimmed in wood and leather includes controls for audio and climate. Every surface throughout the Aviator is attractive to the eye and inviting to the touch.
Aviator comes standard with three rows of seats. The front bucket seats are comfortable and supportive.
In the second row, Aviator buyers have a choice, for which there is no difference in price. They can select a three-way split bench that seats three, or bucket seats for two. The bucket seats come with a hefty center console nearly identical to the one between the front bucket seats. Either way, the second-row seats fold and tumble forward for access to the third row.
The third-row bench sits low and is most suitable for children. It folds flat into the floor manually. Aviator has a two-piece liftgate like the Explorer, with a flip-up window positioned at the height of a shopping cart for loading groceries without lifting the entire hatch.
The Lincoln Aviator offers a smooth, sophisticated ride. It isn't bouncy like most truck-based sport-utilities, a benefit of its sophisticated independent rear suspension. It rides more smoothly than the Mercury Mountaineer and Ford Explorer.
Ford's tried-and-true 4.6-liter V8 engine delivers plenty of power and makes it possible, with an optional package, to tow up to 7,300 pounds. Our only criticism, which is often the case with Ford engines, is that it roars at start up and under hard acceleration. Beyond those conditions, the Aviator delivered a relatively quiet ride.
Lincoln has made vast improvements in its steering systems, and the Aviator is a good example. Aviator's rack-and-pinion steering delivers a solid on-center feel. In contrast to previous Ford sport-utilities, most notably the Navigator, steering the Aviator was a relaxed experience, requiring few corrections to keep on course. The speed-sensitive steering assist makes low-speed parking lot maneuvers and tooling around the neighborhood effortless. Yet the Aviator feels stable at highway speeds. Steering transitions can be accomplished so seamlessly your passengers will hardly feel them.
Aviator is equipped with larger four-wheel disc brakes than Explorer or Mountaineer. The Lincoln also comes equipped with ABS (anti-lock brakes) and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD). Slam on the brakes and the Aviator comes to a predictable and uneventful stop. ABS lets the driver maintain steering control in a panic stop, while EBD balances the braking force between front and rear wheels dynamically to reduce stopping distances.
The optional AdvanceTrac electronic stability control system ($860) monitors the position of the Aviator's steering wheel, the speed the wheels and tires are turning, the rate at which the vehicle is turning (yaw), and how hard it is cornering (lateral acceleration). If AdvanceTrac decides that the Aviator isn't doing what the driver intends, the system applies the brakes at one or more wheels to correct the vehicle's path. An example of this would be entering a corner too fast, then hitting a patch of wet leaves halfway through the turn; the system would detect the front tires have lost grip and would compensate to try to keep the vehicle from sliding off the edge of the road. The driver need only keep her cool and continue steering (and looking) in the direction she wants to go.
Aviators with AdvanceTrac also feature Roll Stability Control, which uses a gyroscopic sensor to monitor body roll angle and roll rate (in other words, how much the Aviator is leaning in a turn). Roll Stability Control works with AdvanceTrac to determine if the possibility of a rollover might exist, and reduces engine power and/or applies the brakes to help regain stability. The enhanced system was initially added to 2WD models, but late-model AWD models with AdvanceTrac will also get Roll Stability Control.
Lincoln expects the majority of Aviators to be ordered with all-wheel drive. Two different all-wheel drive systems are used, depending on whether AdvanceTrac is also specified. Both systems are designed more for inclement weather than off-road driving. Neither requires action by the driver to engage. All-wheel-drive Aviators without AdvanceTrac use a permanently engaged system that normally sends 35 percent of the engine's torque to the front wheels and 65 percent to the rear. A viscous coupling between the front and rear axles engages when necessary for added traction.
Aviators with AdvanceTrac come with a more sophisticated electronic system that operates in rear-wheel drive most of the time, but can use a clutch pack to send up to 100 percent of the driving torque to the front wheels if conditions warrant. Since AdvanceTrac can also shift driving torque from one side of the vehicle to the other, Aviators with AWD and AdvanceTrac can theoretically keep rolling as long as one of the four wheels has traction.
The 2004 Lincoln Aviator offers the smoothness and sophistication of the big Lincoln Navigator in a smaller, more maneuverable and less expensive package. Yet Aviator gives up nothing in interior elegance and luxury.
Aviator seats six or seven people. It's smoother and more comfortable than the Ford Explorer and most other mid-size SUVs. Its V8 delivers good power. And the available combination of AdvanceTrac stability control and all-wheel drive provides excellent traction and control in icy conditions.