1998-2002 Lincoln Navigator
In today's brave new world of five-buck gas and energy-related panic, it borders on dangerous to admit to lusting after a three-ton station wagon. In fact, the desirability of such a vehicle would never have occurred to me but for the 10,000 miles I spent behind the wheel of, first a 1998, and then a 2002 Lincoln Navigator.
Most of those--95 percent--were long-haul miles, with the goal of getting a large enclosed trailer filled with 3,000 pounds of motorcycle from one edge of the country to the other. The rest were in around-town stop-and-go traffic in various cities, towns, and villages.
Those Navigators belonged to one of my riding buddies, and when he allowed as how he'd rather fly, and have someone else haul the trailer to Daytona Bike Week in February of 1998, I volunteered without a moment's hesitation. (Yeah, we trailered our bikes. Sometimes in a blizzard. Get over it.) That first trip, behind the wheel of what could be viewed as nothing more than a tarted-up Ford Expedition (which, itself, was a roofed-in Ford F-150 pickup) was a revelation.
First, it was way quieter than the Fords were. This is always
good for a few ticks on positive side of the automotive equation.
Second, and equally important when you're about to spend days behind
the wheel, it was spectacularly comfortable. I just looked at my trip
notes from that first drive, and here's what I wrote about the seats:
"It doesn't matter where I put this beast's enormous leather throne. Regardless of the position--all the way back, all the way forward, tilted, reclined, upright, or whatever--I'm comfortable. Of course, this is impossible, but there it is."
This was true of the '98, and even more true of the '02 that replaced it, for the newer example was equipped with seat coolers that blew cold air through perforations in the leather. It was heavenly.
Then there's the ride, which was way more Lincoln than Ford truck. Much credit for this goes to the air bags used in place of the steel springs found on the donor Expedition. Rough pavement, bumps, potholes, and frost heaves were simply flattened by the Navigator's suspension. Meanwhile, the wagon's extensive soundproofing made all of the suspension's hard work sound like it was happening somewhere in the far distance.
I can't testify to the Nav's high-speed handling in the twisties, because I'm not an idiot. I call it a wagon, but know, deep within, that it's a high center-of-gravity SUV. As such, it has to be driven with respect, along with an awareness of the laws of both physics and unintended consequences. At prudent speeds--i.e., not much higher than the posted limits--it handled the curves without any drama.
The '98 Navigator's towing capabilities were limited by the 230-horsepower engine fitted to those first-year examples. The '99 debuted with 260 horsepower, and midway through the model year it was bumped up to an even 300. Having towed 4,500-pound loads with both 230- and 300-horsepower versions, I have to say that more is better. With the '98, I was always aware of the trailer as a load on the engine. With the '02, towing was effortless.
In fact, driving the Navigator, in general, was effortless. This is only surprising until you realize that, despite its apparent bulk, the Navigator is shorter (by seven inches) than a Crown Victoria. That, along with the Master of All He Surveys driving position, makes for a vehicle that's easy to maneuver in tight spaces, and for which to find a parking spot.
And what about mileage? That's a good question, and one that doesn't have a very good answer, at least in the absolute. Towing 4,500 pounds, the Navigator averaged 9.9 MPG. Unburdened, I recorded 13 around town, and 16 on the road. Not good. But look at it from another standpoint--driving a Navigator 12,000 miles per year will burn about 1,000 gallons of gas. Over the same mileage, my sister's 2005 CRV burned 500 gallons.
The question then becomes one of priorities. Is it worth an extra $2,500/year to drive a Navigator rather than a CRV? To me, it is, especially since those first-generation Navigators can be had for chump change, while CRVs are a pretty costly proposition. And the CRV doesn't come close to the Navigator's luxury, comfort, towing capacity, and interior space.
Finally, there's the related question of wasting a non-renewable resource. Here's my take on that. The sooner oil becomes real-world scarce (as opposed to just being expensive), the sooner we'll get serious about finding a viable replacement. In fact, it doesn't take too much of a stretch to view the ownership of a Navigator as the fulfillment of one's patriotic duty.
Note from Chris: Okay, everybody--we've already checked "Massive Sprawling SUV debate" off
our list of things to do on this blog, and I think we did it pretty well. If
anybody missed out and wants to revisit, check these two posts:
http://www.carlustblog.com/2008/04/car-lust--1973.html (the comments)
I'd ask that anybody who comments on this post refrain from covering this well-trodden and blood-soaked ground. Don't refight the SUV war. Let's actually comment on what we like and dislike about the Navigator above and beyond its status as an SUV. Either that or let's indulge in the traditional amusing irrelevancy that we all enjoy from time to time.