If you had to select one vehicle to do triple duty as a luxury business sedan, a cargo vehicle and a weekend SUV for gentle off-roading or hauling family members, you'd probably pick Lincoln's elegant 2003 Navigator. With features that make driving a pleasure and loading up the back end easier than any other full-sized SUV, the new model, while similar in design to the 2002 version, is far more functional and driver-friendly.
Wider, powered running-boards automatically extend outward when the front doors open, then retract when the doors close. A single push of a button folds the split third-row seats flat into a floor well. A power liftgate raises and lowers in 10 seconds at the touch of the key fob, and if you're sharing the Navigator with others, memory power-adjustable brake and gas pedals make it easy to return the pedals to your setting. The leather and walnut-burl interior echoes Lincoln's luxury sedan ambience, and its air spring suspension makes for a restful ride.
Under the hood, a 5.4-liter, V-8 engine provides 300 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, while torque is 355 pound-feet. Muscle is just as impressive: 8,300 lbs. towing capacity and 1,456-lbs. payload. A traction control system helps correct oversteer and improve rollover stability and low-speed maneuverability.
New safety features include large side-curtain airbags for the first two rows, bigger side mirrors with built-in lighted turn signals to complement front and rear signals, and a lamp that lights up the wheel area when you exit. A park-assist system detects obstacles when in reverse, and the doors won't lock if the key is left in the ignition. The Navigator can accommodate eight passengers or carry 104.7 cubic feet of cargo with the second and third row of seats folded down. Price: $52,325 to $54,950. Options such as a navigation system and moonroof can bring the total to $60,000.
Editor and consultant Jill Amadio has been reporting on the automotive industry for 24 years.