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2007 Lincoln Navigator L: Alternative Excess

When the 2007 Lincoln Navigator L trawled into Roadfly’s parking lot, this correspondent was struck at how audacious Lincoln was to produce such a vehicle. This shock was not due to its size or environmental footprint–both of which are, well, uniquely American–but to its appearance. This was truly a wild-looking truck. It might seem odd to begin a review with a discussion of a car’s appearance, but style really was the big story with this all-new Navigator.

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Between the Navigator’s massive headlights, there is a sea of gleaming metal. The grille has 56 slats and sixteen sections stacked in two rows, and it is crested by a chrome shield for the originating point of a broad hood bulge that reaches to the windshield. The entire chromed-out ensemble combines to form a huge blinding hexagon of extravagance.

Then, there’s the second grill, set into the Navigator’s bumper. This one has twelve sections of three slats each in a single row, and incorporates the Navigator’s foglamps. There’s more chrome on the side-view mirrors, and on the door handles. There’s also a chrome strip that fills the space between the truck’s wheel wells. “What’s the big deal about a chrome strip?” one might ask, remembering that Cadillac’s new Escalade has one too. Well, the Navigator’s is as thick as an oar.

Rear-end treatment is equally unconventional. Textbook SUV design has traditionally called for tail lamps that extend on a vertical axis, but the Navigator’s extend horizontally towards the license plate holder, firmly establishing a connection between the Navigator and the rest of Lincoln’s lineup.

Your humble correspondent is at a loss for words to explain why so many of Detroit’s sedans are sedate, mundane, or just totally misguided, yet their trucks and SUVs continue to push the envelopes of performance, styling, and features. Today’s SUVs–particularly the luxury varieties–are the heirs to Detroit’s legacy of flashy excess. Gargantuan proportions, acres of chrome, and honking V8 motors–it’s the 1950’s all over again.

However, a different era came to mind when we climbed inside the Navigator L’s massive cabin. This styling effort takes even bigger cojones than the swath of chrome outside. I felt right at home inside the Navigator, and only after playing with the switches and stretching out on the leather seats (which feel more like a nice soft bomber jacket than a seat) did I understand why. I’m a Ford man, and so was my Dad, and so was his Dad. This 2007 Navigator manages to channel the spirit of the Lincolns of the 1980’s that I crawled around in as a toddler, and does so in a very un-subtle manner. This was a big risk for Lincoln, and whoever penned this new cabin deserves a round of applause. It’s a “love it or hate it” thing, no doubt about it.

http://video.roadfly.com/flvplayer.swf

We are accustomed (by now) to the retro craze that has swept the American car landscape, with the resurrection of old names like GTO, Shelby, Thunderbird, and Camaro. So far, we’ve been re-living the sixties and seventies behind the wheel, but a new 80’s revival has been taking root in music, television, and fashion–industries with much better responsiveness to perpetually changing American consumer tastes. Car companies, with their much longer product cycles and massive focus-group bureaucracies, have not caught up…until now.

Most every detail of the ’07 Navigator’s interior screams “Eighties!”. Aside from the control dials, there isn’t a rounded edge in sight–everything is squared off, including the very retro (we need to find a new word) double-hooded dash. In a neat packaging touch, the center channel for the Navigator’s surround-sound system fills the space between the hoods. The door handles are square and chrome, a design touch that hasn’t been seen in a new car since this writer was in diapers.

The gauges are part of this polarizing design motif. The current standard of two big circles with evenly laid-out intervals has been discarded, in favor of staggered numerical intervals clustered loosely around the needles, all contained in a square, chrome-trimmed housing. The execution of every little detail, from the typeface of the gauges to the finish of the needles, falls perfectly in line with the rest of the car. Love it or hate it, this is the most consistent aesthetic we have seen on the interior of a car in quite some time.

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One thing we absolutely loved was the seating surface in the Navigator. Competitors like the Escalade offer leather that is soft and smooth, but there is something extra about the hide used in the Navigator. It has an organic feel, like a well-worn bomber jacket. Perhaps it’s the way the leather is tanned, or maybe the way it is stretched over the seats. It doesn’t feel as tightly pulled as other manufacturer’s leather does, and is much easier to sink into and get comfortable in, more like a well-broken-in office chair or leather couch.

It smelled and looked great, and scratched a tactile itch like few other cars can. The black leather, in another daring yet wonderful paean to the 80s, was adorned with brown piping. Piping is a lost art in modern car crafting, and is mostly relegated to hyper-luxury European cars these days. It provided the perfect finishing touch to our Navigator’s interior, and it made this behemoth especially hard to part with.

True to Lincoln form, there is a ton of standard equipment. Our Navigator had a couple cool standard features that were especially welcome in an SUV of this size. There is a real honest-to-goodness auxiliary climate control system for the rear, in addition to the dual zones up front. Lincoln’s climate-control system is among the easiest to operate in the industry, and is standardized across the vehicle lineup.

There are also standard power-deployed running boards, which are options on most of the Navigator’s competitors. And the rear windows swing open with the touch of a button for extra ventilation of the Navigator’s substantial greenhouse.

“Not for everyone” describes the Navigator perfectly. It sports the most unconventional design on the US market today, and we’re not just talking about SUVs. We think that other manufacturers will follow suit, because the automotive industry is in dire need of some fresh looks. Now, since we’ve spent so much time talking about the Navigator’s strongest suit, which is aesthetics across the board, we must mention the few things that could use improvement.

First of all, we know it’s a truck so we’ll excuse things like the Navigator’s vague steering and brakes since they are pretty much standard for full-size trucks and SUVs. Our tester stopped and turned just fine for a vehicle this big, but there wasn’t a lot of feedback when doing it. However, this is not a sports car or even a crossover SUV, and its limits must be respected. On-center feel for the steering isn’t great, and small inputs require greater efforts than larger ones but turning radius is excellent for a vehicle this large so we’ll take it.

You can also view the video for the 2007 Lincoln Navigator L on YouTube.

The Navigator’s main competitor is the Cadillac Escalade. They are the only two hyper-luxury SUVs coming out of Detroit, and as such offer a uniquely American package to the buyer. The Escalade has just been redesigned as well, and we sampled both regular and long-wheelbase versions of that SUV recently.

In terms of size, the Navigator L splits the difference between the regular Escalade and the 7300-lb. Escalade EXT (think Chevy Suburban-size) pretty neatly. The bigger Escalade is just monstrous, so if you really need more space than your standard full-size SUV offers (God only knows why) we think this long-wheelbase Navigator is a good balance.

The Navigator also gives up some ground to the Escalade under the hood. As of now, the only engine choice is Ford’s trusty 5.4-liter V8 that makes 300 horsepower at 5,000rpm and 365 lb-ft. of torque at 3750 rpm. The Escalade’s 6.2L makes 403 and 417, comparatively. 100 horsepower is a big gap, but the Navigator’s V8 is still lively and makes fun sounds above 4,000 rpm or so. The 6-speed automatic transmission in the Navigator L makes good use of those ponies, and we didn’t think of it as particularly slow considering that it weighed 6221 lbs. Lincoln could shore up the Navigator’s power deficit by stuffing in the 5.4L supercharged unit from the old SVT Lightning, or a V10 from one of its larger trucks for extra bragging rights.

Our Navigator L tester carried a base price of $51,655–a couple grand less than the starting price of a regular-wheelbase Escalade AWD. We got a $4,450 “Elite Package”, which includes the Premium Appearance and Entertainment Packages. That will give you the excellent rear-seat entertainment package, which is attractive and functional, folding down from the ceiling of the Navigator. Most importantly, you get Lincoln’s excellent and easy-to-use navigation system, which pushes it into the ‘must-have’ category.

Lincoln also threw in the “Ultimate Package,” which was a bargain at $2,000. This gets you the moonroof, the power folding third row of seats, and a heating and cooling function for the front seats. You also get a power-operated liftgate, which can be operated from the key fob. This last group of options made life in the Navigator much easier, and we don’t know how we’d do without them.

Last on the list of upgrades are the Navigator’s 20-inch chrome wheels. At $1,495, they’re not cheap, but they do complete the look. The chrome accent on the hood adds a measly $50–a no-brainer if there ever was one.

When it was all said and done, our Navigator L topped out at $61,120. That’s not exactly chump change, but it will buy you a super-sized, loaded-to-the-gills example of the most distinctive, most aesthetically daring full-size American SUV of all time.

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