Bling Machine

By Hannah Wallace April 30, 2007

"It's big," the delivery driver said as he handed me the remote key fob to the 2007 Lincoln Navigator Ultimate.

Even if I hadn’t just completed a week in a compact, economical 2007 Toyota Yaris, the first glimpse of the humongous Lincoln would have caused my jaw to drop.

It was parked in a row of other cars that looked like Matchbox toys in comparison.     "Wow, that's big," a coworker said.

I gulped. That it is. The Navigator has three rows of seats and a large cargo bay. It rides high and seats a driver so far up that a nosebleed seems a possibility. Its price is in the stratosphere, as well: a tad over $61,800, as it was optioned out on our test model.

Surely the first thing anyone will notice is a grille so monstrous and chrome-plated that it threatens to blind those within a hundred yards. Then there are the 20-inch wheels with another few pounds of chrome.

Ford says the Navigator has "dramatic, distinctive design." Internet bloggers are less complimentary. Some of their comments: "Front end looks like it just got back from the orthodontist’s office.” “Just design a car with a grille that doesn't shoot down airliners or burn ants." And "I need to consult dictionaries for about six different languages to come up with enough words to describe how hideous that thing is."

My take is similar: Chrome lipstick can't make this tart a dame. That's not to say its competition, the Cadillac Escalade, is much better; both are as earth-unfriendly as a family vehicle can get. They gulp gasoline (13 mpg in the city) and spew wastes proportionate to their size. Anyone who has ever even heard of global warming should think through a purchase like this.

The thing is 18 and a half feet long. It might not even fit in your garage.

Driving the Navigator is a mixed bag. I drive a daily commute over two-lane back roads and the Navigator felt way too big for its lane of traffic. Free of traffic, though, it was smooth-riding and handled curves well. But cruise control lacked a radar or laser feature to maintain spacing from a vehicle ahead.

The brakes seemed clearly inadequate. They required substantial pressure to begin braking, far more than the cars I usually test. They did not give me confidence to play tag in traffic. Any other vehicle could stop faster than this one, so I'd be the party guilty of rear-ending someone.

Under the hood is a 300-horsepower V-8, but it has to put in motion 6,300 pounds! And those 300 horses can't compare to the 403 in a Cadillac Escalade. The Navigator is slower in every speed measure. And, yes, it also takes longer to stop a Navigator.

Still, this year Lincoln has added a six-speed automatic transmission, replacing the old four-speed, and it smoothly moves the monster to legal speeds.

As far as safety is concerned, the Navigator has all the desirable features: front and side air bags, a head curtain the length of the vehicle, stability control, and, in our tester, all-wheel drive.

To hear Ford tell it, the Navigator is bling that the buyers of big SUVs will love. "It offers a great blend of style and functionality, but more than that, it’s got street appeal," says Al Giombetti, president of marketing and sales at Ford.

And those buyers will purchase every option. "The typical Lincoln Navigator owner is a check-every-box buyer," says Ford's Raj Nair. "If there’s an option, they want it."

Among the options checked for our tester was a navigation system and DVD entertainment package with wireless headsets for rear-seat passengers. Regrettably, the navigation screen is not connected to a rear-view camera, as many vehicles are today. Ford has yet to learn how to use a camera that shows where a vehicle is backing.

The leather seats were supportive and comfortable, and the rear bench is an improvement over the Escalade's. The driver and front passenger seats contain vents to flow cool or heated air.

The instruments have retrogressed to a rectangular shape for speedometer, tachometer and clock. Ford says it was inspired by "popular rectangular fashion eyewear." Whatever. There's still a mistake: Ford placed the speedometer on the left, where it will be blocked by a driver steering with the right arm crossed over the steering wheel. Speedos go on the right, tachs on the left.

And Consumer Reports says reliability of past Navigators has been "much worse than average."

Robert C. Bowden produces The Car Place, a Forbs Best of the Web selection, and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

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