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The 2003 Aviator Flies in Style, Comfort and Class
(June 6, 2003 EPinions)
(July 2003 Issue Backwoods Magazine)

My first observation after getting behind the wheel and putting a hundred miles behind me was this: There is no doubt about it, this is really a First Class Aviator!

When I initially approached the Aviator in the lot I was impressed by its very presence. When I think of an SUV, images of the over-advertised Ford Explorer often dominate my thoughts, but not here. No, Sir, when I approached this one it was standing at attention, almost screaming: "Look at ME!"

So I did.

From the exterior it looks like what it really is, the little brother of the Lincoln Navigator, which I might add is to my mind right up there in the top three of the luxury SUV/Auto hybrids. Well, despite the fact that the Aviator is in effect a smaller version, it doesn't look or feel like it, and in fact to be honest it is more like an SUV than its big brother! It is a very attractive midsize luxury SUV with a certain flare and style that is unique to its bloodline, and it certainly can't be mistaken for anything other than what it is.

From the ground up, the one I drove had the classic feel of a special order to it, though I am pretty certain it was actually a dealer delivered model. What I mean is that I don't believe it was an aftermarket detailed job.

It was equipped with a set of attractive aluminum alloy wheels, and the thinner type of high-end street tire, as opposed to the off-road type typical on the less expensive makes of SUV in its class. Don't take this wrong though, there is plenty of room in the wheel wells for you to have those baby monster tires installed if you want to, but that would ruin the visual effect that the stock model presents...

I tossed my bag into the back seat and did a walk-around inspection of the Aviator, both because I am required to before driving away from the lot and because I like to look over the cars I drive. When I passed around the front of the Aviator it once again struck me how obviously it was what it was.

The signature grill and the shape of the headlamps, which curve around slightly, combined with the inset round fog lamps most certainly bring the Navigator to mind. And of course that unusual grilled front bumper opening along the bottom always reminds me of a lion's head when I look at it.

Please don't laugh - but you know how a lion's jaw often hangs down a bit and they have that upward sloping nose and snout? Take a look sometime; you will see what I mean.

As I continued around the passenger side I admired the wheels again, and then I noticed the running board for the first time. It is a nice feature to have, especially on a vehicle like the Aviator, which is a bit higher in the seat than what I am used to. An important point too is the fact that the running boards on the Aviator are not just a fashion statement, they are quite functional too.

The rear of the Lincoln has the signature swoop-down hatch with those awesome large curved stop lamps and directionals; very distinctive to see up close and I imagine doubly so on the road as one follows behind.

The Aviator I drove was painted in a color that struck me as a cross between gunmetal and silver, that is the best that I can describe it. The color is very attractive, however, and its finish has depth, reflecting nicely as a quality paint job should.

I finally completed my walk around the Aviator, and was quite satisfied that the tires looked okay, and that there was no existing damage to the vehicle. Satisfied with the brief inspection, I opened the driver's side door and climbed in, settling comfortably in the all leather seat. The door snicked shut with a solid sound and feel, having a bit of heft to it typical of a Lincoln.

Settling In

The cockpit of the Aviator is a very well done design, with a unique look and feel that is more consistent with the classical auto than the F-16 Fighter Jet style so popular today. Its complementary color scheme and sensible layout create a pleasing environment, and it is evident from the easy proximity of the controls that the cockpit was laid out with the driver in mind.

From what I understand, there are front and side airbags protecting both driver and passenger, and a similar arrangement in the back seat as well. Stock airbags for the rear passenger seats are not all that common in SUV's, especially side bags which the model I drove had.

The passenger seats in back were individual Captain's Style seats, and they were similar in quality to the ones in the cockpit, though of different design. I believe that there is supposed to be a fold-out seat in the rear way back, but I do not recall noticing it.

As I familiarized myself with the interior of the Aviator I found myself impressed once again that this was a Lincoln. The tasteful color scheme matches throughout, varying from a silverish color to a bone white accented in a rather dusky and warm wooden trim, and the cockpit was set up for the convenience of the driver.

The sound system included the expected AM/FM Stereo Radio, but was also equipped with a six-disc CD changer, with an abbreviated set of controls also mirrored on the face of the steering wheel for the convenience of the driver.

There was a separate Radio/CD system for the rear seats complete with individual headphone jacks built-in. The model I drove included an overhead DVD screen for the rear passenger that was nicely positioned so as to offer little interference to the driver, which is not always the case.

The center console consisted of the gear lever encased in the same type of wood as the cabin trim, with the lever situated nearest the driver's position and a pair of cup slots on the passenger side with ample size for the larger type of drink cups one obtains at McDonald’s, which is rare and welcome in an SUV. I certainly benefited from them, but could not help but think of Bill Bryson's comments on that subject.

As I prepared to depart I carefully examined the gauges and instruments, familiarized myself with the various switches that activated the lights and wipers - including a rear window wiper that functioned perfectly - as well as the standard environment controls.

There were a number of buttons that were not obvious in their purpose, which I initially shrugged off, as I had no plans to use them. As it turned out they ended up playing a rather significant role in a series of surprises I was soon to experience.

When I initially climbed into the Aviator, the driver’s seat was in an almost perfect position for me. I am a six-footer and need lots of legroom, so I was happy both to find it available by default, and to discover that I would not have to muddle about adjusting the settings for the unfamiliar seat. Or so I thought.

Finally confident that I had a firm grasp of the situation, I slid the key home and gave it a gentle turn, and the engine caught, a fact I felt rather than heard. That is to say that I did not hear the engine as it started or was running, but you have to expect that in a Lincoln.

Once it was running, all of its onboard systems began to kick in, and that was, by the way, when the trouble started, because in the instant after I turned the key and the Aviator was running, the seat I was sitting upon began to move.


When it stopped I was wedged nicely into the steering wheel with my face jammed up near the rear view mirror. I smiled at the bloke looking back at me from the mirror, offering the wry observation that he appeared to be just about as stuck as I was, which I could tell he appreciated by his expression.

Thankfully he suggested might I just choose to turn the ignition to the off spot? That turned out to be very good advise, I assure you.

Five minutes later and having skimmed the manual that was conveniently tucked into the passenger side visor - I suspect that the owner rather thought I might need it - I was now at least basically proficient in seat controls, and now sat properly seated, engine running, with plenty of legroom thanks.

What was fantastic in that learning experience was my discovery that the seat controls permitted me to adjust the seat in six different ways, including a wonderful lumbar support, and they also permitted me to adjust the position of the brake and accelerator pedals! I made certain to record the new settings using the save option so I only had to do it once.

The bloke from the mirror was gone by now, and I assume he worked out his difficulties too. At this point I was only a step away from being ready to go!

I retrieved my bag from the back seat and loaded the CD's I had brought - mostly books on CD - and also removed my programmable voice prompting GPS with moving map display, oh what a treasure!

I observed that it was a pity that the Aviator did not have one of these built-in to it, as a Cadillac I had recently driven had, but that was fine, I had my portable. I carefully secured the GPS in a position in which it would optimally function and from which I would easily hear its instructions, and then restored my bag to its previous place.

There is plenty of room for baggage throughout the Aviator, I should add, though I only made use of the rear passenger seat myself.

On the Road

Putting the Aviator in reverse, I checked and adjusted the rearview mirror, and then glanced at the driver’s side mirror again only to discover that it had somehow gone out of adjustment. I put the Aviator back into park and reached for the manual to see which buttons controlled the mirrors, when much to my amusement I realized that they were now perfectly adjusted again!

Well. My mother raised ugly children, not stupid ones, and I quickly surmised what had happened. I gingerly eased on the brakes and shifted into reverse to test my theory. Yes, the mirrors changed their alignment as a result, and a quick look through the manual verified that this was a feature and not a bug.

Now that I think on it I recall that the Aviators big brother has a similar setup. The side mirrors are supposed to tilt down to give you a better view of the ground behind you when you are backing up. That was a pleasant if disturbing surprise.

Another surprise came almost immediately as I backed out of the parking spot. As the rear bumper of the Aviator approached an auto directly behind me a beeping alarm filled the cockpit - a proximity alarm, I realized, and not the fuel or water warning I at first thought. I recall thinking that it was a pity they don't make those for the dividers between subway seats.

Well, that sums it up, I was on my way from there, and I had a very pleasant drive from Boston to Seattle. I listened to Patrick O'Brian all the way (If you must know, it was Reverse of the Medal, The Ionian Mission, the Mauritius Command, and Desolation Island, though not in that order, no). Thankfully I was able to depart unseen, and the Aviator was not parked directly in the line of sight of the office, as otherwise I have no idea how I could have explained my rather amusing delay had it been observed.

As I pulled out of the autodrive lot I recall that there was an incredible sense of power in the steering wheel, and I remember feeling that contact with the road was an almost fluid, all encompassing feeling. I have often thought that the Lincolns and to a certain degree Mercedes have that special feel to them, and certainly the Aviator did.

Despite the fact that it is the little brother to the Navigator and classified as a midsize, the Aviator is by no means a small vehicle. And yet it was surprisingly maneuverable despite its size, being very easy to drive, and having a tight turning arc. The Aviator is certainly a reassuring vehicle to drive, and it exudes the assurance that it will safely reach any destination you might choose, which it certainly did for me.

I quite enjoyed the trip, and in fact was rather sad for it to end despite the long distance traveled. I had no trouble with respect to any mechanical difficulties, and while the gas mileage of the Aviator is not everything one might wish, it was adequately equipped to provide sufficient range, so there were no close calls when I reached the western highways, where there is notorious distances between filling stations.

What is my overall opinion of the Aviator?

It is quite exceptional, and perfect evidence of the quality of design and manufacture that the carriage works and engineers at Lincoln are capable of. It is impressive along the order of requiring a mathematical equation to properly express the sentiment, and should the opportunity present itself I would happily purchase one for my very own.

I took the liberty of researching some statistics for you, to make this review a bit more statistical, and here we are:

- 4.6-liter DOHC Intech V8 engine

- 302 horsepower

- Five-speed automatic transmission all-wheel drive

- Maximum towing capacity of 3221 kg (7100 lb.)

- Certified to Ultra-Low-Emission Vehicle (ULEV)

- Personal Automatic Safety System

- 13 city miles per gallon and 18 mpg highway

- $45,425 base price

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