2003 Lincoln Navigator It's What's Inside That Counts By Warren Clarke Once upon a time, not so long ago, buyers seeking a domestic full-size luxury SUV that placed grandiose excess above all else had but one choice: the Lincoln Navigator. Things got a bit more competitive thanks to Cadillac's recently redesigned Escalade. With its blaring aesthetic (complete with a gargantuan slab of an emblem plastered across on its posterior) and sprawling dimensions, the Escalade suddenly gave buyers seeking a look-at-me, king-of-the-road ute something else to consider. How has Lincoln responded to the threat posed by this ambitious upstart? It's overhauled the Navigator, giving the ute a full redesign from top to bottom. The 2003 Navigator boasts all-new bodywork, save for its roof panels and front doors. However, exterior changes are subtle; this is not the sort of go-for-broke makeover seen in the Escalade. In front is Lincoln's chromed signature grille, flanked by clear-lens quad beam halogen headlamps that are 40 percent brighter than the previous model's. The vehicle's hood is 4 inches taller than its predecessor's, and, at 18 inches, its wheels are larger. The redesigned Navigator also offers optional power running boards. The boards nest tightly to the rocker panel when the Navigator is in motion, or parked with the doors closed; when a door is opened, the boards quietly deploy (extending 4 inches from the rocker panel), automatically retracting when the door is closed. In rear, there's a new aluminum liftgate, and a power liftgate is available as an option. Inside the cabin, walnut wood trim graces the dash, doors and steering wheel. The symmetrical look of the vehicle's instrument panel was inspired by the design of the 1961 Lincoln Continental. Audio and optional navigational systems are masked behind an articulating door, keeping clutter to a minimum. Come nightfall, the cabin is illuminated with distinctive white LED lighting. Seats boast leather with a milled pebble finish, and floors and mats are carpeted in stain-resistant nylon. The Navigator continues to serve up seven- or eight-passenger seating, with a new 20/60/20 configuration for its second row. Room in the third row gets a big increase (legroom is improved 34 percent) as a result of the space-saving design of the independent rear suspension beneath it. The 60/40 split bench seat not only folds completely flat to the floor, it also features optional power control that allows owners to raise and lower seats with the push of a button. Handling has been improved thanks to an all-new fully independent rear suspension. Air springs front and rear assure precise ride control as well as the ability to lower the vehicle when parked for easier entry and exit. Four-wheel-drive models will offer Control Trac, which gives drivers the choice of four electronically selectable drive modes. The Navigator retains the 5.4-liter V8 of its predecessor; it makes 300 horsepower and 355 pound-feet of torque. Fully 90 percent of peak torque is available from 1,750 rpm to about 4,700 rpm. In an effort to improve the engine's refinement, a new powertrain mounting system employing hydraulic engine mounts and a natural rubber transmission mount were utilized. The mounts were tuned in harmony with the suspension so that suspension and powertrain noise frequencies would effectively cancel each other out. Also, the vehicle's single exhaust system was redesigned and now boasts a larger muffler and in-line resonator. The vehicle is governed by an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. Safety-wise, the new Navigator offers a larger crush zone to handle frontal impacts more effectively. The vehicle features side curtain airbags (which, according to Lincoln, offer better side impact and rollover protection than side airbags for first- and second-row occupants), along with a stability control system and tire-pressure monitor. Also — proving that the ute is not as wildly self-indulgent as it looks — the Navigator boasts one change that's sure to make car drivers breathe a sigh of relief. Its bumper beam has been lowered 2 inches, to enhance compatibility in the event of a car-truck collision. In terms of its exterior, the Navigator's makeover is discreet (a word you never thought you'd see mentioned in the same breath as this vehicle). But with improved handling and a spruced-up interior, the revamped ute offers change where it matters most — on the inside.