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2003 Lincoln Aviator

Contrary to popular belief, bigger is not always better. The proof? The new 2003 Lincoln Aviator.

Contrary to popular belief, bigger is not always better. The proof? The new . As the full-sized Lincoln Navigator SUV's newest and only sibling, the Aviator is for those who prefer their SUVs smaller but still luxurious and amply powered.

The Aviator carries a 4.6-liter V8 that provides 302 hp at 5,750 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm, linked to a five-speed automatic. The engine puts out plenty of power whether maneuvering around slower-moving vehicles on the highway or Sunday drivers on city streets.

The SUV rides on a four-wheel independent suspension comprised of coil springs, monotube dampers, and stabilizer bars, with 17-in. wheels and tires. The suspension soaks up road imperfections with little or no impact to the driver or passengers. Speed-sensitive, variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering gives the Aviator carlike handling, taking corners smoothly and adeptly. Quick stops are possible thanks to four-wheel disc brakes with 13-in. ventilated rotors and twin-piston calipers up front and 12.6-in. rotors and single-piston calipers in the back. ABS and electronic brake-force distribution are also standard. The Aviator comes in four and two-wheel-drive versions. An optional AdvanceTrac traction and stability system is available on all-wheel-drive models.

The Aviator is more than a foot shorter than the Navigator, yet it packs in three rows of seats with plenty of legroom. The third-row seat folds flat, opening up 40.2 ft3 and the opportunity to haul a few bags of mulch and landscaping stones with room to spare.

The Aviator comes in two Series: Luxury and Premium. Our Premium Series Aviator was well-stocked with amenities, including heated and cooled seats; six-way power-adjustable driver and front passenger seats with power lumbar support and memory setting for the driver's seat, side mirrors, brake, and accelerator pedals; and a premium sound system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. The interior is decked out in leather, burl walnut, and satin nickel accents. Deep pockets on the driver and passenger doors and a roomy center console keep your necessities out of sight. Optional equipment included a $1,515 power moonroof and Class III towing package ($295). One feature worth mentioning is the side mirrors. When reversing, the side mirrors dip down to give you a clearer rear view. The mirrors move back to their original position once the vehicle shifts into drive.

The Aviator carries a 22.5-gallon gas tank that requires 91-premium fuel, and is a fairly light sipper. I averaged nearly 300 miles on a single tank of gas. Also, safety hasn't been ignored. The Aviator carries dual-stage front air bags, safety-belt pretensioners, load-limiting retractors, and side-curtain air bags. Base price for the Aviator is $45,865. Add on destination and option charges and you're looking at a $47,675 bottom line. If you're in the market for a midsized luxury SUV, the Aviator is the ticket.

-Sherri Koucky

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