Review 2004 Lincoln Aviator, Kitty Hawk Edition

THE AUTO PAGE By JOHN HEILIG

SPECIFICATIONS

MODEL: Lincoln Aviator, Kitty Hawk Edition
ENGINE: 4.6-liter DOHC V8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 302 hp @ 5,750 rpm/300 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 113.7 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 193.3 x 73.9 x 70.9 in.
STICKER PRICE: $54,635

After entering the SUV market with the full-size Navigator, Lincoln introduced the smaller Aviator, based on the Explorer platform. Aviator is, therefore, much more manageable than the larger Navigator, while retaining all the good "SUV-ness" of the Explorer. In my mind at least, it's a better package.

Our Aviator was powered by the standard 4.6-liter DOHC V8 engine that delivered 302 horsepower. It drove the wheels through a 5-speed automatic transmission that was seamless. In general, shifts between gears weren't noticed during most of our ride. On hard acceleration, when the engine also announced it was there, we felt the shifts, but for the most part it was smooth.

Being an Aviator, and being an SUV, it should perform in off-road conditions. So we took it off-road. The first test was a relatively simple one, down a straight road that had seen the ravages of Hurricane Isabel. Avoiding trees and potholes was the most difficult task we asked the Aviator to perform, and it did well.

Our next test was in a true off-road situation. This one-lane dirt road through the woods had hills, mud, downed trees and rocks. In this more remote area than the road I was amazed by the carnage Isabel wreaked. My hat is off to those who had clean-up duties. But the Aviator again did its job. There have been times on this road when I've doubted the vehicle's ability to make it, but there were no such doubts with the Aviator. It did the job well.

Our third test was more fun, up a long dirt road that climbed 2,000 feet or so up a mountain to a great view (and an apple orchard). Here, the Lincoln's 302 horsepower V8 engine was put to the test as we climbed ever higher. There were a number of switchbacks along the way that checked the handling (fine). On the way down, the 4-wheel ABS brakes were put to a test, primarily against fade, but it wasn't a problem again.

We also did a long Interstate run back from the mountain that simply underlined the advantages of a big car on the road. The ride was comfortable and the handling perfectly fine for roads that were essentially straight. Now if we could just figure a way to avoid tie-ups… Fuel economy was 14.8 mpg overall.

Our Aviator was black (at least before we hit the dirt roads) with a black and cream interior. The color combination was excellent. This "Kitty Hawk" edition commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight with special floor mats, 17-inch chrome wheels and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The interior featured a lot of brushed aluminum that gave it a "techie" look. The steering wheel was wood and leather, with audio and cruise controls mounted on the wheel. I liked that the controls were lighted so you could find them easily in the dark I realize an owner would soon learn the location and feel of every button, but when you only have the vehicle for a short period of time, every little bit helps. The power window buttons, located on the center console, were also lighted.

There was a huge display for the sound system and navigation system mounted in the center of the dash. This was well-lit, but it was also possible to cover this to eliminate distractions when you weren't seeking a new station or changing CDs. The navigation system, however, required the use of DVD discs, which weren't supplied with the vehicle. There were times we could have used it.

And, as seems to be the case with many luxury vehicles these days, there was an analog clock smack in the middle of the dash.

The Aviator had three rows of seats. We folded the third row to create a larger luggage area, and wound up with a flat floor. It was obvious, though, the third-row legroom was very good, giving the impression that a ride back there wouldn't be too painful. Cargo capacity was 13.8 cubic feet behind the third row, 44.5 cubic feet behind the second row.

Inside there were two relatively small cupholders for the front passengers and two more for the rear passengers. None of these would hold a larger cup or water bottle. There were abundant storage areas inside, with two "cubbies" in each door.

The power seats offered front and rear adjustment as well as up-and-down, but the seat back rake was a manual affair.

Releasing the hood to check underneath was a pleasure. When you release the latch from inside, a lever pops out from the grille. Lift the lever and the hood rises. There's none of the searching for the hood release.

Our tester had a $54,635 bottom line with a base price of $45,125. The biggest options were the Kitty Hawk package ($2,295), the navigation system ($2,495), power moonroof ($1,595) and the DVD rear entertainment system ($1,295).

© 2003 The Auto Page Syndicate

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