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2004 Lincoln Aviator

All Aboard, This Ship is Pulling Out

     So what is the Aviator, a 7/8ths Navigator, or a rebadged Mercury Mountaineer/Ford Explorer? Well, about a year ago we took a Mercury Mountaineer to the northern part of Michigan’s mitten for a long weekend camping to determine its place in the stable. With that in mind, one can easily see we’re long overdue for an extensive jaunt across country. With that we packed up our gear, pointed the baby Nav north and gave it some gas. Destination: North Manitou Island, for a long weekend of driving, photographing, logbooking, swatting mosquitoes, and sleeping upon a fairly lumpy piece of good ole terra firma.
     Ah, the open road, nothing quite like it. With 302 horsepower at attention, all it took was a mere giddy up and we were headed north. The power mill for the Aviator comes in the form of a 32-valve 4.6L V8 shared with the now extinct Mercury Marauder. Power delivery was pretty smooth with a moderately aggressive throttle tip-in and a surprisingly muscular growl coming from under the hood. The 5-speed automatic behaved pretty much how you would expect a typical Lincoln tranny to—which is to say it shifts without drama.  Performance was middle of the road, it didn’t overly impress us, nor did it disappoint us. The cabin was notably quiet, except for the wind blowing over/around the rather tall mirrors. Which we should mention, did a good job of showing us the sky, but not so much of the road around us. Ride and handling were on par with other vehicles in this class. The 4-wheel fully independent suspension really smoothed things out. Frost heaves only inhibited a minor cathunk. Controlled is pretty well the best way to sum things up. The full-time all-wheel drive system leaves the driver at peace with never needing to worry about which wheels to power. However, this is a soft-road only system, with no low range setting. Off-roading should be kept to climbing that mountain road up to the log cabin, or the occasional boat ramp.
     At first glance it’s easy to dismiss the Aviator for what it really is. Other than the mirrors, the Aviator looks like a 7/8ths carbon copy of the big brother Navigator. Which is by no means a bad thing, but it does lead to momentary pause when identifying it unless it is parked next to the Nav where the size difference becomes clear. Everyone agreed our silver birch steed was a handsome fellow but it sat atop rather boring 17″ rolling stock. Overall, the look is typical Lincoln with a massive waterfall grille and chrome everything else.
     With First Mate Dye at the helm, I was free to spend some time taking note of the many interior appointments the Aviator had to offer. First thing that comes to mind is the Navigator’s interior. The Aviator is pretty much the same, save for the position of the clock. Interior materials, textures, colors were easy on the eyes and pleasing to the touch. The seats were swathed in rich cream leather and were a little firm, but not so in comparison to the logs and rocks to which we had been sleeping upon so there’s not much to complain about here. White LED gauges are beautiful and highly legible, even in bright sunlight. A few secondary controls took a few minutes to locate but the learning curve is fairly short. Window buttons reside on the center console as they do in the Navigator. Everything was in easy reach and the switchgear had good feel. The analog clock lends a classic touch of elegance to an altogether modern finish. The navigation system was one of the most logical we have used. The touch screen was a just the right size with useful maps and clear menus. It always managed to get us where we were going. Having the shifter on the console not only looks better but also sets it apart from your typical Mountaineer/Explorer. The cupholders were deep and kept drinks in place while traversing Michigan speed bumps (they’re called roads here). And of course, those with passengers of the younger generation will find the $1295 spent on the rear DVD-entertainment system well worth it. Adults will find the second row seats comfortable, while the third row should remain reserved for the smaller, younger, and much nimbler among us. On our trip we left the seat folded flat to accommodate some rather large hiking/camping packs.
     Well it’s time to wrap this up; I gotta get back to the Bridge. The Aviator is a comfortable step up from the rather mundane Mountaineer, while avoiding the overall massive Navigator. With a list of stiff competition including the SRX, RX330, FX45, X5 3.0i, etc., the Aviator hits the radar as mediocre. It kind of rides right down the middle of the road, in that it doesn’t really impress us nor does it disappoint. After spending a week with her, none of us really felt compelled to slap down 50 large to take her home ($50,865 after $5,740 worth of options and destination and delivery charges). Taken altogether it’s a conservative vehicle for a conservative buyer. (No political puns intended.)

The Good:
Heated and cooled seats, excellent navigation system, 7 passenger seating.
The Bad:
Hard seats, oddly shaped mirrors, copycat styling.
The Verdict:
A competent vehicle no doubt, but this price range has many players, most of which are more impressive.

Photos by Jason Muxlow

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