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Tow Test: Lincoln Navigator

What's the biggest hurdle luxury SUV makers have to jump? Finding a way to instill their vehicles with a carlike ride, handling, and comfort. This fails because their SUVs are based on a full-size pickup-truck chassis. Lincoln is attempting the hurdle once more with its new Navigator, which sports a super-stiff frame, air springs, fully independent suspension systems, and rack-and-pinion steering.

Although it weighs more than 6,000 pounds and is the third largest SUV on the planet, the Navigator maneuvers as nimbly as a sport sedan. Steering and suspension engineers have achieved a genuine breakthrough here-this is the best ride and handling balance available in any truck.

To see if the Navigator is capable of hard work, I hooked up a 30' twin-engined Cigarette offshore racer and a tandem-axle trailer. Much to my chagrin, this package exceeded the manufacturer's 8,300-pound tow rating by a whopping 1,300 pounds. But since I was testing in the midst of this new truck's press launch, I was stuck with the overload-it's not a risk you should take.

The Lincoln's automatic leveling system kept an even keel. The 300-hp 5.4-liter V-8 struggled under its heavy load, and the automatic transmission needed a fifth gear to narrow the ratio gaps. The climb to 60 mph required a lengthy 26 1/2 seconds, though once there, this power train settled comfortably into a relaxed cruising mode. Flooring the throttle allowed the Navigator to keep up with most of the traffic. When the trailer's brakes failed partway through emergency stopping tests, the Lincoln's all-disc system took up the slack to stop us in an acceptable distance.

Fully loaded, the Navigator's price tops $60,000-expect extraordinary creature comforts. The leather and burl walnut trim are top quality. Power assists deploy the running boards. Open the lift gate, and the third row seat folds at the touch of a button.

MODEL Lincoln Navigator
Engine 5.4-liter DOHC V-8
Net hp/rpm 300/5000
Net torque (ft-lb/rpm) 355/2750
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Suspension Front control arms, air springs
Suspension Rear control arms, air springs
Brakes (front/rear) disc/disc, standard ABS
Tires Tires Michelin Pilot LTX 4 seasons, P275/65HR-18
Wheelbase (in.) 118.8
Length (in.) 206.0
Width (in.) 80.2
Height (in.) 77.8
Curb weight (lbs.) 6,260
Towing capacity (lbs., max.) 8,300
Cargo capacity (max. cu. ft.) 105
Fuel capacity (gal.) 15.3
0-60 mph acceleration (without/with 9,600-lb. towed load, sec.) 9.9/26.5
60-0 mph stopping distance (without/with 9,600-lb. towed load, ft.) 151/238
Observed towing fuel economy (avg. mpg) 7
Price (as tested) $60,040

LAST WORD. Best-handling SUV in its class.