(AP) — Once the biggest sport utility vehicle with the most bling, the Lincoln Navigator now is the full-size, luxury-branded SUV that's lowest-priced in the segment.

With a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $46,575 for a two-wheel drive model, the V-8 powered Navigator undercuts all luxury, big-SUV competitors — including a Mercedes with six-cylinder diesel.

Even the 2007 Hummer H2 and GMC Yukon Denali, which are not necessarily viewed as luxury-branded SUVs, are priced higher than the Navigator, with posted starting prices of $53,950 and $47,670, respectively.

The top seller in the segment, the Cadillac Escalade, starts at $54,500, while the new-for-2007 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class starts at $52,400 with a 3.2-liter diesel engine.

When it debuted in 1998, the Navigator started a craze for big, showy SUVs. Sales zoomed to 43,859 and helped make Lincoln the best-selling luxury brand in America at the time.

But as competitors — particularly the bling-happy Escalade — joined the segment, Navigator sales fell.


By last year, they totaled just 23,947.

Make no mistake, the Navigator still has ample style, especially with a new, shiny, silver-colored grille that reminds me of someone with braces on his teeth. It has retained its segment-first, power-deploying running boards that automatically emerge from under the doors whenever a car door is opened. They're part of an option package.

And the Navigator, which is based on the Ford Expedition, is bigger than ever.

While even a regular-wheelbase model sits high, with a hood that comes up to my chest and side, outer mirrors that are at my shoulders, there's a new Navigator L that adds nearly 15 more inches in length for a bumper-to-bumper total of 18.6 feet.

Cargo space behind third-row seats grew by 25 cubic feet this year, for a total of 42.7.

This is still a bit shy, though, of the 45.8 cubic feet of space found behind the third-row seats in an extended Cadillac Escalade ESV that measures 18.5 feet long.

The test Navigator, a regular wheelbase, 4X4 model wearing optional 20-inch wheels, towered over most vehicles on the roads — save for semi-trailers and the like. I could even peer over neighbor's fences into their yards.

The ride isn't as tightly managed as in some newer SUVs. At times, it felt a bit floaty, and the tester's massive weight — some 6,100 pounds — sometimes shifted unsettlingly in curves and on mountain roads.

At the wheel, I felt considerable unsprung weight at the four wheels, which is a symptom of heavy components being there and taking road impacts less than gracefully. No doubt the tester's 20-inch wheels didn't help this.

Intriguingly, for as large a vehicle as it is, the Navigator's turning circle is smaller than expected.

It was mostly quiet inside the tester, save for wind noise at highway speeds.

Front seats were among the widest I've seen, and there's a generous, 10-inch-wide center console between them. The console separating the second-row seats was larger still — 12 inches wide.

I liked the dark brown leather piping that contrasted with the black, perforated leather on the seats.

And the three-speed, cool-air fans embedded in the front seat cushions were excellent for keeping driver and passenger feeling refreshed. This feature comes with the Ultimate trim level.

Passengers in all three rows get decent headroom and legroom, but the third-row seat cushion is short and provided support for just part of my thighs. Fit and finish on the tester were so-so.

In the instrument panel, the square gauges looked old-fashioned, and the power-down and power-up operation that folded the third-row seats into the floor wasn't as speedy as just manually putting the seats down in other SUVs.

The Navigator's 5.4-liter, single overhead cam, Triton V-8 has good, confident sounds. But it puts out 300 horsepower and 365 foot-pounds of torque at 3,750 rpm, which is far less than the 403 horsepower and 417 foot-pounds of torque in an Escalade.

It's also less power than what's in a 2007 Yukon Denali. Mercedes' GL320 CDI gets 398 foot-pounds of torque starting as low as 1,400 rpm from its much smaller-displacement, diesel V-6.

Too bad the Navigator's lower power doesn't translate into better fuel mileage.

A two-wheel drive Navigator is rated by the federal government at 13 miles a gallon in city driving and 18 mpg on the highway, or sixth worst among all SUV nameplates.

In combined city/highway travel, the test Navigator 4X4 got 14.3 mpg. But because four-wheel drive Navigators are exempt from government fuel economy ratings, the government doesn't publish official estimates for these models.

All safety equipment is standard, including frontal air bags and side, seat-mounted air bags for the two front seats, curtain air bags for all three rows and stability control.

The government gives the Navigator five out of five stars for protection of front-seat occupants in a frontal crash. There's no rating for side crash protection, however.

Consumer Reports lists reliability as poor.

There has been no safety recall of the 2007 Navigator. But 2006 models were subjects of three recalls involving a defective windshield wiper motor that could stop working, a faulty transmission guide plate that could affect whether an SUV locks into the "park" gear and tires that might have been damaged during production.

BASE PRICE: $45,755 for Luxury 4X2; $47,755 for Ultimate 4X2; $48,655 for Luxury 4X4; $48,755 for Navigator L 4X2; $50,655 for Ultimate 4X4.
AS TESTED: $58,545.
TYPE: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, seven-passenger, full-size, luxury sport utility vehicle.
ENGINE: 5.4-liter, single overhead cam, Triton V-8.
MILEAGE: NA mpg (city), NA mpg (highway).
LENGTH: 208.4 inches.
WHEELBASE: 119 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 6,100 pounds.
BUILT AT: Wayne, Mich.
OPTIONS: Elite package (includes DVD-based navigation system with THX audio, rear-seat entertainment system, Sirius satellite radio, premium appearance package, power running boards and premium leather seat trim) $5,575; 20-inch chrome-plated, aluminum wheels $1,495.