As a recent family reunion proved, there are times when nothing less
than a Lincoln Navigator L will do. In theory: I relied on inferior
modes of transportation during my time of need, and the little voice in
my head never stopped reminding me of that fact. What wouldn’t I do for
a fully independent suspension with air ride, three rows of seating and
a suitcase- swallowing 42.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third
row? Yes, this vehicle is everything that’s wrong with America. It’s
the rolling embodiment of Wall Street greed and “easy credit”
arrogance. But the guys getting bailout dollars and megabuck bonuses
can afford a fleet of Navigators: I just want one, dammit!

If it’s painted black. The Navigator wears a face so contrived that
even P-Diddy couldn’t sample it for a remix. While the hood’s extra
chrome is an option, there’s no escaping the door-mounted spizzarkle
and Anime smile at the rear. Even without the twin plankton filters
found on other Lincolns, the Navigator’s Mojo-Jojo is a hulking,
sour-faced beast ready to battle the Power Puff Girls.

Yet, as Lincoln’s own website admits, the interior has “as much
presence as its imposing exterior.” But shock and awe makes way for
surprise and delight: the number of servo-assisted gadgets and
electronic distractions boggle the mind. Yet somehow it transcends into
a high-dollar urban lounge of gathered leather with contrast piping,
decent polymers, ebony-toned oak and the obligatory faux aluminum paint.

Combined with the overwrought door handles (a constant reminder of
why people vilify this vehicle) the retro Ford Econoline gauges and the
shameful lack of wood trim on the rear doors, this is still the place
to be. Well done, Mr. Jeff Sanders.

The F-150 Platinum has nicer touches than the outdated ’Gator, but
there isn’t a bad seat in the house: even the power-fold third row has
bountiful padding, never feeling like a penalty box. If the cooled
seats don’t take the edge off a summer’s Heatwave, plug your iPod into
the THX-infused SYNC audio system and those Boogie Nights will get Too
Hot to Handle. This has been the Navigator’s promise since the
beginning, Always and Forever.

And it stays that way, even when it moves. The Navigator is a
rolling library, a blank canvas for your funky music, a child’s DVD, or
an enlightened conversation on what non-SUVs the government shall build
with the remains of General Motors. Or perhaps discussing what idiotic
alphanumeric name Lincoln should apply to the Navigator to screw up
their last bastion of American luxury?

Still, everyone stays happy. But more importantly, the driver never
falls asleep. The latest Navigator sports firmer steering and better
controlled body motions than its predecessor. If taking a sweeper in a
Boxster is like Dancing with the Stars, the Navigator L is akin to a
warm hug from Santa Claus: it still feels good.

While improved dynamics compromise the ever-important highway waft,
emergency maneuvers don’t require a diaper for adult-sized accidents.
The optional 20? wheels may help turn-in, but their banging on pavement
joints say the 18? hoops are better for this rig’s modus operandi.

Which is like living amongst Lotus Eaters: always suspended in a
state of bliss. Relative to the Escalade’s small block beast, the
Lincoln’s 5.4L V8 fails to impress. But with 310 horsepower and a
reassuring 365lb·ft of torque mated to a buttery smooth 6-speed
autobox, this SUV never runs out of breath. While great for stoplight
launches, the short first gear translates into effortless SeaRay
retrievals from any boat ramp. And towing? Yeah, it’s got that too.

Load up the Navigator and let the air suspension equalize the load.
Prodigious disc brakes keep an overloaded Navigator in check, but fuel
economy in the double digits is not a foregone conclusion. At the other
extreme, I hyper-miled my way to 22 mpg with the cruise control on, the
A/C off, and the cooled seat in super-chill mode.

So Lincoln’s premier SUV is still exactly “what a luxury car should
be.” And given the tumultuous times, that might be enough: a post
Chapter 11 GM won’t have the stones to make a Cadillac Escalade in this
political climate. Maybe the full size SUV is a low volume niche that
will be filled by the last man standing?

Surprise! If Ford’s (silent) commitment to the unbelievably
profitable Panther chassis is any indication, will the Navigator own
this niche like the Town Car after the Cadillac Fleetwood bit the dust
in 1996?

If so, I’m down. The Lincoln Navigator L is an eminently
comfortable, capable and unbelievably luxurious machine. Both Lincoln
and Cadillac survived The Great Depression, so maybe our current
recession is no match for one of America’s best examples of automotive