(first posted 4/1/21. Comment numbers don’t necessarily equal “best”, but this drew some of the most comments of my articles this year) Businesses traditionally have made their money and kept in business by providing customers with things they want. People will pay good money for things they want, and providing them is really an excellent strategy for any company. I know that’s an absurdly obvious point, but it’s easy to lose sight of that when talking about full-size SUVs, since for so many motorists, they are clearly more of a want than a need. How many people do you see using their full capacities? Even more so with the luxury variants, does anybody really need one? How many of us have passed judgement at one time or another on the builders or owners of these rolling monuments to excess?
I’ve been plenty judgmental of luxury SUVs myself, as well as the whole SUV and crossover trend. As a car guy, I’ve lamented the ever winnowing passenger car lines and the takeover of our roads by tall boxes. On the other hand, I am also generally a free market guy and this trend, while embraced and promoted by automakers, has certainly been driven by consumer demand. I believe choice is a good thing and a huge portion of people choose SUVs, including the biggest, poshest ones. They love ’em, so who am I to judge? (Full disclosure: Our family owns a Toyota Highlander, because I’m not about to die on the hill of telling my wife she can’t drive the vehicle she wants to!)
In that spirit of enthusiastic ambivalence, today’s article will kick off a short series on big SUV’s and the flagships that emerged as they slowly started to take over the universe.
The Lincoln Navigator was the first American luxury-brand SUV to come out in the 90’s, and at least in the early years, the most successful. So, we’ll look at it first and some quick highlights of the vehicles that led to it.
First generation Navigators were made from 1998-2002, in large numbers, so even 20 years on they are not too hard to find. It is getting hard to find one in really excellent condition, though. I prefer profiling great looking examples in my articles, but I haven’t run across a primo ‘Gator parked, so I am embracing the fact that these early ones have fallen down to the very bottom rung of the used car ladder and don’t have much old-car hobby interest that I know of. The featured white 1999 model I found is gloriously decrepit, and also sports some extra bling that an owner along the way applied to try to boost the image of a vehicle that was so much about image. The black 2000 is a little nicer and totally stock and the owner was friendly enough to let me photograph the interior.
As a Jeep fan, I think the Navigator’s original DNA started with the Wagoneer, introduced in 1963, and the Wagoneer Limited, introduced in 1978. The Wagoneer was the first 4×4 truly civilized enough for use as a family wagon. The Limited was the first SUV explicitly marketed as a luxury vehicle.
When the original Wagoneer was succeeded in 1984 by a downsized generation, the new compact SUV was almost as ground-breaking as its forebear had been, especially in four door form. There was nothing else quite like it at the time.
The next big jump was Ford’s own 1991 Explorer. It took the basic packaging of the Wagoneer/Cherokee (and Chevy’s S-10 Blazer among others) and added a clearly street-tuned suspension and enough refinement and features to make it more of a family car alternative to ever-increasing numbers of buyers and a huge hit for Ford. The Explorer and its Mercury Mountaineer clone could be had with leather seats and enough content to be considered near-luxury.
The Explorer was seen by lots of folks as a passenger car alternative, but it was not a high capacity vehicle. It could hold only 5 passengers and not a whole lot of cargo volume or trailer rating. Ford’s full-size SUV was the Bronco, which was a relic from the 70’s and 80’s. It’s a cult classic for enthusiasts like us now, but in the 90’s, as a two-door on an archaic chassis, it was not at all a family car alternative.
With the SUV market exploding in the 90’s, GM wisely cut the Suburban down to a more manageable size to create the 1995 Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon. GM then had a very viable four-door full-size SUV for families as an alternative to the traditional wagon. And it was so much hipper than a minivan! Ford hadn’t competed with GM’s Suburban, so they had nothing in the category to work with. They knew they had to get in the game and did so in a big way upon the release of their new 1997 F150.
Ford hit a home run with the 1997 Expedition. It shared much of its clean-sheet design with the new F150, but was said to share only 50% of its parts. Most of those parts were from the dash forward, with the most notable underskin departure rearward being its own coil sprung rear suspension mounted to a unique fully-boxed frame. It was over a foot shorter than a Suburban, but compared to a Tahoe, it was an inch wider, 5.5 inches longer, and approximately 500lbs heavier. Like the Explorer, the Expedition was a big hit, selling more than the Tahoe and Yukon combined for its first three years (though if you throw Suburbans into the equation, GM still sold more large SUVs).
Lest one think the size difference with the Explorer was not substantial, this photo does a good job of dispelling that notion.
The Expedition shared its engines with the F-150, which were new truck applications for the Modular V8 which had been in use with Ford’s rear wheel drive cars for several years. The SOHC 4.6L version was standard for Expeditions, but Navigators all came with the SOHC 5.4L. At introduction, it was rated at 230hp which was a bit meager for a 5,500lb heavyweight. In the Navigator’s second year, it was upgraded to 260hp and then upgraded again the same year to the DOHC version good for 300hp. Still no hot rod Lincoln, but it did make it move out with a bit more appropriate alacrity.
The Expedition advanced the state of the art for large SUVs significantly: comparatively sleek aerodynamics, the aforementioned overhead cam engines and rear coil springs with optional air springs, four wheel disc brakes, available fully automatic four wheel drive, third row seating as well as convenience and safety items like adjustable seat belts, turn signals embedded in heated side view mirrors, rear audio controls and cup holders.
It’s tempting to credit Lincoln with innovation for being the first domestic luxury-badged SUV. They certainly beat Cadillac to the punch (which will be the subject of part 2 in this series), but they were not the first to the U.S. market with a luxury-brand SUV in the 90’s. Lexus, Infiniti, Acura and Mercedes all released theirs earlier, though the Navigator would have been in development well before those hit their dealerships 6-18 months before Lincoln’s. (BTW, if anyone can find an Acura SLX, it would be a real CC prize. It’s an Isuzu Trooper clone, sold in tiny numbers and has never been featured on CC.)
In any case, the Navigator was released about a year after the Expedition. To my eyes, the first gen Navigator always looked like a very thinly disguised Expedition, so I was surprised after a little research to learn that it has its own hood, front fenders, and tailgate, plus all the non-metallic bumper covers, trim, and cladding are unique.
The interior is where the Navigator really (in)distinguishes itself. The Expedition in top Eddie Bauer trim had leather seats and most everything the Navigator had. The dash, console, and seat structure are the same.
The differences I’ve been able identify are a partially wood steering wheel with cruise, audio and climate controls (Expeditions only have cruise on the wheel), small amounts of real wood trim on the dash, doors and console, a digital clock on the dash, electronic HVAC controls and different seat patterns with softer leather. The jagged hole in the dash seen here on the ’99 is optional.
The Navigator also came standard with rear bucket seats and a three person third row bench, which were both optional on the Expedition (split bench second row was no-cost Navigator option). That’s a center console, not a porta-potty. This certainly looks like a comfy place to log some miles, even without the convenience of a toilet back there.
The Navigator got great reviews when new in terms of its comfort and capacity. It was an overachiever in consuming baggage and highway miles in serene comfort. All that capacity came with the expense of needing about 5,500lbs of vehicle to supply it, with an attendant EPA rating of 12city/16hwy (13/17 with 2WD). Motor Trend’s long term tester averaged 13.1 mpg over 27,000 miles, which included a fair amount of highway trips and towing. It did have a 30 gallon tank, though! As the saying goes, if you have to ask how much it costs [to keep it filled up], you can’t afford it.
According to Motor Trend’s owner survey as part of their Long Term Test, 54% of owners stated they never took their Navigator off pavement and 9% stated they did frequently. That 54% is less than I would have thought, but perhaps some owners are reluctant to admit they never take their four wheel drive truck off road.
So, if the Navigator was not terribly distinguishable from the Expedition, was it a good value? A road test of a 1997 Eddie Bauer Expedition 4×4 loaded with every available option showed a list price of $38,440, add about $1,400 for the rise in base prices in 1998. A 1998 Navigator 4×4 cost $42,660 and equipped to match the loaded Expedition was about $45,000. That’s a shade over $5,000 difference, which netted the exterior and interior differences mentioned earlier, an additional year of bumper to bumper warranty (4/50)/roadside assistance, hopefully a bit more solicitous dealer service experience and the intangible prestige of the Lincoln badge.
A base engine Range Rover started at $56k, a Land Cruiser $41.5k and a Lexus LX $49k, all of which were less capacious and slower than the Navigator. The GMC Yukon Denali cost almost exactly the same (more on that in a future article). The Lexus RX300, Infiniti QX4, Acura MLX and Mercedes ML were all less expensive, but were in a smaller size class.
I think a case could be made that the Navigator was not an unreasonable value if a fancy, roomy longroof truck was your thing. Enough shoppers agreed to make the Lincoln a big hit. They sold well over 40,000 the first year, which was enough to push Lincoln’s production past Cadillac in 1998 for the first time ever (a big deal to both parties!). The first year was its best year ever as it enjoyed the relative lack of competition. Lean times would come later, but the first generation Navigator created a very strong brand and even a cultural phenomenon. The brand was strong enough to keep its real name when all the other Lincolns save Town Car went to MKwhatever names.
The Navigator was a boon for Lincoln and a big profit booster. Naturally, it was later joined in the showroom by the Explorer-based Aviator with more crossover SUVs to follow. In Navigator’s second year, Town Car and Continental sales began uninterrupted yearly drops. That’s the rub with SUVs: what starts as a welcome addition to the showroom soon begins to consume the cars around it. For Lincoln, the car losses would be greater than the SUV gains as they have yet to come close to matching 1998’s total sales again. The car consumption was finally completed in 2020 as the SUVs gobbled up the Continental and have no low vehicles left to look down on.
I’ll conclude with this trivia: The Navigator brand name was more than just an empty title implying an active lifestyle! It was fittingly the first Ford product to be outfitted, optionally and not frequently, with a CD-ROM GPS navigation system. It was offered in 2001, but I haven’t been able to definitely confirm that was the first year. Placement in the center console was exactly the opposite of today’s screens sticking up out of the top of the dash.
In part 2 of the series, we’ll look at the Navigator’s number one competitor.
1999 and 2000 Navigators photographed in Houston, TX 2/4/21 and 3/5/21, respectively.
The white Gator reminds me of a Lincoln Mark LT pickup I spotted a couple of years ago. Showing wear, it had been pressed into service by an aluminum siding contractor. It was complete with a ladder rack sporting a brake, as well as a tool chest in the box. Time marches on and owes nothing to original status.
I see them now and then here in SoCal. I caught this one on the freeway a couple years back – wasn’t able to see if there was commercial info on the side but it was in service and appeared to be in excellent condition.
Awful. Just awful vehicles made to be junked. I’m thinking a SUV themed demolition derby would be very entertaining.
In my opinion, a Curbside Classic should be presented with enthusiasm, not ambivalence. This was harsh and unfair to the Navigator.
You mean like the enthusiasm in my GM Deadly Sins?
I thought of that.
When you write it up as a Deadly Sin, it’s clearly a critical review from the get go.
Imho the Navigator is not Deadly Sin. I took the Deadly Sin series to be a series of often related poor and destructive marketing decisions. Many of the cars themselves were quite good, but just the wrong product at the time.
By comparison the Navigator was exactly the right product for the time and was successful, even though it seems most owners didn’t need its capabilities. That’s the point of this article, the Navigator was exactly what buyers wanted, even though it’s size, flamboyance and inefficiency are offensive.
The minivan trend of the 80s and 90s was a welcome trend. But imho civilization took a giant step backwards when millions of consumers opted for giant SUVs instead of the minivan, which was much more appropriate for their needs.
It’s a good thing most “SUVs” are car-based CUVs that are smaller than minivans, then.
More of a Deadly Meh?
With the exception of some Automotive History posts, most of what gets produced here at Curbside can be considered to be “opinion” pieces representing the opinion of their author. A raw recitation of facts would be dry and get dull rather quickly.
There’s always an opportunity for someone to write a rebuttal post. We’ve had multiple point-counterpoint pieces over the years (the 1971 LTD comes to mind), and these are always great reads.
That’s not why I’m a regular reader here. I enjoy reading author’s different takes from my own, it challenges my viewpoint and the constructive discussion/debate of in comments is stimulating. I’m not into automotive sites that just have a universal gushing opinion on everything written about, those just feel like echo chambers where curbside always feels fresh.
Personally I think the Navigator was the only appealing product Lincoln had in the late 90s-early 00s, especially with the Lincoln exclusive DOHC 5.4 engine, the sedan line seemed to only appeal to livery services and the elderly or in the case of the LS the same market that Cadillac sedans aimed at – BMW buyers who were too patriotic to buy foreign cars, which wasn’t a very lucrative market.
Having endured a 600 mile highway trip behind the wheel of a then-new 2000 Expedition Eddie Bauer model, I respectfully disagree with Vanillaman’s comment above. To each his own and all that, and it’s only one man’s opinion, but even my father who owned the thing agreed that it was a miserable vehicle. It was replaced in ’04 with an AWD Pacifica Limited, which was a different class of vehicle with a highly improved class of driveability.
I have no doubt that the Pacifica was more refined (and car-like) than either the Expedition or the Navigator, but I still see these Expeditions and Navigators on the road around here, while the first-generation Pacificas have disappeared.
Interior of 1999 Navigator showing standard features
I find it notable that while the “toilet” rear console (sans cupholders) was reused in the King Ranch and Harley-Davidson SuperCrew F-150s, the full front console attached to the dash was not. A “flow-through” console would have to wait until 2004.
The styling of the Navigator and Expedition of this era always looked more… obese, for lack of a better term, than the similarly behemoth GM full-size SUVs. Maybe it’s the more rounded styling?
As for the rear seat, I suppose anything’s a porta-potty, if you’re brave enough.
Value is an interesting concept in regards to luxury vehicles. When a product is clearly of high quality at a conspicuously low price like the original LS400, I consider that value. When a product is a thinly veiled rebadge of a lower end and cheaper feeling model, like this Navigator, I don’t see value in that. But, as written, they sold, were profitable, and gave people what they wanted, even if it was a cachet I personally wouldn’t want to be associated with.
An Eddie Bauer Expedition suggested to me that the owner found financial success and used it on a trendy, pricey, but somewhat understated vehicle. A Navigator suggested the owner didn’t realize they overspent to get a look and a badge that didn’t earn much respect anyway. Not as gaudy and absurd as the Escalade, but a similar concept.
The right product at the right time. After 20 years of Panther Town Cars the big Lincoln sedan was old hat. After 25 years of Mercedes and BMW sedans in professional parking lots the “luxury” sedan was old hat. A new generation wanted something different from what their parents drove. Nothing new under the sun.
And, luxury cars were beginning to show their weakness to the wealthy. In my (moderately) high flying corporate days, I can contrast five big guys being crammed in a 1995 DeVille with my first experience being in a loaded Suburban with some custom mods. Suddenly, the Cadillac was exposed for what it was and the Chevy was a far more luxurious experience.
For me, a car guy that recalled what was a big Lincoln had been, I found the Navigator both compelling as well as a return to what a big American car had been capable of….
Thanks for that ad, I like that! Towing an Airstream with a 71 Lincoln, sounds like an awesome trip.
My Dad had that exact car and it was pretty spacious inside, especially compared to the cramped interior of the Mark V that followed it. Here it is in a slightly different setting than the one in the ad…
What a coincidence! I found the same image, of your Dad’s wonderful Lincoln, on-line and, have it saved, in one of my albums. (Great-looking automobile, btw…even, from this distance.)
Very interesting from a number of perspectives.
First, Navigators are new enough that I remember my reaction to them when they first debuted, and I thought the concept was utterly ridiculous. Maybe it was, but if so, then ridiculous sells. These weren’t the flop I expected but instead led the way for more of its kind. Oh well.
Second, it’s awfully interesting to gaze upon the recent past and wonder if any of us would have guessed that the Lincoln lneup would become almost entirely SUVs just two decades after these featured Navigators were made.
Third… that navigation system. I remember renting a car with a similar navigation system around 1999 or so, and I thought it was the neatest thing in the world.
Finally, your comment about it being hard to find aged Navigators in good condition is interesting. That’s certainly true where I live as well, but what I find amusing is that it’s easy to find Town Cars of a similar vintage that are immaculate – and the drivers aren’t always (or even often) elderly. It’s interesting to me how two Lincolns seemingly take different trajectories as well-used cars.
Regarding their status as used cars – I’m guessing that, for well over a decade now, people who drive old Town Cars actively sought them out on the used car market, and took good care of them as a result. Their original owners were most likely elderly, and not the type to abuse their vehicles.
Even by the late 1990s a domestic, body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive sedan was not a common sight (at least, one that wasn’t a taxi cab, police car or livery vehicle).
This Navigator was somewhat trendy when new. It was discarded when the next hot thing came along, and then was treated as a typical used vehicle. Meaning, it was used until it was used up. And with the debut of the Escalade, and GM”s promotion of the GMC line, large luxury SUVs haven’t been a rare thing for a some time.
Just today I saw a late 90s-early 2000s Town Car outside a Dollar General store. The wheels are what caught my eye and I thought they would look sharp on my newer Crown Victoria. But when the driver started the engine it sounded like a diesel. My Crown Victoria has at least 185K miles on it but I take care of it. It is so sad when folks buy expensive cars they can’t afford to maintain.
Jon, I can’t wait for your write-up on the original Escalade. If you think the Navigator was a “very thinly disguised Expedition”, I can only imagine your thoughts on the Escalade! Cadillac’s efforts to transform a Yukon were more lame than Lincoln trying to turn a Granada into a Versailles.
I can remember very clearly the first time I saw one of these in the wild–on the Tollway in Far North Dallas–and I remember wondering what it was and thinking it was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. Twenty some odd years later, I know what it is, but it’s still ugly, even if maybe no longer in contention for ugliest ever…
The 98-02 Navigator’s front end was shaped quite a bit different from the Expedition, I always found that a better effort than the Escalade, especially the original incarnation. The 2003 restyle looked a lot more generic. The thing I always found really questionable about the styling was the life imitates art taillight treatment mimicking the wagon Queen family truckster
That is hilarious! I never made that connection!
haha… i never noticed that connection as well. Now a part of me wants to find a used Navi, paint it Metallic Pea and add all sorts of Di-Noc to the sides, rear, and hood of it!
I too remember these from when they came out. I knew it was a blinged-up Expedition, but hey – if that’s what buyers want, then OK.
My problem was always with the nuts and bolts of the vehicle rather than the badge. It was my impression that the Expedition (and thus the Navigator) aged badly in comparison with the Suburban/Tahoe. I can remember during one of my used car searches cheap Expeditions were all over the place, mostly because they had things wrong with them. Suburbans and Tahoes were much more expensive to buy used – which usually means a more durable vehicle.
I also found the sizing kind of odd – I viewed the Suburban and Tahoe as serving two distinct niches, and saw the Ford as trying to straddle and hitting neither niche really well. They certainly were not as roomy as a Suburban until Ford finally came out with the Expedition EL in the next generation.
The Continental was more a victim of the company’s own failures than the success of the Navigator and its ilk (in my opinion). After all, it was conceived and launched well after the SUVs became successful. But when it was launched it turned out to be FWD based, rather than what was originally proposed, and possibly worse, at the same exact time the front end of the MKZ was redesigned to look just like the new Continental and thus massively diluted the potential appeal of it being something different and unique. Never mind that the MKZ itself was just wrong in shape and style as compared to everything else in that showroom and barely any more car than a loaded up Fusion. In short, zero sense of direction, plan or vision as to what Lincoln wanted to or should be.
As it stands, pretty much all of Lincoln seems more like a rebadged fancy Ford product and a few things that should be available at Ford to compete with its competition are Lincoln only (such as the Plug In Hybrid Escape with AWD). Sorry but that market is completely different, a Toyota RAV4 intender may perhaps look at a Ford Escape but is doubtful to be interested in (or want to pay for) any Lincoln, at least when new.
No doubt the Navigator helped Ford to pay a lot of bills. All that extra coin coming in may well be a contributing factor to them not filing the big BK in the late 2000’s. So enjoy it for what it did for the company as a whole. How’s Lincoln doing in general? I remember hearing a LOT about the new (current) Aviator and how it would reset the midsize luxury SUV market but very rarely see it on the streets, the Telluride and Palisade seemed to steal its thunder with far from luxury badges but a far lower price. I drove the current Expedition and loved it, but also thought it was just fine as is, with little need to pay more for a Lincoln version with extra bling hung on it.
The Town Car was great, I suppose, but relying on it for so long also left Lincoln with an image that it’s best suited for “luxury” taxis, a far cry from what it was back in the day. And riding in several with a couple of hundred thousand miles on the clock didn’t leave one with a particularly “luxurious” feeling unfortunately, just another clapped out Panther with a shiny coat of black paint.
Lincoln has sold 15,405 vehicles through the end of February. Only 1,317 of them were passenger cars – leftover MKZs and Continentals.
Not a stellar sales performance, but I’d wager that most of those sales are retail as opposed to fleet, and given that Lincolns share Ford platforms, the additional Lincoln sales add nicely to Ford’s bottom line. There are few standalone Lincoln dealers, so I’d also wager that Ford dealers do not want to give up their Lincoln franchise. Lincoln isn’t setting the world on fire, but it’s most likely profitable enough to justify its continued existence.
Good points. I have read a number of really positive reviews on the Aviator, with the theme that they are well distiguished in good ways from the Explorer. I know what you mean, I haven’t seen a lot on the street. Seems like I see more new Navigators than Aviators.
Sorry guys if some of us have more than two kids and need a larger vehicle. Sorry if you are offended when I use the family vehicle without them. Sometimes I need a vehicle to tow a travel trailer. Sorry if you are offended when I use that tow vehicle without actually towing something.
You want me to buy more than one vehicle? Is that it? I’m supposed to have more than one vehicle and have your permission to drive the larger one around when the other ones won’t do?
Reality. There is nothing wrong with a large family vehicle. This is a perfectly acceptable answer to someone who has a large family and has to get somewhere with all of them and their stuff, maybe even pull a boat or a camper. The fact that you might see my wife shopping by herself in it doesn’t mean that she is flamboyant, has an attitude, or is out to offend you.
SUVs are popular because they are big, comfortable and roomy for when you need it. They’re more popular than cars. As someone who has spent decades in small cars, I love them. I’m not going back. Just spent the weekend tooling around the Ozarks with my family of 6. Room for everyone and everything. Safe, comfortable and if you break down that gas mileage by the people inside – EFFICIENT.
It is tiresome to keep hearing how I’m immoral for raising a family, taking them on trips and doing it in a big vehicle. The mini-van is too small. The kids are growing. They have more stuff. They want some room. Stop judging us for doing what you do in your littler cars.
My editorial tone may have been a bit judgemental, but I am certainly not intending to condemn all owners of full size SUV’s. While there are plenty of folks who routinely use them to their full capability, us oddballs who closely observe the automotive landscape are aware that there are plenty of others who don’t. This is probably more the case with the luxury variety. Some people buy big just to have the biggest thing on the road, not because they need it. I know, because I’ve always liked big cars and have had plenty that were bigger than I really needed. I am a free marketer and believe people can buy what they want using their own criteria, cause it’s their car. But I still find myself being a little judgemental at times, as I think many people on this forum have. SUVs are interesting how they are so functional but get so much scorn too. Hence the ambivalent tone I was going for.
This is the first in a series. I’m trying not to hash through all the thoughts in my head on SUVs in one article but rather spread them out over what will be 4 or 5 articles. Probably the 4th article will be on the biggest SUV of them all, where I plan to present the affirmative rational argument for them.
“…since for so many motorists, they are clearly more of a want than a need. How many people do you see using their full capacities? Even more so with the luxury variants, does anybody really need one? How many of us have passed judgement at one time or another on the builders or owners of these rolling monuments to excess?”
Excuse me for reading that and seeing the photos of the trashed out Navigators and reacting to it negatively. I was just being a bit judgmental.
This is my final comment – for decades now we have been reading about how people want these vehicle, but don’t need them. Why do these vehicles evoke such a response? Did we have people standing around passing judgment on muscle car buyers? Do we berate older people for even buying cars, “why are you buying a car when you probably won’t live long enough to wear it out?” Did Hollywood celebrities have to justify their Duesenberg’s, Packards, Rolls Royces, or Cadillacs?
What is it about these vehicles that entice a buyer who doesn’t need them – to buy them? What is it about these vehicles that make people burn them in dealer lots, vandalize them in driveways and hate on the buyers without knowing the needs behind the purchases?
If we want to discuss large luxury SUVs, then we need to consider the unfair and ignorant visceral responses so often hurled at them.
I don’t have time to explain it, but here’s an article that lays out some of the issues that big pickups and big SUVs have created in the minds of some.
I’m not doing this to take sides, but simply to offer at least a partial explanation to your question. There are other issues too.
The Bloomberg piece is an interesting read. There are all sorts of psychological, behavioral and sociological reasons that people buy the vehicles they do that have little to do with actual needs.
It seems that the current political polarization in the country, where extreme elements have become more powerful at the expense of moderates, has a similar parallel in the vehicle industry. Mega trucks/SUV’s and smallish EV/hybrids are quite popular, at the expense of intermediate and full size sedans.
I read the article and it was initially a strong presentation. It reminded me of an attempt to write about firearms by authors couldn’t remain neutral against their subject. It seems that these vehicles are being seen as offensive political symbols, not vehicles. This article was written to feign a neutrality while also justifying the feelings of those who are offended.
We’ve seen aggressive auto styling through the years. The “Bro-dozer” look on today’s trucks and SUVs has reached cartoonish levels. But equating it with politics is wrong and writers living in Manhattan don’t understand what millions of owners do understand, and quoting social scientists is asking the wrong people.
“Why do these vehicles evoke such a response? Did we have people standing around passing judgment on muscle car buyers? Do we berate older people for even buying cars, “why are you buying a car when you probably won’t live long enough to wear it out?” Did Hollywood celebrities have to justify their Duesenberg’s, Packards, Rolls Royces, or Cadillacs?”
Yes to all?
Muscle cars, née performance cars in general, are regarded by many as promoting reckless driving, Freudian compensation, noise and air polluters, and should be crushed(and have been) if caught engaging in reckless driving to teach the owners a lesson. The elderly are often mocked for driving big land yachts too slowly and mistaking the gas for the brake too often, and therefore should have their licenses revoked at a certain age. I don’t know if there was anyone chastising Golden age Hollywood celebrities for their transportation choices, but it’s quite often criticized when an activist celebrity uses their platform to lecture middle America at every opportunity at an award show, whilst flying to their mansion island by private jet soon after. You didn’t even mention the old stereotypical Prius driver hogging the left lane, or the one I hear all the time “when are you getting rid of that old death trap?”
You and your SUV aren’t a special target for judgemental busybodies, there’s always someone who thinks whatever you drive is the worst thing ever for whatever they most care about, and we both probably have our own opinions to that end.
My thoughts, too. Unless one is following me around all day how does one know how I am using my Expedition. And how is this conceptually any different than the guy in the Porsche 911 stuck next to me in stop-and-go traffic on I-35 every morning? How often does he go cutting through the Tyrolean Alps?
The market seeks what people want and tries to give it to them at a reasonable price point. Considering what lincoln was offering in sedans at this time, is it any wonder this thing took off? The town car was creaky and dated. The ls was. . . It was better than the catera, which isn’t saying much, and it wasn’t much more reliable. The Taurus continental was pretty decent but not exactly lustworthy, then there have been various forgettable lincoln fusions and Tauruses.
Given the way americans actually use their vehicles, a large capacity luxury vehicle does make sense. Sure, perhaps 75 percent of your driving is done one person to work and back, but what about vacations and home depot and Sam’s trips? What about the times we all go to a restaurant or family outings? Do you want to rent a car or take two cars each and every time? Even for your commute, here in Atlanta a GOOD commute is an hour each way every day. Do you want to spend 10 hours every week, 500 hours a year, in a yaris or a navigator? Sure there are in between choices but for the same price we will generally choose extra capacity, extra competence, extra ability.
Regarding the navigation system in the Navigator. Doug Demuro recently did a review on the Lincoln Blackwood, which was based on this generation Navigator/F150. It too also had the same navigation system in it. He did a quick overview of the comical way you would enter in an address, and the hilariously dated graphics and how to zoom in and out on the map.
I had seen that navigation system before. It was the same navigation system that came in our 2001 Range Rover. I’m wondering who developed the system first. RR and then trickled down to the Lincoln, or developed by Ford for all of the Premier Auto Group (a quick google search shows a very similar system in the XK8 at the turn of the century)
Interesting, I had thought the RR had the BMW system, it seems similar to what was in the 740i of the era and they owned RR back then (well, they got out right around then but had owned it and did develop much of the next RR as well).
My first reaction on seeing this: What’s with the gigantic USB slot under the doors?
Eh, the book High and Mighty detailed exactly how “free” the free market was in creating these regulated-as-trucks, used-as-family-cars.
We’re getting a free ride on it and it’s not gonna last forever. Enjoy it while we can.
ANow I cannot un-see that the rear center console looks like a toilet.
The dash looks like it has room for a modern large touch-screen. Large enough to watch TV from the rear toilet. Everything a man needs for a lazy morning.
I don’t remember these being very common around here, and even when they were fairly new they seemed to age quickly. The plastic parts often were tattered and cracked; early rust, that kind of thing. Maybe they just weren’t well cared for, but for those reasons these just seemed kind of cheap to me. By comparison I saw (still do) see Tahoes from the same era in cleaner comdition (though they have now caught up with the rustiness) They either are much more durable or just loved more by their owners. Perhaps a little of both.
Matchbox did produce a decent 1/64 version which was nice. I had one in my collection until one day I realized I didn’t care about it and stole its large wheels for a project car. Left it on tiny bricks until the 1/64 NYC tow-truck (a GMC) impounded it.
I know, that console can only ever look like a toilet to me now!
Your Matchbox city sounds like an interesting place.
Re: why do people hate these cars so much? I think ome reason is not so much we dislike the vehicle but we dislike the kind of karen driving the vehicle. You know this thing is driven by some suburban Karen.
For me, I always disliked the Navigator and Escalade’s interiors and build quality. They were very good values, but they sucked spectacularly compared to foreign competitors, including the INFINITI QX56/80, initially. These early Navigators were particularly egregious, and the early Escalade was quite literally a Yukon Denali with Escalade badges, because Cadillac had been caught off guard by the Navigator.
The K2XX (2015-2020) Escalade was a half-step in the right direction, but it still wasn’t especially luxurious.
Now, with the new Navigator (2018+) and Escalade (2021+), it seems Detroit has finally figured out how to put class-appropriate interiors in these vehicles…fitting, since they cross the $100K threshold these days.
It’s not about “hate”, but for one thing many people want to know why they are tax-advantaged for white-collar workers in a way that cars or smaller vehicles are not.
And, just to put one thing out there, (in other forums) people I’ve noticed are not acknowledging the relationship between buying a 6000 GVWR truck as a passenger car and the “need” to keep gas at, say, $2 a gallon, and when it goes up, there’s a massive freakout about “pain at the pump”.
They are not tax advantaged for a white collar “worker”, but they are for anyone that owns a business or income producing endeavor that they can claim a legitimate use of the vehicle for. If it’s over 6000lbs or a pickup truck then the cost can be taken as 100% depreciation in the year of purchase (new or used by the way). A passenger car or lower weight SUV gets depreciated over time, but many midsize SUV/CUVs qualify. This was phased in mainly after 9/11 to get businesses mostly to purchase what was produced here in the US and get things moving again. Gasoline is a 100% expense item as well or the standard mileage deduction can be taken but people complain about it as it’s a highly visible expense.
So a landscaper or even a landlord with several rental properties can easily claim a pickup truck (new or used) as a depreciation expense against profits as it can be (and likely is) used for work. A drywaller or painter can do the same as can any contractor, many use older “luxury” SUVs like this one as they are cheaper than pickup trucks. A Realtor qualifies to the extent that the vehicle is used for actual business use and are almost exclusively 1099’d or self-employed rather than traditional “employees” of a firm (and pay taxes and other aspects of self-employment that are not even on the radar of those working for others and collecting a paycheck/benefits as do all other self-employed individuals). A software engineer working for Google would not qualify, nor would a teacher, or an accountant unless they had a sidegig. A lawyer? It probably depends on what kind of law they practice and how important transportation is to that.
A business that makes deliveries of any kind and/or needs supplies can easily claim a truck or SUV even if it’s used by the owner’s wife who handles the payroll internally and never actually gets any actual business use (saw that firsthand at my last employer) since there is also a fleet of real trucks for that.
Note that when the vehicle is sold or traded in, any money recouped is then taxed, so you don’t actually gain the full value unless you run it into the ground and give it away for zero and then buy another. Or more realistically, buy one for $50k, depreciate it, then trade it three years later and get $35k back towards the next $50k one and you take a net depreciation of $15k (the difference) on the next one that year. It’s also not any kind of tax credit, but rather a deduction against expenses, so effectively works as a discount based on the tax level being paid. Is it abused? Yes, surely. Does it help to move a lot of metal? Absolutely. If it didn’t exist, many fleets and owners would likely extend their replacement intervals quite a bit or buy a lower (and less profitable to the manufacturer) trim level, but not necessarily anything smaller – i.e. a well equipped XLT might be fine instead of a King Ranch etc. Or maybe pare the fleet down a little. Still, a fair amount of people don’t realize that even with the deduction in place, they might still be better off financially by purchasing a smaller, non-qualified vehicle and deducting it over time, especially if the choice is between one that holds its value vs one that does not. Math skills are not always strong…
The flipside of the theory was that this creates jobs, all of which pay income taxes (if the vehicle is built here, which is as likely to be an import brand as a domestic these days) and also profits for the manufacturers that in theory as corporations pay income taxes as well and if things are well thought out it produces a greater revenue stream overall for the tax collecting entity. Of course when taxes are cut across the board but exemptions aren’t, that’s when the trouble starts and you run out of ways to pay for the things that people want and a modern first world society should be able to provide.
Okay, some good stuff and I didn’t know I was getting part of that wrong.
However: All car assembly jobs contribute to the economy. More expensive (heavier, in so many cases–there are no cheap Bel Air full size sedans anymore) cars create more profits for automakers per car; so be it, but transportation policy shouldn’t focus on to the exclusion of so much else. The tradeoffs in vehicle mass (damage to life, limb ,property, wear on roads) are getting a bit extreme.
I was unaware that the accelerated depreciation started after 9/11. After two decades maybe it’s time to sunset that extra incentive.
And it’s been almost forty years since the “classified as truck, used for passenger car” were written into law. For one thing, Chrylser told the
government that about a third of their minivans would be cargo models; that was a bit of lying which was never going to occur as they pled.
If so many people use these trucks and love them so much used as passenger cars, isn’t it time to regulate them as such? If they can’t survive in the marketplace without safety and mileage norms for what they’re used for…
I never said I disagreed with you…😀 and don’t believe you (society) can or should get something for nothing in perpetuity. Coincidentally currently putting my money where my mouth is, the Tesla is not over 6000 pounds gvwr (above I left the gvwr text off, that’s what matters, not the weight of the vehicle) and as such does not qualify although we would be eligible. And our truck did qualify but was/is well used with a four-figure price tag. This is more happenstance than anything else, should we find ourselves a certain amount into a higher tax bracket toward the end of a year then it fiscally may make sense to make a purchase if only to get a higher chunk of tax deductions at the higher rate (since taxes are tiered, you pay a cascading higher series of taxes as income increases, the higher tax is only for the next highest chunk, it doesn’t affect the income below the threshold in question.). It still doesn’t mean we’d go whole hog and get something we can’t really justify needing. No f350 dually for us!
I didn’t take that you disagreed with me, and I do appreciate your correction.
BTW the electric car breaks are something which could do with some looking at (I had something earlier but I thought I was dragging on so I edited it out).
Cheers. (Yeah, I can’t make emojis on this thing.)
There was, of course, the Taurus Wagon, which was roomier, faster, and safer than the Gen.1 Explorer, but which couldn’t be had with AWD/4WD, and was quickly rendered unfashionable by the 90s.
Prior to the advent of the Expedition, you could also have your Bronco converted into a four-door, essentially by marrying the cab of an F-150 Crew Cab with the back portion of a Bronco. Ford dealers sold these conversions new, for a pretty penny.
And then, of course, there was the Excursion, which died in 2006 (why they don’t resurrect it, I’ll never know; there’s clearly demand for it)…followed by the Expedition EL in 2007.
F-150s didn’t yet offer crew cabs in the ’90s, aside from conversions by the same Centurion company, so the 4-door Broncos were either made by extending a Bronco frame to accept another set of doors (half-ton models), or by shortening an F-350 crew cab frame to accept a Bronco rear (one-ton models). The Centurion crew cabs either shortened a SuperCab/long bed frame slightly, or lengthened a SuperCab/short bed frame.
Nice article. I especially like the history of the rise of the SUV, starting with the 1963 Wagoneer, 1966 Wagoneer Limited, 1984 Cherokee/Wagoneer, 1991 Explorer, and 1995 Tahoe. The only one missing is the 1996 RAV4.
The really fascinating thing is that none of these vehicles could be considered dramatic game-changers in the usual sense but a plodding, steady encroachment into US vehicle trends away from the traditional sedan (big or small).
Thanks! True, the RAV4 would probably be the first crossover and a significant evolutionary jump, but I was focusing more on the conventional, larger SUVs. The “cute ute” was kind of a different category.
Yeah, the big SUV was definitely evolutionary, as opposed to the RAV4. I don’t think there were any ancestors to the cute ute before the Toyota, so it could easily fall more into the revolutionary category.
Lincoln’s current line up of luxury SUVs are certainly plush and I find them very attractive. Unlike the old Lincolns and Caddys of the ’50s and ’60s these big SUVs can actually seat six or even seven passengers comfortably. They can also carry a bunch of stuff. If you’re going to spoil yourself so that you can travel in comfort and convenience any large SUV can make a good choice. If you can afford the luxury version, then have at it, I would. My niece and her husband just bought a new GMC Denali XL. It makes a lot of sense for them with their three kids, two of which are teens, and their dogs. Might as well enjoy this family time together because we all know that it doesn’t last forever.
Yes, they are usually more than you need, but that is the definition of luxury. Just like owning a large house. We all make do with what we have, I’m still doing that, but nothing wrong with living the Good Life. If you can afford it!