The majority of our 10 test vehicles featured pleasing and well-thought-out interior amenities. One SUV's interior, however, was definitely a cut above. Many of the testers on our staff used such superlatives as "wow," "awesome," and "sweet," when stepping into the Lincoln Navigator for the first time. The Navigator's interior design and setup is both unique and impressive. The interior mixes genuine American walnut burl, premium leather trim, and satin nickel finishes. High-tech white lighting is used for the cabin switches, controls, and instruments. For seating, there are optional bucket seats for second-row passengers, and a power-folding third seat is available.
Other interior features include an instrument panel that is attached to a three-layer metal and plastic laminate dash panel called Silent Steel, instead of stamped steel, to dampen sound. In addition, a lightweight magnesium crossbeam is used to hold the instrument panel in place, greatly minimizing squeaks, rattles, and steering column vibration.
A real standout of the interior is the use of Lincoln's White Interior Lighting setup. This employs the use of white LEDs for illumination of controls and switches in the cabin. There are more than 100 white LEDs throughout the interior of the Navigator. The legend for each control is laser-etched into its satin nickel surface and appears black in daylight. At dusk and dawn, the LEDs are automatically illuminated at four times normal intensity to enhance contrast and visibility.
Each year that we conduct our SUV of the Year testing and evaluation, the field of test vehicles becomes more sophisticated, technologically advanced, and more impressive. This year's batch of new-for-'03 SUVs was the most exciting yet, and all the vehicles in the group were outstanding in a number of ways. We would like to mention a few of the most notable:
· Hats off to Mitsubishi for creating the Outlander compact SUV. It really stands out from the rest and brings new excitement to the mini sport utility crossover niche.
· Honda's Pilot is chock full of exceptional features. Like the Acura MDX from which it is derived, the Pilot impressed all of the editors with its well-thought-out list of amenities.
· The XC90 is a bold step for Volvo to create a true SUV that certainly stands up to any of its competition.
· The Land Rover Discovery and Ford Expedition redesigns are light years ahead of their older designs, with a number of impressive innovations.
· Cadillac's Escalade ESV and the Chevy TrailBlazer EXT capitalize on the strengths of their smaller brothers, only bigger.