Lincoln and “driving dynamics” in the same sentence? Yep. The '03 Aviator starts with the body-on-frame platform of the Ford Explorer, but engineers spent three years developing its unique characteristics, over and above the 50% shared components with the Explorer.

“We put a lot of money in suspension and steering components,” says J.D. Shanahan, vehicle engineering manager-Lincoln SUV. Defining characteristics — steering, styling, suspension, noise/vibration/harshness — are different, he stresses.

The Aviator's version of the all-aluminum 4.6L V-8 has a DOHC cylinder head, compared with a 2-valve setup for Explorer, and the intake system is unique on the modular, dual-overhead-cam engine assembled in Romeo, MI.

For Aviator, the V-8 generates 302 hp and 300 lb.-ft. (407 Nm) of torque and is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission.

The SUV comes in 2- and all-wheel-drive configurations, with AWD expected to account for 65% to 70% of the mix. Body control is enhanced by 4-wheel independent suspension with coil springs and monotube dampers, as well as speed-sensitive, variable-assist ZF Servotronic II rack-and-pinion steering.

Aviator launches with best-in-class front and third-row seating and towing capacity (7,300 lbs. [3,312 kg]), says Marketing Manager Mike Crowley. The numbers better the BMW X5, Acura MDX, Mercedes M-Class and upcoming Lexus RX 330.

Big brother Navigator set the course, with 60% of its customers new to the Lincoln brand. The expectation is Aviator will attract 70% new-to-brand buyers, says Crowley, half from within Ford Motor Co. — 35% from other Ford brands and 15% from Lincoln.

Cross-shopping Explorer, Aviator and Mountaineer is expected to be “miniscule,” says Chris Theodore, vice president-Ford North American Product Development.

Aviator is being assembled at St. Louis, which is slated for closure mid-decade. Theodore would not confirm Aviator production will move to Louisville, KY, which also assembles Explorer and Mountaineer.

Lincoln also is readying delivery of the freshened '03 LS rear-drive luxury sedan.

LS offerings have been trimmed to four models from the '02 lineup's 11, says Crowley. The idea was to simplify the model range and to delineate between the plush V-6 models that start below $35,000 and the V-8 powered sedans for enthusiasts.

The V-8 starts with a sport package and a price in the $40,000 range — where many competitors price their V-6s, says Crowley.

The '03 LS has 500 systems or components that have been upgraded, says Al Kammerer, director-Lincoln-Mercury product development.

The V-6 and V-8 engines, now with 232 hp and 280 hp, respectively (previously 210 hp and 252 hp), adopt variable intake cam timing and drive-by-wire electronic throttle control.

As with Aviator, steering, braking and NVH were priorities for the LS.

All are 5-speed automatics — gone is the manual-transmission (V-6 only) — and all sport 17-in. wheels. Storage space has been doubled and the LS marks the first automotive application of THX audio technology developed by filmmaker George Lucas.