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December 23, 2002

Excessive Excess

It may seem a bit odd to be writing an article so close to Christmas without any mention of the all-pervasive holiday at all. Well, I guess I wrote "My Christmas No-Way-In-Hell Fantasy List" and "Christmas Traditions" articles too soon in the month. I guess I'll just have to learn for next year, say "Happy Holidays to all!" and move on with this article.

Diehard Not From Toronto fans will have picked up on the subtle hints I've slyly included in previous articles and deduced that I hold some distaste for the SUV I drive for its lack of efficiency and fuel economy. Having previously owned much lighter, nimbler, and fuel efficient vehicles before, I've found little love for the two ton beast that inhabits my driveway. It has treated us well, and works well for our purposes for the most part, but feeding its voracious appetite simply to get from point A to point B grates on my environmentally skewed conscious.

With the belief that I was committing terrible environmental crimes every day that I drive it firmly entrenched in my thinking, imagine my jaw-dropping surprise to meet an SUV that made mine look small, minimalist, and entirely reasonable.

Visiting family members have already arrived chez nous for the holiday season. With so many people needing to be ferried hither and yon for additional shopping, dinners, and visits to extended family members, another vehicle with greater capacity than ours was needed. With front bucket seats and a substantial car seat in the back, our SUV can seat five in a pinch. By "pinch" I mean the two people relegated to the back seat have just about no hip and shoulder room thanks to the car seat. If necessary, human adults can survive back there for an hour or so. But with six people needing to be moved, our visitors decided that it would be prudent to rent something that would seat six.

Immediately, you probably think "minivan", right? Well, apparently minivans are popular, and thereby not available at this time, so a substitution was needed. What instead arrived was none other than the gigantic, preposterous, and just altogether huge $70 000+ Lincoln Navigator.

Both my wife and I detested the initial incarnation of the Navigator. Not only was it huge beyond need in our eyes, but also we found it plain ugly. The hulk that showed up a few days ago, however, is the newest version of the Navigator. It looks a bit better, but in all honesty I have been unable to reflect on its aesthetics due to the imposition of other extraneous stimuli.

My first personal encounter with the Navigator was the morning after our visitors arrived. I still had to go to work that day, and with inhospitable weather unsuited for cycling, I drove in to work. This meant that I had to move the Navigator before I could leave. I had heard about the power running boards the new Navigator sported before, but this was my first real encounter with them. Sure, they're novel, but I found them not only excessive but also annoying. As soon as you open a door, the running board quickly descends electronically. As I later commented to our visitors, I'm sure they'd be quite useful for 5'6" soccer moms wearing a skirt to help them get in and out of this beast, but as a 6' man the only thing the running boards did for me was to further increase the depth of the step I needed to make to get in. Effectively, the running boards simply pushed me 6" further away from where I needed to be. Argh. Off button? Haven't found it yet - if it exists.

Although I got a sense of it that morning, it was later that I truly understood how enormous and gadget-y this luxury truck is. After being the designated driver home from dinner one evening, I realized that this vehicle made my SUV feel small and basic. This is quite a feat, as we happened to luck into getting an SUV that is very well appointed. CD and cassette stereo six speaker sound system, leather interior, heated front seats and mirrors, power front seats, power mirrors, power sunroof, running boards, four wheel drive, air conditioning, automatic transmission, and of course power locks and windows. On the scale of what I can typically afford this vehicle would easily qualify as fully equipped.

The Navigator takes this to a whole new level. The aforementioned features seem basic on this lamentably popular and profitable mode of transportation. Take, for example, the driver and front passenger seats. Of course, they are entirely covered in leather, are power actuated, and are heated. It doesn't stop there, however. The driver's side seat can remember up to two positions, and at the push of a button will reset the seat, power mirrors, and power adjustable pedals to either preset position. Both front seats are not just heated, they are heated to one of five levels. What really blew me away was the fact that not only are the seats heated, they are also air conditioned, again to one of five levels. Although I did not test this feature due to the fact that it's mid-December, I can imagine it being useful in August after being parked in the blazing sun at the mall all day.

What else does this monster have? Well, the rear tailgate is power actuated. Instead of having to exert yourself to lift it up, all you need to do is squeeze the handle, and it powers open. To close it, just give a gentle yank on the handhold, and it starts descending, complete with warning beeps to let you know that it's coming down. This particular model came with seating for seven, with captain's chairs in the middle and a 60/40 split bench seat for 3 in the back. To increase the amount of useful cargo space, this rear bench will fold down. By "will fold down" I mean it will fold itself down at the touch of a button. There are two buttons - one for the smaller half, and one for the other half. No needing to actually touch the seats, just hit a button and the rear bench disappears.

Most vehicles with any power controls nowadays have power mirrors. The Navigator is no exception, with a couple twists. The first extra feature I didn't notice right away. Eventually I clued into the fact that when the vehicle is in reverse, both side mirrors angle down to show you exactly what is behind you at ground level. Once a forward gear is selected, they reposition themselves to their previous location. (If that isn't enough to ensure you don't hit anything while backing up, the rear radar will beep if you come too close to something with the rear bumper.) The second twist I can barely fathom the purpose of. With the flick of a switch just below the power mirror adjustment panel, both outside mirrors will fold themselves in towards the body. Why? The only answers I've come up with are for going through carwashes (would you send a $70K+ vehicle through your local carwash?) or trying to squeeze through traffic around town. The mirrors are quite huge, so perhaps it's a fuel savings feature - fold the mirrors in at highway speeds to wring out that extra quarter mile to the gallon.

Dual front zone climate control, separate climate control for the rear seats, separate stereo controls for the middle seats, leather everywhere, automatic headlight control system - the list of features goes on and on and on. I'm sure there are features I'd never know about unless I read the owner's manual. Overall, it presents itself as an orgy of gadgetry and convenience, designed to ensure you're as comfortable as possible with the least amount of effort on your part. I'd call it "decadent", but that doesn't sufficiently capture the sheer excess and indulgence that this brute engenders.

What do I want for Christmas? I suppose asking for legislation to mandate an increase in truck efficiency is a bit much to ask, so how about getting all those people driving Navigators, Excursions, Expeditions, Suburbans, Yukons, Denalis, Envoys, Trailblazers, Bravadas, Sequoias, LX470s, Hummers, Escalades, Blackwoods, X5s, M320s, and Land Cruisers to just park their vehicles and carpool with someone once a week. You'll save yourself some gas, save some wear and tear on your precious vehicle, and make at least one cyclist that much less nervous that day.


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