Contrary to popular belief, bigger is not always better. The proof? The new . As the full-sized Lincoln Navigator SUV's newest and only sibling, the Aviator is for those who prefer their SUVs smaller but still luxurious and amply powered.

The Aviator carries a 4.6-liter V8 that provides 302 hp at 5,750 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm, linked to a five-speed automatic. The engine puts out plenty of power whether maneuvering around slower-moving vehicles on the highway or Sunday drivers on city streets.

The SUV rides on a four-wheel independent suspension comprised of coil springs, monotube dampers, and stabilizer bars, with 17-in. wheels and tires. The suspension soaks up road imperfections with little or no impact to the driver or passengers. Speed-sensitive, variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering gives the Aviator carlike handling, taking corners smoothly and adeptly. Quick stops are possible thanks to four-wheel disc brakes with 13-in. ventilated rotors and twin-piston calipers up front and 12.6-in. rotors and single-piston calipers in the back. ABS and electronic brake-force distribution are also standard. The Aviator comes in four and two-wheel-drive versions. An optional AdvanceTrac traction and stability system is available on all-wheel-drive models.

The Aviator is more than a foot shorter than the Navigator, yet it packs in three rows of seats with plenty of legroom. The third-row seat folds flat, opening up 40.2 ft3 and the opportunity to haul a few bags of mulch and landscaping stones with room to spare.

The Aviator comes in two Series: Luxury and Premium. Our Premium Series Aviator was well-stocked with amenities, including heated and cooled seats; six-way power-adjustable driver and front passenger seats with power lumbar support and memory setting for the driver's seat, side mirrors, brake, and accelerator pedals; and a premium sound system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. The interior is decked out in leather, burl walnut, and satin nickel accents. Deep pockets on the driver and passenger doors and a roomy center console keep your necessities out of sight. Optional equipment included a $1,515 power moonroof and Class III towing package ($295). One feature worth mentioning is the side mirrors. When reversing, the side mirrors dip down to give you a clearer rear view. The mirrors move back to their original position once the vehicle shifts into drive.

The Aviator carries a 22.5-gallon gas tank that requires 91-premium fuel, and is a fairly light sipper. I averaged nearly 300 miles on a single tank of gas. Also, safety hasn't been ignored. The Aviator carries dual-stage front air bags, safety-belt pretensioners, load-limiting retractors, and side-curtain air bags. Base price for the Aviator is $45,865. Add on destination and option charges and you're looking at a $47,675 bottom line. If you're in the market for a midsized luxury SUV, the Aviator is the ticket.

-Sherri Koucky