October 16, 2015

Lincoln Navigator Is Surprisingly Delightful

Lincoln Navigator Is Surprisingly Delightful

Lincoln Navigator pretty-much created the full-size luxury SUV segment in the United States, busting out in 1997 with a chromed-over and leather-upholstered  version of Ford's popular Expedition.  Cadillac reacted quickly with a wreath-and-crest adorned GMC Yukon Denali - the Escalade - that now out-sells the top three competitors beihind it.  Navigator isn't one of them, now out-classed by the Range Rover, Mercedes GL-Class, Lexus LX, and Infiniti QX80.  And while a new aluminum-bodied Navigatior is in the works, the SUV hasn't been completely overhauled in nearly 15 years.  Still, recent updates proves there's still much to like in the old gal.

This generation of Navigator has endured several grille designs, but the current "bow wake" theme that connects it to Lincoln's sedans, and the classic '40 Continental is my favorite.  It's accompanied by HID projector beam headlamps and LED driving lights.  The side profile is as square as a barn, but looks solid over 22-inch wheels and is kept clean with power-deploying running boards.  Around back, full-width LED taillamps reflect tradition.

You can find evidence of the vehicle's age in flat interior door panels, some low-grade plastic, and a general look that dates it, but our truck's Reserve Package came with a wrapped and stitched console, seats, and dual cowl dash.  Deep Zircote wood looks as beautiful as the THX-certified audio system sounds (seriously, the best I've heard in an SUV).  Ford's SYNC system handles navigation, audio, phones, and climate control via touchscreen, voice, or redundant controls.  Praise Abraham, Lincoln left precise silver knobs for volume and tuning.

Perhaps the best feature of the Navigator is its one and only engine:  Ford's 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 that pus 380 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque to the automatic all-wheel-drive system through a 6-speed automatic transmission.  It is smooth and torquey whether creeping amongst traffic or hauling a boat through the mountains with eight passengers aboard.  Fuel economy is rated 15/20-MPG city/hwy, which isn't horrific for a wagon shaped in the '90s.

It's also one of the best-riding SUVs rolling.  Unlike competitors that can buck over rough pavement, the Navigator just glides over with its continuous damping electronic suspension system.  Having an independent rear set-up helps ride and handling and it's noticeably quiet full-boring down the Interstate with only the low rumble of the engine to keep things interesting.

Details conspire against the Navigator.  There is no passive entry as is now the standard, requiring a fishing expedition for the key fob with groceries or offspring in-hand.  Third row seats power down, but the middle row's fold manually, requiring you to walk around to the doors when loading large items.  That's so 2005.  As I found the hard way while ducking a closing door, the power hatch switch is on the cargo wall instead of the liftgate.  You can bet Lincoln will finesse these niggles in the next version.

Given upcoming players like the Bentley Bentayga, Mercedes-Maybach version of the GLS, supercharged Range Rovers, and a Rolls-Royce SUV, even Cadillac's Escalade is challenged to keep up with the growing luxury SUV segment.  Lincoln will need to work fast to stay relevant, but the current Navigator is surprisingly delightful from its turbocharged engine to its luxurious interior.  Prices starting at $62,475, and coming to $73,895 as tested, make it a sound choice.

Storm Forward!

View Casey's video of the Lincoln Navigator and follow him on Twitter: @AutoCasey.


2015 Lincoln Navigator

  • Eight-passenger, AWD SUV
  • Powertrain:  380hp 3.5-liter T-V6, 6-spd trans
  • Suspension f/r:  Elect. Ind/Ind
  • Wheels f/r:  22-inch/22-inch alloy
  • Brakes f/r:  disc/disc
  • Must-have features:  Luxury, performance
  • Fuel economy:  15/20 mpg city/hwy
  • Assembly:  Louisville, KY
  • Base/as-tested price:  $62,475/73,895
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