by Jared Rosenholtz
Lincoln invited us out to Nappa Valley California to sample the new 2020 Aviator and Aviator Grand Touring. Following a quick lunch at a scenic California wine vineyard, Lincoln took back the Aviator we piloted from our hotel and handed us the iPhone (which acts as a car key) to the Grand Touring for our afternoon drive. You may notice how Lincoln excluded the word 'hybrid' from the Aviator, even though the Grand Touring trim utilizes a plug-in drivetrain. Perhaps this is because Lincoln knows many people associate 'hybrid' with words like 'slow' and 'unattractive' when the Aviator Grand Touring is anything but.
With many of the European brands set to release hybrid and mild-hybrid SUVs, Lincoln knew the best way to capture market share was to offer a sexy hybrid of its own. The Aviator Grand Touring takes all of the elements we love in the base model and throws in an intoxicating surge of electric torque.
Lincoln made a smart decision to keep the styling on the Grand Touring close to the standard Aviator. Subtle differences like a blue-accented emblem and charging port on the front fender offer hints of the electric demon lurking beneath the surface. Aviator Grand Touring models also feature a slightly different front grille with a dispersed start pattern emanating from the center. Some automakers fall into the trap of making their hybrid vehicles look geeky with smaller, more aerodynamic wheels but Lincoln hasn't succumbed and the Aviator Grand Touring shines as a result.
Lincoln initially predicted 450 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque for the Aviator Grand Touring, coming from a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 and an electric motor mated to a 13.6 kWh battery pack. As it turns out, Lincoln's estimates were conservative and the Grand Touring actually produces a whopping 494 hp and 630 lb-ft of torque. The result is a noticeable surge of acceleration capable of pinning occupants back in their seats. Lincoln also says the drivetrain allows for up to 18 miles of electric-only driving range but official EPA figures have yet to be revealed.
Grand Touring Aviator models include two additional drive modes called 'Pure EV' and 'Conserve EV.' The former locks the vehicle into an electric mode (even when you mash the throttle) while the latter locks on the gasoline engine to help charge the battery for later use.
As with the standard Aviator, we came away generally impressed with the cabin of the Grand Touring Black Label we piloted after lunch. Colors do make a difference, however, as the burgundy leather and wood trim combination didn't look nearly as attractive as Lincoln's other interior options. The cabin is well insulated, meaning very little noise comes in from the road even without the twin-turbo V6 humming in the background. Not having an engine running in the background does make the tire noise more noticeable but not uncomfortable.
Batteries have to go somewhere, which usually hurts cargo capacity. But the Aviator's under-floor battery packaging has allowed Lincoln to keep trunk space exactly the same on hybrid models. The Grand Touring offers an identical 18.3 cubic feet behind the third row, which increases to 41.8 and 77.7 cubic feet with the third and second rows folded respectively.
When we hopped in the Aviator Grand Touring, we immediately wanted to test two different elements of its plug-in hybrid drivetrain. First, we placed the Aviator into Excite mode and mashed the throttle. 630 pound-feet of torque came down like a tidal wave, shoving us into the backs of our seats. It doesn't feel like jolting sports car acceleration, but more like a strong, unrelenting surge. The second element we wanted to test was the all-electric mode. Lincoln emphasized to us that all-electric driving was not the main point of the drivetrain but you can go around 18-20 miles without engaging the engine and even accelerate from a traffic light without burning a drop of gasoline.
You might expect a 5,600-pound SUV to feel sluggish on electric power - and you'd be right. All of the chest-crushing acceleration is gone in Pure EV mode but if you just want to drive around silently and comfortably, it doesn't feel like you can't keep up with traffic. It may have been the rougher roads we took in the afternoon, but we swore the Grand Touring's suspension felt slightly less compliant, which could be attributed to its 800-pound weight increase.
The Grand Touring also offers an advantage in drivetrain smoothness. We noticed some undignified shifts from the 10-speed automatic transmission in the standard Aviator but it seems like having an electric motor mounted between the engine and transmission has helped smooth out some of that roughness. There were a few moments when the switch from electric power to gas felt slightly jarring but it should start to feel normal over time.
The official fuel economy numbers should help buyers decide whether or not the Grand Touring is worth the upgrade but as it sits, the added sensation of speed if worth the cost if you appreciate having a fast SUV. The Aviator Grand Touring starts at $68,800, which is a substantial increase over the standard rear-wheel-drive Aviator at $51,000. You do get standard all-wheel-drive and similar features as the Reserve model, which starts at $56,190. Factoring out the addition of AWD, the Grand Touring is an $8,000 upgrade which Lincoln says is comparable to the V8 engines offered in German rivals.
The Grand Touring Black Label bumps the price up to $87,800 and adds both the luxury and convenience packages with features such as 30-way adjustable massaging seats, a head-up display, Phone as A Key, wireless charging pad, and 28-speaker Revel audio system.
$8,000 may seem like a lot to spend on a hybrid with minimal efficiency gains but just think of the Aviator Grand Touring as a performance upgrade and it starts to make more sense. Lincoln was smart to leave out the word 'hybrid' from the Aviator because the Grand Touring lacks many of the attributes buyers are shopping for in a hybrid vehicle. Instead, Lincoln wants to show 'hybrid' can be synonymous with performance, not just efficiency.
If you work less than 10 miles away or take the kids to school in the morning, you can probably handle both trips without burning a drop of gas. Is this novelty worth the $8,000 upgrade? Probably not. But tapping into 630 lb-ft mountain of torque certainly is, which is why we'd recommend upgrading to the Aviator Grand Touring. This isn't the hybrid you are used to. It's much better.