Rebadging Done Right: 2018 Lincoln Navigator


Done so well, in fact, Lincoln can't build them fast enough to meet demand.

Rebadging is not exactly the best term in the auto industry. For years, it was synonymous with cars like the Chevrolet Cavalier and its rebadged “cousin” the Cadillac Cimarron. Okay, perhaps that is the most extreme example of badge engineering done horribly, but automakers like General Motors have learned their lesson: they’re not fooling anyone and customers don’t appreciate being taken for suckers. However, rebadging, when done properly, is still extremely cost-effective.

With the right team of interior and exterior designers in place, a pair of vehicles sharing the same underpinnings and general mechanicals can look and feel very different. The first example of this series is the all-new 2018 Lincoln Navigator. It’s been completely redesigned for the first time in a decade, and already it’s become a massive sales success. The Louisville, Kentucky, assembly plant where it and its Ford Expedition corporate cousin are built, has increased production to satisfy demand. While it’s always been a restyled Expedition, the Navigator drums to its own beat, beginning with the first generation, launched in 1998. Along with pickup trucks, SUVs were the biggest money makers for automakers at the time.

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Gas was also ridiculously cheap and the economy was good. People had money to spend and they wanted Navigators. The Navigator was also the first large luxury SUV; it even beat the first gen Cadillac Escalade to market. In fact, it was because of the Navigator that GM rushed a poorly rebadged Chevrolet Tahoe into production as the first Escalade. Like it’s done with the current model, the first Navigator looked quite a bit different from the Expedition from the outside. Bold styling, especially up front, unapologetically big, and premium was its message. Above all, it was new and different. It was exactly the right vehicle for the time.

Thanks to its body on frame construction and optional four-wheel drive, the Navigator has also always been a very capable off-roader as well. But like the Expedition, the Navigator became nearly obsolete when the Great Recession hit which, inconveniently enough, was when the third generation model launched. Its styling was underwhelming, to say the least, when compared to its dynamic predecessors. Still though, there was enough demand to justify the business case and the Navigator was actually the bright spot in the otherwise dull Lincoln lineup. Jumping ahead to last year at the New York Auto Show, the completely new fourth-generation Navigator had its world premiere.

Thanks to significant investments made into Lincoln from Ford, the latest Navigator is a wonderful leap forward in terms of both design and luxury. Compared side by side to the also new Expedition on which it still shares a platform, it can be hard to realize to the untrained eye their common underpinnings. Front end styling is dramatically different on each one. The Navigator, once again, features a bold grille with lots of chrome. LED headlights further provide a dynamic look. Lincoln likes to describe the Navigator as “modern elegance,” and one example of this is the chrome Lincoln star logo on the grille that softly illuminates as one approaches.

The blacked-out C-pillar also creates a cool “floating roof” look. There’s also LED lighting in the lower front body and taillights as well as a “luminous Lincoln welcome mat (that) appears beneath the front doors.” The interior is also a dramatic departure from the Expedition’s cabin. The dashboard design sticks with that modern elegance mantra with a clean and uncluttered layout, adorned by a 12-inch configurable instrument cluster. Rear-seat passengers, who enjoy a pair of captain’s chairs, have the option of 10-inch adjustable screens mounted on the rear of the front seats. There’s also a 20-speaker audio system with three listening modes – stereo, audience and on-stage. Absolute comfort was a main focus.

For example, the driver and front passenger benefit from seats that offer massage, heating and cooling functionality, and can also be adjusted in 30 unique ways. Leather is everywhere, as is real wood trim. And if that’s not enough, there’s always Lincoln’s premium trim offering, Black Label, which offers even more interior design themes, high-quality materials, and even club membership perks. The Navigator's base price is already a steep $72,055, but buyers have shown no hesitation to spend upwards of $100,000. Like the Expedition, the Navigator comes powered by the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 engine with 450 hp, mated to a new 10-speed automatic transmission.

Combined with three rows of seats (an extended length body style is also available), absolute luxury, and a comfortable, capable ride both on- and off-road, the all-new 2018 Lincoln Navigator is an ideal example of how an automaker can take a shared platform and similar enough body, and re-imagine it completely. It’s no wonder Cadillac began offering special sales deals on the Escalade even before the new Navigator went on sale.