In the age of the luxury SUV, Ford is falling behind the curve.
It’s pretty tough for any company to keep up with the competition these days, especially when you’re in the fast-paced automotive industry. Things change at a lightning pace, and what was once the hottest thing on the market can be ancient technology only a year or two later. Automakers are consistently asked to pull off the near-impossible yearly, offering new models that look better, are more powerful, fuel-efficient and safer. Granted these companies have a ton of money and bright minds but it's still a tough task.
A refresh isn’t something that can be done right away, and what results is that most automakers have a few cars that age into insignificance. These tend to be low-selling models because high sellers like the Ford F-150 are never allowed to get behind the curve. What is interesting however is that one of Ford’s most refresh-ready cars is an SUV, something unheard of in a time where buyers are snapping these things up as if they were samples at Costco. Now, Ford has let its Lincoln Navigator become a car so redundant that it stands as a symbol of the 2000s. The numbers alone confirm why Ford doesn’t have incentive to spend money on the Navigator.
Not only does it sell less than GM’s Cadillac Escalade, but it’s rarer on the streets than the Nissan Armada, Infinity QX80, and Toyota Sequoia. This indifference may be justified if Lincoln was being phased out, but the Blue Oval is pushing the rest of its cars into the new generation and leaving the Navigator behind to its loss. Now in 2015 Lincoln did give the Navigator a slight refresh. It gained some LED lighting, new front and rear ends, new buttons on the interior, and an upgraded engine/suspension combo. The engine may be the most modern upgrade. A 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 EcoBoost engine replaces the previous 5.4-liter V8, sticking with the current trend of downsizing engines.
The problem is that the power plant makes no improvement in fuel economy for the SUV because it still has to lug around 6,148 pounds of mass. The entire point of Ford’s switch to EcoBoost engines is to help increase fuel economy on paper, but as we are quickly finding the fuel economy that the EPA reports and what drivers get on real roads are two different stories. The Navigator is no exception, and to better this, easing the strain on the V6 should be Lincoln’s first order of duty for the Navigator. American SUVs typically share platforms with pickup trucks. The new Ford F-150 has a steel frame and aluminum body, which serves to cut weight by 700 pounds over the truck’s predecessor.
By using the same weight-shedding techniques, the Navigator could lose enough poundage to make the 3.5-liter EcoBoost a fuel-sipper. By improving gas mileage and handling feel through weight savings, Lincoln would at least have half of the equation down. The SUV segment is exploding, and for that reason refinement alone won’t do the trick for the aging icon. The Cadillac Escalade is a car that sold based on its bling factor alone, and with new good-looking offerings from Maserati and Jaguar, Lincoln will need to step up its game. Even with a new front end the Navigator looks ancient. Fixing this issue is easy. Lincoln only has to get the design team that made the Continental back to the drawing board to draw up an encore.
By using the same styling language and level of refinement as the Navigator concept, Lincoln would have a serious contender ready to duke it out in the ever-crowded luxury SUV segment. A brand upgrade could see Lincoln regain its "cool" factor like Cadillac, helping its image here in the states and helping it escape Buick's shadow in China. Besides, the Escalade was the only vehicle that connected with pop culture during the days of the Cadillac DTS and made Cadillac's transition easier. Lincoln has nothing to lose by committing to a refresh, especially in SUV-friendly times like these. We call upon Lincoln to refresh the Navigator, if not for us then for the few fans of Ice Cube's "Are We There Yet?" (He drove a Navigator in the flick.)