The Lincoln Navigator has always been big and bold, but now it is properly luxurious.
For as long as I can remember, Lincoln has been on the cusp of making a comeback, trying out new designs, new marketing and new models hoping to catch luxury shoppers’ eyes. And every time, the gussied-up Fords just seem like rebadged nose-jobs destined for retirement community parking lots and airport limo fleets. Although the Navigator has long had broader appeal as a bit of a status symbol, it never quite reached the status of the Cadillac Escalade.
Although I doubt it will succeed in singlehandedly turning the company’s fortunes around, the 2018 Lincoln Navigator is that leap that Lincoln has long been promising and we’ve all been waiting for. Let’s start with something incredibly small: the shifter buttons. A few years ago, Lincoln made a bold move to ditch the shifter and switch to simple buttons. I first encountered these buttons in the MKZ. Plain black plastic, slightly angled square buttons stacked vertically, wrapping around the centre console. So dull. So boring.
The 2018 Navigator cabin might just feature the best use of chrome I’ve ever seen overall, tracing the edges of a variety of the different areas, including the edge of each glossy black shifter button, which are tucked under the vents and above a nook for a purse or laptop bag. The lip of chrome continues across the passenger side and defines the dash, and other elements are similarly defined and accentuated. I usually hate chrome, but the Navigator seems to use it just the right way to create a classy look, the finishing touch on a cabin that is filled with quality leather and gorgeous wood, with colorful backlighting to liven up the interior at night.
It’s a wonderful leap from previous Lincolns, and the digital gauge cluster has its own set of cutting edge graphics. The point that marks speed on the simulated wand, for example, is a glowing star, cleverly tying back to the Lincoln logo. In addition to the interior design, the functionality is all there, too, with a large, proudly displayed touchscreen, easy climate control vents and majestic, leather-clad seats that can heat or cool your derriere and massage your backside. However, because those seats have so many adjustments, it can take several tries before you find a position that is actually comfortable.
Even after a full week and many attempts at adjusting every conceivable section, I still was not entirely content with the seat, nor was my wife, so perhaps owners should consider a custom fitting or some such pampering. Another frustration we had was the limited options of the rear entertainment option. The seat-mounted screens are always a neat feature for my kids to play with, but we were stymied by our lack of subscriptions to the right apps, so we were not compatible, and the system does not recognize DVDs. Owners may choose to make the leap to Slingbox but the screens never did manage to play anything off our plugged in iPad.
We don’t have any Android devices that can be mirrored wirelessly either. Up front, the Sync 3 system performed flawlessly, with Apple CarPlay working seamlessly, and Android Auto also available. Another nice touch for electronics is the angled tray for wireless charging of your smartphone, and there is no shortage of USB ports and even 110V outlet in the back for something like a game console that can plug into the rear screen via HDMI cable. Basically, the place is a rolling entertainment den. Despite all the gadgets and toys, it’s also practical, ours set up with two captain’s chairs in the second row, which can pop up and tilt forward to allow easy access to a reasonably roomy third row.
Behind the third row you’ll find 19.3 cubic feet of cargo space, so it’s still good for a decent grocery haul even if you have three or four kids meaning you have to keep the seat up most times. If you need all the seats but still want massive cargo space there is also the Navigator L, an extended version with 15 more cu-ft behind the third row and in each configuration (34.3/73.3/120.2). Some models offer a cargo management system with an adaptable shelf behind the third row that allows you to customize the space to your particular cargo needs, though our tester was not so equipped.
The seats fold at the press of a button, and you can collapse either side of the rear bench that splits 60/40, or either of the second row seats individually for flexible arrangements. The result is 57.5 cu-ft of space behind the second row and 103.0 maximum, although the second-row console leaves a bit of a hump that would make carrying large flat objects a challenge. Once you load up though, you’ll have no problem getting going because the only powertrain you’ll find in a Navigator is the twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 good for 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. Authoritative was the word that kept coming to mind when I stomped on the gas pedal.
Lincoln has tuned a bit of growl to the action as the torque climbs and hauls this 5,855-pound beast up to speed. It takes a moment of hesitation before the 10-speed transmissions translates your foot stomping the pedal, and then the beast rumbles, lifts its nose a bit and claws its way forward, and you can also hear the faint sound of money just rushing out of your wallet. The occasional sprint may be fun, but the Navigator is an expensive vehicle to run, its peak power produced using 93 octane (lower octane is fine, but power is reduced), and despite driving mostly efficiently, I landed at 14.6 mpg. Yikes, I can only imagine how thirsty it would get if towing anywhere close to its 8,000+ towing capacity.
The EPA ratings seems entirely optimistic in this case, officially earning 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway for 18 mpg combined, and 2WD models are little better. However, if you can stomach the $72,055 starting price for the Navigator or over $80K for something like this decked-out Reserve trim, you probably have the gas money to keep it going. Still, for that price it doesn’t disappoint, and not just for the sheer dollar-per-pound ratio. The new Navigator drives well, with a quiet, serene cabin at any speed, its mass keeping it planted and stable at highway speeds, and the fully independent suspension soaking up bumps and dips without transferring almost any disturbance to passengers.
While that comfort is to be expected, as is a fair bit of body roll from a vehicle so large and tall and heavy, the Lincoln is pleasant to drive, the steering responsive enough and nicely weighted for easy maneuverability considering its size. Of course, easy is relative, and it takes careful planning to navigate crowded parking lots and city traffic, so the 360-degree back-up camera and rear cross-traffic alert are a big help for parking, compensating for the large areas you cannot see around you. At speed, blind spot alert, forward collision mitigation and adaptive cruise are nice features for the drive. The Navigator also features a drive mode selector for different road, weather or off-road conditions, and it has some slick graphics to represent each one.
Our tester also had the option head-up display, which serves up all the info you need (speed, range, adaptive cruise, driver assistance settings, and more) right in front of your eyes and looks good, too. While such a large vehicle is overkill for a family of four like mine, we did have occasion to shuttle a couple extra cousins and some party favors for a family event, and a freak spring snowstorm turned out neighborhood into a bit of an off-road course. The Navigator showed its merit in both of those situations. Large SUVs get a bad rap in many circles, but different families have different needs.
Those that need seating for six or seven plus cargo and the ability to handle conditions that exceed the capability of a minivan will continue to turn to these all-purpose utilities. While other large utes like the Ford Expedition or Chevy Suburban might meet those basic needs adequately, the Lincoln Navigator does it while playing in the high-flying large luxury segment. Most impressive of all is that it doesn’t seem out of place. It may not be at quite the level of polish and refinement in every area as something like the Mercedes-Benz GLS or a Land Rover Range Rover, but it can tow more and carry more, and finally has its own distinctive brand of luxury that will appeal to some of the shoppers in this segment.