Test Drive: 2018 Lincoln Navigator
For every Navigator full-size luxury SUV that Lincoln sells, Cadillac moves 3.7 Escalades off of dealer lots while Mercedes-Benz rolls 3.3 GLS-Class models off of showroom floors.
Lack of demand for the Lincoln has nothing to do with value, as it has historically been advantageously priced compared to the popularity contest winners. It also has nothing to do with utility, as it has long offered more interior space and comfort combined with greater towing capacity. Rather, Lincoln has failed to convince luxury SUV buyers that the Navigator is the real deal, and that the brand’s iconic star logo stands for something meaningful.
During a half-day drive in the new 2018 Navigator, I had a chance to experience this latest Lincoln first-hand, and I’m left with a favorable impression of what could be, for now, the best large luxury SUV in the land.
Styling and Design
With the 2018 Navigator, Lincoln puts its best face forward. The company’s new front styling treatment, which debuted in 2017 on the Continental and MKZ sedans, is applied to the Navigator, giving the otherwise conservatively penned yet intricately detailed SUV serious presence.
Bold wheel designs, the Lincoln logo grille mesh, the illuminated star emblem, and the fender vents dress the Navigator up, and the luxury SUV wears appropriate levels of brightwork for the mission at hand. At night, as the owner approaches, Lincoln Embrace lighting welcomes him or her, one of many thoughtful touches reflected in the vehicle.
Inside, the Reserve test vehicle featured quality materials with little blatant evidence of parts-bin sharing with Ford. Chrome, wood, and gloss black surfaces convey luxury in just-right amounts. Board a Black Label version of the Navigator, such as the Yacht theme model I drove, and tailored opulence awaits.
Both versions featured exceptionally comfortable front seats, the Black Label including a massage function in addition to heating, cooling, and premium leather upholstery. Second-row captain’s chairs are also comfortable, and in Black Label models an oversized center console separates them. Third-row seats can transport adults for hours, with great thigh support and impressive levels of leg and foot room.
Lincoln leads the full-size SUV segment in terms of cargo space, too, though in extended-length Navigator L form it falls just shy of its cross-town rival the Escalade ESV.
Features and Controls
Reflecting greater technological sophistication than any Navigator to come before it, the 2018 rendition offers digital instrumentation, a new 10-inch display screen for the infotainment system, and “piano key” transmission controls located on a horizontal plane on the dashboard.
Fortunately, however, Lincoln supplies traditional knobs and buttons for primary stereo and climate functions, and secondary switchgear such as the stalks and the window controls are conventional in nature. Power seat adjusters are mounted to the door panels, like in a Mercedes-Benz.
Quality levels are high, though some of the chrome plating on certain bits and pieces resembles the plastic that it is.
Safety and Technology
Lincoln equips the Navigator with numerous driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies, and they operate with remarkable sophistication.
For example, while driving down a freeway with the cruise control on, a timid but impatient driver cut right in front of the 6,000-pound SUV, and the adaptive cruise, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking systems behaved beautifully. Rather than emit blaring chimes and blinding visual warnings coupled with unexpected braking, the Navigator’s nannies simple decelerated the SUV to give the dolt in the offending car some breathing room.
The infotainment system includes a standard touch-sensing 10-inch display. It comes with smartphone integration for Apple and Android devices, Sync AppLink and services technology, and a Lincoln Way app for the owners’ smartphones that allows for remote access to certain vehicle functions.
Lincoln Connect with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi connection is also available, particularly useful for streaming content to the available Lincoln Play rear-seat entertainment system. Alternatively, it accepts media via HDMI cords, SD cards, or a USB port, and Slingbox users can access their TV channels right from the SUV.
In addition to these features, the Navigator is offered with a terrific 20-speaker Revel Ultima audio system, a head-up display that is clearly visible even when the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses, and an Enhanced Park Assist system that will steer the big Navigator into parallel and perpendicular spaces while the driver operates the transmission and pedals.
People who tow with the Navigator will want the Heavy Duty Trailer Tow Package, which includes Pro Trailer Backup Assist. Using the same steering technology as the Enhanced Park Assist system, this technology makes it easy to reverse the SUV while a trailer is attached.
Lincoln’s driving route took us from the coast of California’s Orange County area, over local mountains, and into the growing wine region of Temecula. It did not include any city driving, but negotiating tight hotel parking areas revealed the Navigator easy enough to navigate, in part thanks to its front and rear parking sensors as well as its 360-degree camera system.
Motivated by a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine making 450 horsepower and 510 lb.-ft. of torque, the Navigator delivers robust acceleration and plenty of passing power. Switching from Normal to Excite driving mode enlivened drivetrain response while stiffening the adaptive damping suspension, producing greater driver satisfaction on a winding mountain road.
Repeated use in hot temperatures revealed a stout set of brakes, and while the steering isn’t fast or sharp, traits typically unwanted in a vehicle like this one, neither is it slow or sloppy.
On the freeways where the Navigator is most at home, the Conserve driving mode selected, the suspension soaking up pavement imperfections, and the sound deadening measures making for easy conversation even at extra-legal speeds, the EPA thinks it will return up to 23 mpg with rear-wheel drive.
My 4-wheel-drive test vehicle averaged just over 17 mpg for the day, but to be fair to the Navigator, that result reflects lots of idling during photo shoots, mountain driving, and regular dips into twin-turbocharged Torqueville.
Lincoln faces few direct competitors with its redesigned 2018 Navigator. The Cadillac Escalade is the most obvious of them, along with the Infiniti QX80. Though a bit smaller, the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class certainly belongs on the list, along with the Lexus LX 570.
Among them, and based on initial impressions, the new Navigator matches or leads in terms of style, comfort, capability, technology, and utility. Lincoln hasn’t offered this compelling a full-size SUV in a long time.