2020 Lincoln Aviator Review
Based on the same platform as the Ford Flex, and just as questionably styled, the Lincoln MKT never made much of a dent in the midsize, 3-row, premium SUV segment. Most were sold as replacements for the departed rear-drive Lincoln Town Car, painted black, and sent to ferry people to and from airports in something slightly more dignified than a yellow Toyota Camry taxi.
Now, Lincoln debuts a much better alternative. The 2020 Lincoln Aviator shares its platform and architecture with the redesigned Ford Explorer, and offers performance and practicality in equal measure. Plus, it was engineered from the ground up to wear Lincoln’s current design language, so instead of reflecting a pastiche of styling cues, it appears refined, sophisticated, and balanced.
Aviator and Aviator Grand Touring model series are available, the latter a plug-in hybrid version of the SUV. Aviator comes in Standard, Reserve, and Black Label trim. The plug-in is offered in Grand Touring and Black Label Grand Touring trim. Prices range from $51,100 all the way up to $87,800, and that’s before adding options or the $1,095 destination charge.
Lincoln invited me to drive the new Aviator in Napa Valley, California. While I sampled multiple versions of the SUV, the least expensive model was a 2020 Lincoln Aviator Reserve equipped with all-wheel drive. Options included the Reserve II Package, the Convenience Package, and the Dynamic Handling Package. The price came to $75,120, including the destination charge.
What Owners Say…
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Lincoln Aviator, it is helpful to understand who buys Midsize Premium SUVs.
According to J.D. Power data, 63% of owners are men. The median age of a Midsize Premium SUV owner is 58 years, and they earn a median annual household income of $198,923. Most (41%) identify as Performance buyers. Just over a third of owners in this segment indicate that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (36%).
Midsize Premium SUV owners strongly agree that their first considerations in choosing a vehicle is reliability (60%) and quality of workmanship (60%), and that they like a vehicle that offers responsive handling and powerful acceleration (58%). They strongly disagree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (43%).
Midsize Premium SUV owners say their favorite things about their vehicles are (in descending order) the driving dynamics, exterior styling and interior design (in a tie), engine/transmission, and visibility/safety. Owners indicate their least favorite things about their vehicles are (in descending order) the seats, storage and space, climate control system, infotainment system, and fuel economy.
What Our Expert Says…
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the new Lincoln Aviator measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.
Regardless of trim, the new Lincoln Aviator looks like a luxury SUV. Thanks to its rear-drive foundation, the proportions naturally appeal to your eye. And while the bold detailing and shape of the tapering roof and windows might remind you of other luxury brands, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Reflecting Lincoln’s now-customary Art Deco touches, the Aviator’s interior is filled with quality materials and upscale details. The 10.1-inch infotainment display dominates the dashboard, but isn’t overbearing. Numerous knobs and buttons help to make using the climate and stereo systems easier.
Equipped with 30-way power adjustable front seats that include heating, cooling, and massage, the tested Aviators proved exceptionally comfortable. As I learned first-hand, you can drive this SUV all day long and emerge refreshed.
Second-row occupants will appreciate a high seating position with plenty of thigh support, as well as available heated and cooled cushions. Manual side window sunshades block most of the light, and a center storage console is an option with captain’s chairs. A 3-person bench seat is also available.
The second-row seats can slide forward to provide extra room for third-row passengers. Adults will need this, and even with the added space for legs and feet, they’ll want to sit in this location only for short trips.
Climate Control System
Temperatures in the Napa Valley region soared beyond 100 degrees on testing day, but the Aviator’s effective climate control system and ventilated front seats made the heat a non-issue. If anything, I thought the window glass allowed too much solar heating on my skin.
Unlike some automakers, Lincoln provides many knobs and buttons to control the climate system. Though it results in some visual clutter, I prefer this to touch-sensing pads or screens.
My kids were mighty grateful for the rear climate system in the Aviator Black Label, and the separate heated and ventilated rear seat cushions.
Lincoln’s Sync 3 infotainment system features a large 10.1-inch touchscreen display, modern graphics, and simple menu structures, helping to make it easier to operate. In my experience, however, it sometimes takes longer to load or respond than customers in this segment might expect.
Similarly, the voice recognition system, activated using a button the steering wheel that is easy to accidentally press, doesn’t understand natural speech as easily as smartphone and home voice assistants, or technology in competing models. Lincoln definitely won’t want to wait to make upgrades on this front.
Platform integrations include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Tidal, Amazon Alexa, and Waze. A Wi-Fi hotspot is also standard, but service is an extra-cost subscription through Lincoln Connect. Two Revel premium sound systems are also available, the high-fidelity 28-speaker Ultima system delivering a truly exceptional listening experience.
Storage and Space
Lincoln provides plenty of in-cabin storage inside of the Aviator, especially with the second-row center storage console option.
When it comes to cargo, the Aviator supplies 18.3 cubic-feet of space behind the third-row seat, including a covered bin under the usefully sized trunk floor. This area easily holds groceries, a couple of roll-aboard suitcases, a row of school backpacks, and other items.
Fold the third-row seat down in order to access a generous 41.8 cu.-ft. of cargo space. For larger loads, like the dining room cabinet my wife brought home from her parents’ place, the second-row seats fold to create 77.7 cu.-ft. of volume.
Visibility and Safety
From the driver’s seat, you look over a long hood with a sharply defined crease down the center and scallops on either side. This, in addition to sensors and a high-definition forward camera, helps a driver to place the Aviator’s front end.
High-definition reverse and surround-view cameras supply excellent clarity night or day, and blind spot monitoring helps for safer lane changes. This feature is especially important given the odd shape and location of the Aviator’s side mirrors. Tall, narrow, and heptagonal in appearance, they also suffer from reflections.
The Lincoln Co-Pilot360 suite of driving aids is standard for the Aviator, and Co-Pilot 360 Plus is available. For the most part, these technologies operate with accuracy and refinement, which means you’re more likely to keep them engaged and actually use them.
Evasive Steering Assist is one of the upgrades in the Plus package, and it came in handy while quickly and sharply avoiding debris in a freeway lane. Lane centering assist is also offered for the Aviator, but one of the test vehicles sometimes assumed I’d let go of the steering wheel even though I was still holding it in my hands.
A twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine and a 10-speed automatic transmission serve duty in both the Aviator and Aviator Grand Touring.
The Aviator boasts 400 horsepower and 415 lb.-ft. of torque, plenty of muscle to make this hefty SUV hustle. Accelerate hard, and you’ll get pressed back into your seat, the automatic snapping off quick and seamless upshifts, the engine and exhaust emitting a subtle rumble. Five driving modes are available, including Conserve, Normal, Excite, Slippery, and Deep Conditions.
In Grand Touring models, a 75-kW electric motor-generator is housed between the engine and transmission, with power provided by a 13.6-kWh lithium-ion battery residing under the right rear second-row seat. Together, these components deliver 494 hp and 630 lb.-ft. of torque, and Grand Touring models also gain Pure EV and Preserve EV driving modes.
For best performance, do not activate Pure EV or Preserve EV. That way, you enjoy maximum power output to offset the Aviator Grand Touring’s extra 900 pounds of weight. Drive in Pure EV, and Lincoln says you’ll travel an expected 18 miles solely on electricity. Unfortunately, testing conditions did not allow me to fairly test Lincoln’s 18-mile electric driving range expectation, so I cannot establish whether that figure is accurate or not.
Like the standard Aviator, the Aviator Grand Touring is quick. In fact, it feels livelier off the line thanks to the electric motor’s instant supply of torque, eliminating the slight delay in the standard version of the SUV as the turbochargers spool up.
Driven with less enthusiasm, the Aviator Grand Touring uses battery power as often as possible unless you’ve switched to Preserve EV.
Under harder acceleration or on steeper hills, the twin-turbo V6 will automatically fire up to assist the electric motor unless you’ve switched to Pure EV. In that mode, the SUV will recommend using the gasoline engine under certain driving conditions.
During my driving in Napa Valley, the Aviator returned 15.9 mpg. After a long highway drive back to Los Angeles coupled with suburban shuttling and a trip into the city on a busy Sunday afternoon, the average had climbed to 19.4 mpg, within striking distance of the EPA’s 20-mpg rating in combined driving.
Meanwhile, in Napa Valley, the Aviator Grand Touring averaged 80.6 MPGe through full battery depletion. After resetting the trip computer and driving the Grand Touring as a gas-electric hybrid for the remainder of my time behind the wheel, the SUV got 19.8 mpg. That’s less than Lincoln’s estimate of 23 mpg in combined driving. But it’s also 3.9-mpg better than the standard Aviator under similar driving conditions.
Each test vehicle had the optional Dynamic Handling Package, which includes an adaptive Air Glide air suspension and active steering. This certainly helps to improve the SUV’s handling, and with the Black Label’s monstrous 22-inch wheels and tires it does help to filter out the harshness that comes with huge and heavy rims.
Both the Aviator and Aviator Grand Touring proved fun to drive on the twists and turns of the Napa Valley region, but even with the air suspension you can sense the plug-in hybrid’s extra weight. There is a hint more body motion when you’re racing around in the hills.
Otherwise, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. Aside from occasional impact harshness breaking past the Air Glide defense system, the only area where Lincoln could improve the Aviator is with regard to road noise on rougher pavement.
In the suburbs and on the city streets of Los Angeles, the Aviator’s quick and sharp steering made parking easy, and a remarkably tight turning radius helps the SUV feel nimble and maneuverable. Fully autonomous parking assist is available, taking over all controls while the driver sits behind the steering wheel and expertly slotting the Aviator into parallel and perpendicular parking spaces.
Perhaps more so than its larger Navigator sibling, the new 2020 Lincoln Aviator is an impressive effort from a luxury brand that many thought might vanish just a few years ago.
Slowly but surely, through industry-leading customer service and ownership benefits, as well as competitive new products, Lincoln is working its way back onto luxury customer consideration lists.
With a few more complete redesigns executed to the same standards set by the Aviator and Navigator, combined with new models in segments Lincoln hasn’t previously competed within, the company will have what it takes to win back customers.
Whether customers will give Lincoln the chance remains to be seen.