2020 Lincoln Navigator Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Jul 30, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Lincoln deals!

Lincoln launched the original Navigator for the 1998 model year, and the company’s timing proved fortuitous. According to Pew Center research, “upper income families were the only income tier able to build on their wealth from 2001 to 2016.” 

Since it is these wealthy Americans who are most likely to buy a full-size luxury SUV with a powerful engine, the market for this big Lincoln has only grown in the 23 years of its existence. But the competition has also grown, and the Navigator faces more than just the Cadillac Escalade for the affections of this demographic.

Good thing for Lincoln that the 2020 Navigator is the most appealing vehicle in its segment, according to the J.D. Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) Study. Additionally, it ranked high in the J.D. Power 2020 Initial Quality Study, coming in second only to its longstanding nemesis, the Escalade. 

2020 Lincoln Navigator Reserve White Monochromatic Front View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Navigator Reserve equipped with 4-wheel drive, extra-cost paint, the Luxury Package, and the Monochromatic Package. The price came to $92,385, including the $1,295 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Lincoln deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Navigator, it is helpful to understand who buys this large premium SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 68% of Lincoln Navigator owners are male (vs. 66% for the segment), and the median age of a Navigator owner is 55 years (vs. 54). 

Owners say their favorite things about the Navigator are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving feel, interior design, feeling of safety, and powertrain. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank highest in comparison to the large premium SUV segment:

  • Ability to hold personal items
  • Power of engine/motor
  • Exterior styling
  • Operating vehicle remotely
  • Vehicle protection

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Navigator are (in descending order) the driving comfort, infotainment system, setting up and starting, getting in and out, and fuel economy. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank lowest in comparison to the large premium SUV segment:

  • Fuel economy/driving range
  • Ease of safely maneuvering vehicle
  • Sound of doors when closing
  • Steering/handling: slippery conditions
  • Sound of engine/motor

In the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Navigator ranked first out of five large premium SUVs.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Lincoln deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Lincoln Navigator measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

Available in standard- and extended-length body styles, and in Standard, Reserve, and Black Label trim levels, the 2020 Navigator wears its modern Lincoln design themes like a tailored suit. 

2020 Lincoln Navigator Reserve White Monochromatic Rear View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Appropriately big and bold, the grille pattern repeats Lincoln star logos in a handsome mesh, and the emblem in the center offers available illumination. Fender vent trim fades into the front doors, while a character line starting at the headlights dissolves just before reaching the taillights. All roof pillars except those for the windshield are blacked out to give the impression of a floating roof.

Equipped with the optional Monochromatic Package, the test vehicle adopted a custom look with body-color bumper trim, grille details, mirror caps, and rear spoiler, plus a set of black 22-inch aluminum wheels. It comes only with Pristine White, Ceramic Pearl, and Infinite Black exterior paint colors. 

Interior

If the Navigator’s exterior design successfully distances the SUV from the Ford Expedition on which it is based, the interior completely divorces the two related SUVs. Rather than dress the Lincoln in leather and wood and then call it good, the company gives the Navigator a completely different interior with superior materials, bespoke controls, and a flair for design.

2020 Lincoln Navigator Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

In particular, the piano-key transmission controls, the minimalistic digital instrumentation and 10-inch infotainment display with starry night welcome screens, the available multi-adjustable front seats, and the high-end front and rear center console designs separate the Lincoln from the Ford. An available panoramic glass roof bathes the interior in natural light.

Given how much interior space there is, it comes as no surprise that this SUV offers plenty of storage space. Tiered bins in the door panels, a large tray under the bridge-style center console, covered locations on top of the console, a generous bin beneath the armrests, and more await Navigator pilots and passengers. 

Open the power hands-free tailgate, and behind the third-row seat a Navigator holds between 19.3 and 34.3 cubic feet of cargo, depending on vehicle length. Fold the third-row seat and those measurements are 57.5 and 73.3 cubic feet. Maximum volumes amount to 103.3 and 120.2 cubic feet.

Getting In and Out

One of the unique things about the 2020 Lincoln Navigator is its standard Phone as a Key technology. Essentially, this transforms the owner’s smartphone into the vehicle key, unlocking the doors and starting the engine without the need to carry a bulky fob.

At night, standard Lincoln Embrace lighting detects your approach and illuminates the exterior in a welcoming sequence, and power-deploying running boards make it easy to climb aboard the Navigator. However, because this is a wide vehicle with big doors, it can be hard to enter and exit when parked in small spaces.

Up front, the test vehicle had the optional heated and ventilated 30-way Perfect Position front seats with Active Motion massage. Adjusting them to find exactly the right fit can take time but is well worth the effort.

Second-row seating comes as a 3-person bench or two captain’s chairs with or without a center storage console. The test vehicle’s individual chairs were exceptionally comfortable, and it had second-row stereo and climate controls.

Thanks to the Navigator’s size, adults can easily squeeze between the captain’s chairs to enter the third-row seat. Alternatively, a one-touch tilt-and-slide function supplies generous clearance between the seat and the roof pillar to access the rearmost seating.

Unlike in many 3-row SUVs – even full-size examples – the Navigator’s 3-person bench is mighty comfortable with excellent thigh support and good space for legs and feet. This is due to the use of an independent rear suspension design rather than a truck-like beam axle setup. The more compact mechanical components allow for a lower vehicle floor, and that pays dividends in terms of passenger and cargo space.

Setting Up and Starting

Push the Navigator’s engine start button, and the SUV comes to life with a compelling shooting star welcome display on both the digital instrumentation and infotainment screens as they load their content. Once they’re up and running, which can take some time for the Sync 3 infotainment technology, getting the Navigator set up to your personal preferences is fairly intuitive.

If you’ve upgraded your Navigator with the option, you might spend the most time fine-tuning the 30-way Perfect Position seats. Even the power thigh extensions offer individual adjustment, just in case your left leg and right leg require different levels of support. Once the seat adjustments are set, you can select from several Active Motion massage programs using the infotainment display. And don’t forget to adjust the power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel and the brake and accelerator pedal positions, too.

What’s missing from this large luxury SUV is a V-8 engine and its accompanying rumble. From the inside, the Navigator’s twin-turbocharged V-6 sounds decent, but outside it definitely emits a less compelling aural character compared to many competitors.

Infotainment System

If Sync 3 takes its sweet time to load, once its ready for action it offers a favorable user experience. From figuring out how to set things up to finding and using its different features, if you’re familiar with modern smartphones and tablet computers, you’ll find your way around the system without any trouble.

A 10-inch touchscreen display is standard, larger than previous 8-inch screen offerings. The larger screen makes the system easier to use, and Lincoln offers several subdued color themes for the information. 

Highlights include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an opt-in 911 Assist feature that can rush first responders to the scene of an accident, Lincoln Connect services with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 10 devices, and a Lincoln Way smartphone and smartwatch app with remote access to various vehicle features and functions. Additionally, wireless smartphone charging is standard, the pad housed in its own covered cubby on the center console.

The voice recognition system works well but isn’t absolutely natural in the way of a modern digital assistant. In some cases, you’ll need to use specific command pathways in order to achieve success.

Equipped with the available 20-speaker Revel Ultima sound system, the test vehicle’s cabin filled with rich, lush sound. Of the three available sound profiles (Stereo, Audience, and On Stage), I preferred Stereo.

Missing from the test vehicle, the optional Lincoln Play rear-seat entertainment system equips the SUV with dual 10-inch viewing screens, wireless headphones, Roku media streaming, Slingbox access, and Apple and Android compatibility.

Keeping You Safe

Every 2020 Navigator is equipped with Lincoln Co-Pilot 360, a collection of advanced driving assistance and collision avoidance systems (ADAS). Additionally, a reversing camera, a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic warning, and automatic high-beam LED headlights that work beautifully all come standard.

Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability is available with Standard trim and included with Reserve and Black Label versions of the SUV. An unusual upgrade for the Navigator is a set of inflatable rear seat belts designed to better cushion occupants in a collision.

As is true of many ADAS, you can set sensitivity levels to your personal preferences. During testing, I found the adaptive cruise to be effective and, after remembering to turn the technology on, the lane-keeping assistance system helped to keep the big Navigator within the intended lane of travel without attempting to override driver input. Thrum from the test vehicle’s oversized 22-inch wheels masked the lane departure warning system’s steering wheel vibration, though.

Weighing a minimum of 5,661 pounds, a Lincoln Navigator will protect you well in a collision with just about any other vehicle it hits. And if you get a rear-drive Navigator, you’ll want to drive with care: it gets a 3-star rollover resistance rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). With 4-wheel drive, the rating rises to 4 stars. The Navigator’s overall NHTSA rating is 5 stars.

Powertrain

Unlike many other full-size luxury SUVs, the Lincoln Navigator is unavailable with a V-8 engine. But that doesn’t keep it from making excellent power. The twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 engine might not sound as good at idle, but it produces 450 horsepower and 510 lb.-ft. of torque, which is plenty for this SUV.

A clean-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission powers the rear wheels unless you get the 4WD system. Lincoln Drive Modes include Conserve, Normal, Excite, Slippery, and Deep Conditions for sand and snow. With the Heavy-duty Trailer Towing Package, the Navigator adds an additional Slow Climb driving mode. Maximum tow capacity is 8,700 pounds (8,300 lbs. with 4WD).

From the driver’s seat, when riding the twin-turbo V-6’s smooth swell of torque, you hear a faint chugging note that isn’t quite as satisfying as a V-8 rumble. Acceleration is brisk; you’ll be surprised at how fast this huge SUV is. Excite mode quickens the powertrain’s response time, while Conserve softens it. Most likely, you’ll find Normal mode the best choice the majority of the time.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, the test vehicle should have gotten 18 mpg in combined driving. During a multi-hour, 140-mile family excursion, the SUV averaged 16.4 mpg, giving the 23.2-gallon fuel tank a range of 380 maximum miles. Most likely, you’ll stop for gas every 350 miles or so.

Driving Comfort

A Lincoln Navigator is at its best eating up miles on the open road where the massaging front seats, soft leather, plush armrests, hushed cabin, and other comfort features allow you to settle in and relax. 

Weather ought not be a problem, from a comfort standpoint. Triple-zone climate control is standard, and the air conditioning is effective even with the panoramic glass roof’s cover peeled back. The heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated seats, heated second-row cushions, rain-sensing wipers, and wiper de-icing systems all work in concert to defeat the worst of Mother Nature.

If you have problems with parking or maneuvering this big beast, front and rear parking sensors, a surround-view camera system, and a semi-autonomous Enhanced Active Park Assist system can help. The latter works for parallel and perpendicular spaces and also features a Park Out Assist function.

If you tow with the Navigator, you’ll love the Pro Trailer Backup Assist system. Rather than use the steering wheel to reverse the SUV and attached trailer, the driver uses this technology to input the desired steering direction for the trailer using a knob on the dashboard. Semi-autonomously, the steering uses that input to properly steer the SUV in order to guide the trailer in the right direction.

To help reduce distraction, an excellent head-up display is available for the Navigator, presenting key information in a simple and clear manner. In the test vehicle, time, temperature, speed, posted speed limit, and remaining range told me everything I needed to know.

Driving Feel

Though equipped with an adaptive damping suspension, the Navigator Reserve and Black Label have 22-inch wheels and tires that struggle to absorb impact harshness. As a result, plenty of vibration finds its way into the cabin, especially if you’ve selected the Excite driving mode, which stiffens up the suspension and can make it feel downright brittle depending on the road surface.

This reality aside, the Navigator’s underpinnings controlled body motions during a trip from the Los Angeles suburbs to downtown Santa Barbara taking nothing but mountain and country back roads. On the narrow, two-lane ribbons of blacktop winding through tony Montecito, the Lincoln’s size was a bit of an issue, especially in areas where vegetation encroached on the pavement or we encountered cyclists.

Parallel parking proved fairly easy, and in spite of its big wheels and tires the Navigator’s tight turning radius made it easier to navigate small parking lots. An Auto Hold system is helpful in traffic, keeping the Navigator in place without requiring the driver to hold a foot on the brake pedal. 

Driving back to L.A. along the coast on the 101 freeway, the Navigator was clearly in its element. This SUV is likely perfect for family road trips, even if your family contains more than five people, thanks to three rows of comfortable seating plus a good amount of luggage space.

Final Impressions - Find the best Lincoln deals!

As far as full-size luxury SUVs go, the 2020 Lincoln Navigator is a compelling choice. It offers outstanding comfort in all three rows of seats, it carries more cargo than the competition, and it tows as much as 8,700 lbs. of trailer. 

Add all of the benefits that come with Lincoln ownership, from free valet pickup and delivery for scheduled service with a loaner car, to Black Label perks including free vehicle maintenance and car washes, and the Navigator makes a strong case for purchase if you’re in the market for a big, plush, capable SUV.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

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