An Absolute Mic-Drop Benchmark

Lincoln Navigator Review: After 20 Years, the All-New SUV Is On Top of Its Game


November 15, 2018 Cars By Photo by NIck Caruso
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It’s an obvious assertion that the new Navigator is aimed squarely at Cadillac’s bling-king SUV. The long and short of that discussion is that the Navigator is, without a shred of doubt, leaps and bounds better in every discernible way. Regardless of your take on that rivalry, what’s more amazing to me is who else Lincoln is now successfully competing with: in terms of luxury, capability and technology, the 2018 Navigator, the first complete redesign in the vehicle’s 20-year history, is worthy of comparison with much, much bigger dogs, like Mercedes-Benz’s GLS and Bentley’s Bentayga. This is a serious, serious SUV — an absolute mic-drop benchmark for its price range. Though Cadillac, et al. likely aren’t scared, I do imagine they’re quickly wearing through plenty of whiteboards with furious brainstorm scribbles.

Lincoln’s goal is to make “the ultimate family vehicle.” Now, I don’t have a family, per se, but I do have opinionated adult friends; instead of suburbs and daycare runs, at my disposal are the beautiful environs of upstate New York. We loaded up early in the day and hit the road in earnest, covering hundreds of miles of highways, country roads, small towns, driveways, parking lots, narrow city streets and light gravel lanes. Even when a three-hour, late evening traffic jam impeded our return, there was nary a complaint.

This completely new, titanic vehicle is replete with technology and comfort and convenience features that are, simply put, on par with those found in the quarter-million-dollar luxury stratus. This is where super upscale competitors should take note. The seats are cosseting thrones, positioned and appointed so well that no one gets shorted on space or of the full-on comfort experience. In between the optional second-row captain’s chairs is a console that rivals some furniture pieces in my actual apartment in terms of size. Like the middle console between driver and passenger, it also features a storage compartment that swallowed a camera bag, a liter of water and shopping bag full of snacks, and it had room to spare. It’s a comfortable, beautiful, airy, bright and spacious living room on wheels (with 11 standard power outlets). My friends, guys whose heights hover around six feet, could all easily cross their legs in even the power-reclining third row.

2018 Lincoln Navigator Black Label

Engine: turbocharged 3.5-liter V6
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Horsepower: 450
Torque: 510 lb-ft
MSRP: $73,055 (base)

Beholding the interior of the new Navigator is an endless exercise in appreciation of design, though my favorite element is the horizontal dash section on the passenger side, which stands out as a singular and deeply emotional detail. Opt for the high-end wood trim in your Navigator and every wood applique will be sourced from the same tree, meaning their grain matches flawlessly. This is something you’ll only find in vehicles twice the price of the Navigator and it’s best showcased on the marvelous center console. The piece de resistance, however, is the Lincoln insignia inlaid on the far right end — a proud nod to Lincolns of yesteryear.

The Navigator’s overall design draws more heavily on the concept-vehicle version touted a couple years back than I expected it would; most manufacturers only tease hints of their future vehicles with auto-show art pieces. Save a few concept-car features, like a retractable side staircase and gullwing doors, this is essentially the same vehicle Lincoln revealed at the 2016 New York Auto Show. There are horizontal lines galore, mostly inside, drawing your eye from left to right over pleasantly varied materials. Outside, there is absolutely no mistaking this for anything but a Lincoln Navigator. The roof stands higher than I do, and the emblem on what seems like a ten-acre chrome grille is a full nine inches tall. The shockingly large wheels, reminiscent of an airplane’s spinning prop, really do give a sense of motion when standing still.

And yet it’s not ostentatious. Bold? Yes, very. But in a sensical, moderated fashion. In the same way Lincoln’s ’60s Continental was a monolithic — but not gaudy — brute of a luxury sedan, the Navigator doesn’t exhibit wince-inducing tackiness. Instead, it’s handsome and properly impactful and draws admiration of form more than it does attention for attention’s sake. I have a strong feeling that this is what a big, progressively styled SUV should look like. It’s a design win.

Lincoln’s desire to make the new Navigator an “ultimate” SUV translates into a vehicle that drives very, very well

Lincoln is also heavily emphasizing the literal experience of being in the Navigator more than any other element. This starts, of course, with the driver. Different drive modes are available — it does seem a little irresponsible to put such a large vehicle into anything like a sport mode, but it’s there mostly to keep the powertrain responsive should conditions call for it. A key feature is the heads-up display (HUD), on which vital data like speed, miles-to-empty and more projects onto the windshield in front of the steering wheel. Most anything the driver needs to know can be displayed there, on what Lincoln claims is the “biggest and brightest” HUD on the market. It’s also intelligently designed and intuitive: when you move a function to the HUD, it’s gone from the standard physical digital gauge cluster, eliminating redundant distractions.

Most importantly, Lincoln’s desire to make the new Navigator an “ultimate” SUV translates into a vehicle that drives very, very well. The steering has proper weight and, combined with a premier seating position and visibility, offers a supreme sense of command. Its twin-turbocharged V6’s 450 horsepower feels like nuclear propulsion when coaxed with the throttle. What the Navigator doesn’t feel like from the front left seat is a big, loping truck. It drives big, but it’s manipulated as easy as a family sedan half its size.

While I was busy enjoying driving dynamics, my “family” was constantly noting, in half-whispered, awed voices, observations like “even the windows are smooth.” The panoramic glass roof is so large they figured it must be several massive sliding windows put together. Discovering the rear-seat entertainment tablet/Bluetooth headset combos was like a gateway drug — the second-row friends, who acted, I assume, much like eagerly curious children, continued to find new features and delights until I dropped them off late into the evening.

I, frankly, have almost no complaints beyond the quality of very few interior materials — for instance, molded plastic “knurling” on some knobs is unfortunate but totally fine for the price range. It’s not right to complain about the sheer mass of the thing — here, mass is, of course, necessary and unavoidable since its goal is to transport full-sized adults in total comfort. Others who prefer small vehicles will be very satisfied when using the 360-degree camera system for parking maneuvers. In something this big, they’re a godsend when you’re trying to… navigate.

The big question: Is it worth it? The Navigator will start around $73,000, and top-end models like the one I drove will sticker for just under $100,000, a price comparable to the Navigator’s main competition, the Escalade. And yet, that’s less than half what the top-tier competition charges. The Bentayga starts around $225,000, for instance, and while that premium is deserved for many reasons, the price delta cannot be overlooked. In fact, it should be heavily considered by any luxury SUV buyer. Escalade shoppers, though, should know this: the Navigator is a worthy entry into the “big luxury SUV” thing; it does the whole “experience” thing better; it looks better; drives better. It’s just better. So yes, the Navigator is absolutely worth it — just ask my family.

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