A luxury vehicle used to be measured by its size.
That was until the end of the 1970s. Gas crises and emissions controls forced luxury car makers to consider building smaller, more efficient and cleaner vehicles without compromising prestige and elegance. In some cases, that worked. Other efforts were left to be desired.
By the 1990s, there was a new craze among automobiles – the sports utility vehicle. The popularity of these “go anywhere,” “carry anybody and anything” and “do anything” vehicles caught everyone by surprise. Not only did every automaker got into the act of selling at least one SUV – luxury brands joined in.
In 1998, Ford introduced a luxurious version of their large and popular Expedition SUV – the Lincoln Navigator. A few details distinguished the big Lincoln from the Ford and the competition. It became popular in its own right, showing everyone how to properly do a luxury SUV.
The Navigator was a great idea at the time. Yet, it was seen as large as Town Car, albeit taller. It drank more gas than one. This became the kind of vehicle that was seen as acceptable as the larger Continental sedans and coupes that went away due to changing tastes and federal regulations in 1979.
The SUV segment is still going strong, as a whole. In Minnesota, 60 percent of new vehicle sales were from trucks, SUVs and crossovers. Our climate dictates the need for four-wheel drive to deal with the snow and ice. Larger SUVs, such as the Navigator, serve to fulfill these needs – and many, many wants.
Which means the Lincoln Navigator is a relevant vehicle for us. Or, does it? I had to drive one to find out.
The Navigator underwent a mid-cycle refresh for 2015. It now integrates Lincoln’s new face and design attributes. Up front, the refreshed look works with the “split wing” grille and horizontal bars. Headlamps shine brightly, though some LED lighting in the housing and below the bumper also help illuminate the road and itself. The side profile remains the same; the big concern was out back. The full width tail lamps appeared to emulate a theme seen on the MKC, but a bit more squared off to fit the Navigator’s shape. On the plus side, no one can mistake a Lincoln Navigator from the back.
This Ruby Red tester is the short wheelbase model, which makes for an interesting mix of details. The Reserve trim adds 22-inch wheels to the package. The jury is still out on whether anything beyond 20 inches is a good idea to install on a vehicle. I will admit it adds character to the Navigator. On the plus side, I appreciated the power running boards that extend when you open up any door. They are also heavy duty to keep a big fella like me from destroying them over use. It will certainly come in handy for those who truly need this feature to step into the Navigator.
Inside is a mix of familiar Ford/Lincoln features and some details that lend to further questions. When the current generation of Navigator was introduced, a few of us pointed out the heritage design of the dashboard – pointing to the 1961 Lincoln Continental. While it sparks nostalgia, it seems it needed more than the leather and plastic from it being a bit minimalistic for the Navigator’s design and image. I was hoping for more chrome or satin finishes to make it stand out more – even the HVAC vents could use some zhushing!
However, the addition of Lincoln’s customizable instrument binnacle – with switchable screens on either side of the speedometer – adds more of a tech look to the Navigator. The center stack has MyLincoln Touch powered by Sync, which is useful and quick. Phone pairing was quick, as is start-up connection through the Bluetooth connection. HVAC switches have improved with actual slim buttons instead of the sliding logic seen on other models. Other switches are familiar and useful – as intended in every Ford and Lincoln.
Seats are of a decent size and offer enough cushion and back support for the first two rows. This tester came with a set of second row bucket seats without a center console between them. The third row is simply for children and can fit three car seats abreast in the rear. By not having a center console in the second row helps in gaining third row access. For more cargo space, the third row is split with power operation for a completely flat floor. Front seats offer a great command position for all drivers. The gear selector is in a thick front console that has a huge storage bin underneath the armrest.
For years, the Navigator had been powered by a decent V8. For 2015, the V8 era has come to an end. Instead, Ford dropped their 3.5liter EcoBoost V6 with twin turbochargers under the big Lincoln’s hood. With 380 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, the engine seemed comfortable carrying 6,069 pounds of large luxury SUV. A six-speed automatic transmission helps send that power to all four wheels. Several buttons on the lower center stack help the driver choose from two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive or an automatic mode that switches between the two. Incidentally, the Navigator is rated to tow up to 8,700 pounds.
When roads are smooth, the Navigator offers a very luxurious ride. However, drive the Navigator over a bump or a lumpy piece of road and it will react accordingly. The culprit is the 22-inch wheels on this Reserve model. With such a large wheel, it is anticipated that ride quality would be affected. Handling is also on the soft side. Snow and ice grip is decent, as long as four-wheel drive is selected. The Pirelli Scorpion tires offer decent grip, even with its 22-inch size.
From a large wood-and-leather steering wheel, you would be surprise how quick and sharp the steering system is. It can do tight maneuvers just fine and react accordingly. However, the large wheel feels a bit loose on-center. Braking is actually quite good for a large SUV. Normal, panic and winter stops modulate well with good ABS control.
No one expects great fuel economy from a Navigator, though Lincoln is making it clear that the EcoBoost will return better consumption than ever. In truth, the Navigator turned a fuel economy average of 15.7MPG. Lincoln stated that it would average a combined 17MPG.
The revised Navigator starts at $61,920 for a two-wheel drive, short wheelbase model. This Reserve trim four-wheel drive tester in the short wheelbase arrived with a sticker price of $73,395. For more space, the L long wheel base model is simply a $1,300 upgrade.
From its looks and capabilities, the Lincoln Navigator seems pretty relevant for our needs. However, it yields a few questions. One, do you need that large of a vehicle? Can you live with something luxurious as the Navigator? What about fuel economy? And, is that price too much to pay for this vehicle?
All basic consumer questions that are addressed when presented with each vehicle. All are tough to answer. If one needed to be swayed – here is a simple thought: the Navigator offers a choice of being large and exuding every inch of it.
Just like the good old days…