Video: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: April 16, 2018
The Lincoln Navigator is back, and it’s shaved off nearly 200 lbs since we last drove it. There’s new and distinct sheetmetal, a new powertrain, new interior tech and new materials, but is it enough to make up for its lack of a competitive edge over all these years? Because surely, the Cadillac Escalade and Infiniti QX80 have kept up with modern standards. Let’s go for a drive and find out.
Most of the sheetmetal is brand new, showing off its soft and clean lines - it still looks undoubtedly Lincoln, but more mature and modern. It doesn’t have an aggressive demeanor like the Cadillac Escalade, nor as it as bulbous as the Infiniti QX80 but it is easier on the eyes and less ungainly to stare at. The Navigator doesn’t bother trying to hide its size, and signature Lincoln cues make an appearance with the horizontal light bar out back and mesh grille up front. The lit-up front badge sounds cool but comes off as a little tacky, especially when you’re driving in front of one and all you see is a floating Lincoln badge in your rear view mirror. Was probably the marketing team’s idea.
The new Navigator does without a V8 but impresses with near V8-like performance. Still a thirsty one, though. Under the hood is a 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6, the same engine as in the F-150 Raptor, and offers a relentless build up of power. Those turbos play hard in this field and warrant a two thumbs up to feeling nearly as linear as the naturally aspirated V8s.
Cadillac Escalade only pushes 420-hp from its naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8, though it felt more linear and controlled, the Navigator definitely feels quicker and more eager to get off the line. Where the Escalade’s V8 thrived at the top end of the powerband and had a much broader torque curve, the Navigator lives at the bottom, providing useful low-end thrust and quick bursts of power.
Driving the Navi is like trying to pilot a two-storey building. Horizontal body motions actually kept in check, better at swerving around bends than the Escalade and QX80. However it’s the vertical motions that have me bouncing about, where I think the rival two are better damped. Ride was a little busy with the 22-inch wheels, and to be honest doesn’t feel any more comfortable than the Escalade. Doesn’t isolate occupants from the road better than the Range Rover either. Sort of disappoints in this regard, seeing how Lincoln kept praising its dedication to “quiet luxury”. Cabin insulation is excellent however, and it’s easy to keep whisper quiet conversations when going at triple digit speeds.
Steering is number than an anesthetized arm but that’s perfectly acceptable in this huge SUV. It makes the Navigator easy to drive and rotate without requiring the forearm of a bodybuilder. I actually like this steering rack better than the Escalade. The brakes have a good linear push, and aren’t as spongy and pillowy as other large SUVs, giving you foolproof confidence coming to a halt without all your groceries splashing forward.
Exhaust noise is pretty much non-existent - not sure if that’s a good thing or not. I think that was Lincoln’s plan along, to offer superior cabin insulation without any protruding road noise, including exhaust. But from a big car like this I do want some sonic presence, and it’s here that the two cylinders from the Escalade’s authoritative and American soundtrack really come into favour.
Fuel economy wise, we averaged 15.6 L/100km in the city, and a poor 13.1 L/100km on highway alone. Not the best, but not abysmal. Once Lincoln electrifies its lineup, including this Navi, I think that will be the powertrain to beat.
Lincoln has comprehensively changed the interior - it’s night and day from the outgoing model, and that also goes for the current Lincoln models like the Nautilus and Aviator. The Navigator sets the new standard for the full-size SUV realm with interior style, quality, and novel features. Many will say the Escalade looks almost outdated compared to the Navi, but then you have to realize the Escalade was last thoroughly updated in 2015, which is an eternity in the automotive industry. When Cadillac spruces up their full-sizer for its fifth-gen iteration, I’m sure it will be something spectacular as well.
What impressed me most is how different the Navigator feels from the Ford Expedition - they are no longer carbon copies of each other with different materials and badging. They look nothing alike, with a Navigator-specific dashboard, center console, and gauges. Even the infotainment system has a different interface, and the multi-panel seats are unique too - they look like those reaction-testing punching pads you see at Dave & Busters. These seats are the same ones in the Continental and are exceptionally comfortable but not for everyone due to their slim size and strong bolstering. The massage feature is a welcome addition and knurls your back rather forcefully, but still don’t beat the ones we experienced in the Porsche Panamera.
The cabin polish looked better in photos. The shine and finish is excellent but just doesn’t have the same “wow” factor when you see it up close in person. The center console is clean and symmetrical - sitting in the back its like peering down a Manhattan city street, but the dizzying array of buttons, colours, knobs, and dials become a sensory overload. The cover panels don’t “click” with that same satisfying feel as you’d find in a BMW, the wood veneer doesn’t appear to be of the highest quality, and the new gear shifting buttons that take over the job of the traditional column stalk or shifter just don’t feel that great to push. Of course, I’m putting the Navigator against some fairly high standards, but when you’re spending $100,000 I’d expect nothing less.
The second row seats are spacious, heated, and can recline a considerable amount. Headroom is surprisingly poor - you sit very high up. Luckily the seat reclines as much as your living room chair, so you can sit back there in total comfort. The screens look expensive and important - but the smaller low-rent screen in the center console doesn’t.
The seats can easily slide forward allowing access to the cavernous third row. I stand six feet tall and I would not mind spending a few hours in any one of the seven seats available. Like the Expedition, the third row seats can power-recline, and legroom is exceptionally good with its relatively flat floor bed.
Gripes? It’s chrome central in here and a little too shiny for my taste. Something tells me Navigator buyers won’t mind one bit. The plethora of buttons and challenging learning curve of their relation of use can make it a little difficult for the intended buyers. That also goes for the dizzying array of driving modes, from “Excite” to “Conserve”. Each even have their own little explanation with crisp graphic animations to explain what they do. Best to just keep it simple, Lincoln. The Star Trek control panels are enough. The paddles also look and feel cheap, like they’re about to fall off. Not cool in a six figure rig. The huge wood panel that runs across the dashboard looks nice, but it’s just too bad the display cuts it right off in the middle - I think the interior would appear more spacious if they integrated into the dash instead.
The Navigator comes in a few configurations in Canada; Select and Reserve, each coming with a long wheelbase variant that adds a lot more room to the third row and back. Each upgrade here costs $3,000. I like how they kept the Technology package separate, which includes safety tech like lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. I know there are quite a select few who don’t bother with these gizmos, and would rather not opt for them. Lincoln gives them an easy way to save a few dollars, instead of packaging these features with other creature comforts.
The new Navigator surprisingly feels and looks more expensive than its Expedition counterpart, and fully justifies its price premium. It overtakes the Escalade and QX80 in the overall segment but I think that’s only because the Navigator is the one with the most recent update, and something tells me that Cadillac and Infiniti aren’t going down without a fight.