Lincoln will reveal a concept version of its next-generation Navigator SUV at the New York Auto Show on Wednesday — and the big new SUV is the boldest concept Ford’s luxury brand has rolled out since its comeback began several years ago.
The Navigator was first introduced in 1997. With the Cadillac Escalade, it defines the large-and-in-charge SUV market.
These are SUVs executed on an epic scale. Sales were relatively strong until the early 2000s, when gas prices began to creep up and the tide of consumer sentiment turned against big, gas-guzzling trucks.
The financial crisis put Lincoln into a tailspin and raised doubts at Ford about whether the brand should live.
But live it did, and now it’s on a solid run. In 2015, Lincoln captivated the New York Auto Show with its Continental concept (the production version was one of the stars of the 2016 Detroit Auto Show).
This year in New York, Lincoln gave journalists a sneak preview of the direction the Navigator will be moving in. Some of the concept’s more exotic features — massive gullwing doors and retractable concertina steps adorned with nautical teak — will probably not make it to the production vehicle.
Sleek and suave
But the overall suave and sleek redesign, which follows a refresh of the old SUV from 2015, marks an interesting new phase in Lincoln’s revival. The brand is zigging when much of the rest of the competition is zagging, aiming to deliver what Lincoln president Kumar Galhotra calls “quiet luxury.” Mercedes, Lexus, BMW, and Cadillac have all taken an aggressive tack in the design of their SUVs.
But Lincoln is going for something different: easygoing, self-confident sophistication with a dash of hard jazz.
It had to bring Navigator into that evolving brand story — and do in a big way.
“It’s a vehicle we have to have,” Galhotra told Business Insider. “The original Navigator fundamentally changed the paradigm for luxury customers. It’s an ionic nameplate.”
Galhotra was clearly delighted that he could preside over his second high-drama concept presentation in as many years. And for the moment, Lincoln’s quiet luxury is a bit more brash.
Born from yachts
The Navigator concept was inspired by yachts and the world of luxury boating, according to designer David Woodhouse, who provided us with a walkaround of the quite large vehicle once the huge white sheet was pulled off at an exhibition space in Manhattan’s West Chelsea art gallery neighbourhood.
The yachting theme “influenced everything from the clean, modern lines and Storm Blue paint on the exterior that mimics the grays and blues of sea and sky, to the teak finishes, custom gear and wardrobe management system found inside,” Lincoln said in a statement.
A massive new Lincoln grille and badge fill one’s field of vision when considering the Navigator head on. This will be a common visual element on all new Lincolns going forward.
The wardrobe management is actually rather cool: it’s a rack that would accommodate everything the modern yachtsman or yachtswoman would need for a day on the water and an evening at the yacht club.
The fourth-generation of the Navigator will get a 400-plus-horsepower, 3.5-litre V6 engine, Lincoln said, along with a host of features already familiar to owners of the brand’s crossovers and sedans, including 30-way adjustable seats and a suite of collision-avoidance and advanced cruise-control technologies. The production version will also have the kind of towing capacity that Navigators have come to expect — to tow, for example, a small yacht!
For the concept, Lincoln also showed what quiet luxury looks like when it enters the Navigator’s infotainment system. There are four interconnected screens — two in the second row and two in the third — on which passengers can enjoy multiplayer games and other shared apps, thanks to in-vehicle wifi.
But it’s the driver’s instrument cluster that signals Lincoln’s whole attitude toward its customers, who want to tune out distractions rather than being bombarded with data. The instrument screen can be customised to display only the most essential driving information (owners who want more can add information, if they choose).
Really huge cars are sometimes derisively called “boats” or “land yachts,” but with the Navigator concept, Lincoln has turned that idea completely around. It’s a Navigator, sure, so it has to be immense. But inside and out — in concept at any rate — it looks like it’s ready to cut through open water rather than slosh around in a currently bay.
It also proves that Lincoln and Ford aren’t holding back when it comes to reinventing the brand. If you want to see the early star of the New York Auto Show, this could be it.