We drove a $90,000 Lincoln Navigator for a week and saw why Ford can't build the SUV fast enough

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  • The original luxury SUV is all-new for 2018.
  • It embodies Lincoln’s “quiet luxury” philosophy at a massive scale.
  • It’s so popular that in January, Lincoln dealers struggled to keep up with demand.
  • We tested it for a week, and it was more than up to every challenge we threw at it.

There’s a mighty new Lincoln Navigator in town, and we really put it through its paces in the New York and New Jersey area as winter bore down on the region.

The Navigator, around since the 1990s, is the original luxury SUV. If the recently arrived new Continental is the flagship sedan of Ford’s revived premium marque, then the Navigator is the dreadnought of the fleet. This is the fourth generation of the big guy. It’s off to a great start. Lincoln reported January sales on February 1, and Navigator was up 132% from January of 2017.

We saw the vehicle for the first time as a flamboyant, nautical-themed concept vehicle at the New York Auto Show in 2016; Lincoln officially debuted the new Navigator at the 2017 show. It was only a matter of time before we got our hands on this behemoth for some test time behind the wheel. That happened in December.

Here’s how it went:


The new Navigator was teased in 2016, if you can call this bonkers gullwing-door beast a tease.

Ford

In 2017, Lincoln head Kumar Galhotra revealed the production vehicle in New York.

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And by the end of the year, we got our hands on the SUV. Our well-optioned 2018 4×4 Reserve trim level tipped the price scales at $US90,000.

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It looked sharp in an “Ingot Silver Metallic” paint job.

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The only way to make the 2018 Navigator look small is to zoom out.

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Up close, this is an enormous vehicle. As it always has been, so shall it be for the fourth generation.

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The Lincoln Navigator is large and in charge from every angle. The vehicle is over 18 feet long and over six feet wide. The new SUV is 200 pounds lighter than the previous generation, but it can still top out at over 6,000 pounds.

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The sheer intrinsic mass and bulk of the SUV presented a design challenge for Lincoln — one that was successfully overcome by taking a great big box and looking for any opportunity to make it sleeker.

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The process begins with the trim, back-sweeping headlights, which tape to the Navigator’s beltline.

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That element extends to the rear and joins the headlight with the tail lights. If you look closely, you can see a very gentle slope to the roofline, ending in a modest spoiler. Compared to the outgoing Navigator, this generation looks more taut and sophisticated.

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There are a few exterior flourishes, but nothing too over-the-top.

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Of course the Navigator really announces itself with its bold grille and front fascia: the grillework itself replicates the shape of the famous Lincoln star badge — which, by the way, lights up.

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Out back, it’s the brand name. Lincoln was on the chopping block after the financial crisis, but Ford recommitted to the marque, and the comeback is now nearly complete.

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Let’s step inside — via a step that automatically extends and retracts.

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As my colleague Ben Zhang said, Lincoln really thought through the interior to make the Navigator stand out against it main rival, the Cadillac Escalade, and to deliver on Lincoln’s brand promise of “quiet luxury.”

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Our tester had an “Ebony” interior with lovely wood accents. The driving position is commanding.

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But the instrument cluster is ultra-minimalist. Lincoln has reimagined the information experience to be about only what the driver really needs.

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The front-seat passenger is wrapped in comfort. Seats are both heated and cooled.

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Lincoln has also installed seats that can be extensively adjusted.

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The grain in the wood is downright gorgeous.

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The drive-mode selector. Matters get a little esoteric here. Lincoln has replaced some of the more conventional terms with words like “Conserve,” “Normal,” and “Excite” to make what the Navigator actually does more intuitive.

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The piano-key shifter means no stick or knob to deal with, decluttering the interior. The 10-speed automatic also offers paddle shifters.

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The twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 engine cranks out 450 horsepower. Lincoln didn’t provide us with fuel-economy estimates, but we observed something like 18-20 mpg combined city/highway. That’s not bad for an SUV this big and heavy. With 510 pound-feet of torque, the Navigator is no slouch at towing: Lincoln says it’s best-in-class, capable of hauling 8,700 pounds.

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There are plenty of three-row SUVs out there, but the Navigator is a TRUE eight-passenger hauler. Adults won’t feel cramped in the third row.

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The second row is plush.

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Passenger can genuinely settle in.

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A pair of rear infotainment screens provides an abundant range of entertainment options.

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A technology called “Lincoln Play,” according to the brand, “allows passengers to stream content wirelessly with compatible mobile devices to one of the 10-inch adjustable screens mounted on the rear of the front seats.”

The screen can also show independent content, and media can be input using wired connections, such as through USB or HDMI ports.

Lincoln also offers 4G LTE WiFi connectivity, which can handle 10 devices, according to the carmaker.


The second row has its own bank of climate controls.

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And there’s a large moonroof to prevent the back seats from feeling like a cave.

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As with the previous Navigator, cargo capacity is vast.

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Drop both rows of seats and you effectively have an enclosed pickup truck.

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The central infotainment touchscreen runs Ford’s SYNC 3 systems. The core interface is a suite of apps.

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As usual, we spent a good deal of time with the lovely audio system, which features SiriusXM satellite radio as well as the usual USB/AUX ports and Bluetooth connectivity for devices.

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Out tester came with a 20-speaker Revel Ultima sound system, a $US1,000 upgrade that’s definitely worth it.


The navigation in the Navigator was unflappable, and we ventured from the suburbs of New Jersey to Brooklyn.

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Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also available …

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… making it possible to use your smartphone for navigation, entertainment, and to bring Siri online as your voice assistant.

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So what’s the verdict?

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The new Navigator is indeed new. Lincoln’s revival and the “quiet luxury” approach hasn’t meant that the SUV replicated everything we saw on the concept vehicle, but what we have here is a very large machine that’s also quite suave, loaded with technology and a high level of luxury for the price, and outwardly much more urbane and stylish than the previous generation.

The Navigator continues to be a Ford Expedition under the skin, but the overall impression isn’t one of a badge-engineered premium upgrade. The Navigator continues to maintain its own identity.

Power junkies might wonder how the 3.5-litre twin-turbo mill stacks up against the 5.4-litre V8 from the previous generation, but Lincoln did add the smaller engine to the lineup in 2015, so the market was prepared.

I thought it performed admirably, and in my testing, I worked my way through all the drive modes and explored the various dimensions of the foul-weather setup, as a snowstorm swept into the New York and New Jersey area (the four-wheel-drive system can be tweaked to handle both moderate and deep snow). The Navigator brushed it off. The turbos also exhibited no lag, as the power came on strong no matter what.

I pushed the limits of this big rig’s people-toting capacity: six adults and two teenagers at one point. The six adults also made the run to Brooklyn and there were no complaints about comfort. Jaunts to the grocery store to provision my family of five were sort of comical. “Is that all you’ve got?” the ‘Gator seemed to be asking. It might have been happier if I’d been trying to load an upright piano.

Navigators are popular for high-end livery service, so the new SUV should make those buyers happy, as it has before. For civilian families, the thing is a dream: so big, so comfortable, so many entertainment options. And the 10-speed auto coupled with the V6 motor and lighter weight mean that while MPGs still aren’t great, the Navigator provides some relief at the pump.

With the new Navigator, following the debut of the flagship Continental sedan, Lincoln has nearly completed its comeback in the luxury market. Navigator was an important part of this process, and Lincoln has basically done everything right. The classic has been updated, gracefully, without sacrificing its functionality. It now stacks up much better against the Cadillac Escalade, and Caddy will be under pressure to keep pace.

If really, really big rides are your bag, you can’t go wrong with the 2018 Navigator. Lincoln created this segment, and it’s clear that they still know exactly what they’re doing.

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