CHARLEVOIX, PQ – Lincoln is re-inventing itself, getting rid of that stodgy airport-limo image, one new vehicle at a time.
The 2020 Lincoln Aviator is a big part of that transformation strategy and has little in common with the previous one last sold in 2005. Taking them from largely forgettable vehicles with alphabet-soup model names to ones that can sit confidently on the world stage.
When I first saw the Aviator, revealed last year, I was struck by its sultry silhouette and gently sloping roofline. The inspiration, Lincoln says, came from the shape of an airplane wing. That isn’t the only place where you’ll find the aeronautical theme. It’s also there on the wheels, styled to look like the turbines of a jet engine.
The design shares many cues with the full-size Navigator including the low, wide front-end, glitzy horseshoe-shaped grille, and light-show welcome you get when approaching the vehicle. They call it the “Lincoln embrace”. As you walk up to the Aviator you are greeted with cascading LED lighting and a glowing Lincoln badge. It then lowers itself to ease getting in. All before you can reach for the electronic door handle and pull it open. The lowering bit does require the optional air suspension but more on that in a bit.
The Aviator is based on the new rear-wheel drive architecture underpinning the Ford Explorer and that comes with some advantages. Like more third-row seating room, increased towing capability, and a more robust platform on which to base a luxury SUV.
They’ve crammed a metric ton of technology into this 2020 Aviator, but it never overwhelms when stepping inside the leather-lined cabin. Again, taking stylistic direction from big-brother Navigator you get a very similar interior experience but it feels, surprisingly, even better in here.
With the exception of the faux-leather covered dash that doesn’t feel as nice as some of the European competitors in this class, the execution and build quality is top-notch with an intermingling of fine open-pore wood trim and tasteful chrome accents surrounding switchgear that feels akin to operating high-quality audio equipment.
A 10.1-inch touchscreen running an updated version of SYNC 3 sits at attention, jutting out the centre of the dashboard. Slightly ungainly, it is your main interface to control all the functions and settings for the audio, climate, and various other apps. It’s responsive and quick enough, and it does everything you need, but when compared to the German competition there’s a bit of catching up to do.
Like the control panel of a spaceship, the flying buttress centre-console contains hard buttons for the climate and audio ensuring that vital operations can be manipulated distraction-free.
While many automakers have taken to re-inventing the traditional mechanical gear levers of yore, Lincoln’s approach is a row of piano-like switches that you press to go between park, reverse, neutral, and drive. And it’s an elegant, more intuitive solution to freeing up space on the centre console without the driver having to fumble with some of the needlessly complex transmission controllers you see popping up in cars today.
Upon shutting the soft-close doors you’re instantly ensconced in creamy leather and tomb-like isolation. Rolling down the double-paned acoustic laminated glass windows in the first and second rows and letting the outside world flood in confirms just how quiet this cabin is. Even pushing the engine start-button will make you second-guess if it actually fired up.
The digital instrument cluster display is super minimalist, a refreshing departure from the information overload that you sometimes get from these types of screens, with just the bare minimum of what you need to see at any given time. The steering wheel takes the same approach with just two small joystick-like toggles to control the virtual cockpit screen.
Like others, the adaptive cruise functions on the Aviator are also controlled through the steering wheel but those functions remain invisible until you decide to turn it on at which point they appear on the wheel as if by magic. Using traffic sign detection capability the adaptive cruise control will automatically adjust your speed if you pass through an area where the speed limit drops down or rises up. But what if you wanted to go a little faster or slower than the posted limit? Lincoln thought of this and allows you to set a tolerance of plus or minus 30 km/h.
Optional 30-way “perfect position” seats have more adjustments than just about any other seat on the market including extendable thigh support that in itself isn’t noteworthy or unique by any means but being able to control the extension for each individual leg is something that outside of the Navigator I’ve never seen. They are long-haul comfortable and supportive but I did not find that Goldilocks-approved setting of seating Nirvana they claim to offer.
Being a large near full-size SUV the Aviator has a third row that’s easy to get into by flipping up the second-row individual captain’s chairs (a second-row bench is available), although getting out proved to be a tad more challenging for my 6-foot frame. Once back there the low seating height and limited knee room would be tough to endure for adults on all but the shortest of trips, making the third row much better suited for the little ones. But in this class, that’s par for the course.
Power for the Aviator comes courtesy of a 3-litre twin-turbo V6, part of the Ford Ecoboost family, pushing out an impressive 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque driving all four wheels. Canadians don’t get the option for a rear-drive configuration like the US does. The powertrain provides for ample passing power on the highway and satisfying low-end grunt everywhere else and the transmission moves smoothly and quickly through its 10 gear ratios with shifts that are nearly imperceptible.
Although it wasn’t available for driving impressions a second plug-in hybrid powertrain available on the Aviator Grand touring links the turbo V6 to a 75kW electric motor that’s fed by a 13.6 kWh battery pack under the passenger compartment. It will provide an all-electric drive mode as well as considerably upping the power to a combined 494 hp and a supercar-level 630 foot-pounds of neck-snapping torque at a low 2250 rpm. All while saving fuel and providing an estimated 644 km of range from a tank of gas. And yes those numbers are based on filling up with high-test 93-octane fuel but Lincoln did say that these engines will happily run on regular gas should you decide that premium fuel is too exorbitantly priced.
All the Aviators we drove were equipped with the aforementioned self-levelling and roll stabilizing air suspension system dubbed “Air Glide” an appropriate descriptor for the way this Lincoln wafted down the highway and back roads of rural Quebec. Even the worst pockmarked pavement was easily shrugged off, the air springs capable of ironing out most imperfections. One reason for this “glide of a ride”, although quite difficult to truly test came courtesy of an innovative feature called Road Preview that uses a forward-facing camera to scan for potholes and debris 2 to 8 inches in height and up to 50 feet away. It will then quickly raise the wheel or wheels that are about to come into contact with that object, bracing itself in advance. Like a pothole sixth-sense if you will. Occupants in the cabin are in turn isolated from the harsh, jarring feeling typically associated with this type of impact, continuing on with the drive as if nothing ever happened.
Air Glide will also give you multiple ride heights set by the drive mode, rising up 70 mm in the Deep conditions mode useful during all-terrain driving or heavy snowfall. And it will automatically lower itself at speeds over 113 km/h for improved aerodynamic efficiency.
I can probably write another thousand words on all the other gizmos that you can get, stuff like the brilliant sounding 28-speaker Revel audio system. Or Phone as a Key capability that uses a downloadable phone app to unlock, lock, and start your Aviator even when there isn’t a cell signal. It does this by using the Bluetooth signal from your phone picking up on an array of embedded Bluetooth antennas in the Aviator. If your battery dies or you lose the phone, a passcode can be used to unlock and start the vehicle. But all this doesn’t detract from how well the tech is masked, hiding under a layer of leather and cushioning, out of your direct line of sight. Helping with that feeling of serenity and luxury that will let you unwind after a long hard day. That’s what this new Aviator is all about.
They haven’t gone ahead and tried to infuse sports car like handling into it either, focusing on one thing and doing it well—luxury. Indeed if you try and push the Aviator a bit too hard in the corners it does get unsettled, gently reminding you that this is still a large and heavy three-row SUV.
Lincoln says that they’ve positioned the Aviator to go head to head with Audi’s Q7, the Cadillac XT6, and Volvo’s XC90 all of them on the bigger side of the mid-size luxury spectrum and all of them with three rows. And I can confidently say that the Aviator holds its own against them. In fact given its distinctive style, luxury-first demeanor, and a plethora of advanced technology, it does more than compete. It stands out.
Leave your preconceived notions of the old Lincoln behind. Their new portfolio is mighty impressive and this new Aviator is the jewel of the lineup.
Pricing starts at $ 75,000 plus extras. The Grand Touring plug-in hybrid starts at $85,000. Both are available now.