There’s more choice than ever if you need a full-size luxury 3-row SUV, compared to even just five years ago. A segment that was deemed rather unpopular due to environmental implications and rising fuel costs is now surging forward, re-invigorated with efficient powertrains and fuel-saving technology.
Pick any one of these and the entire family will travel in absolute comfort, surrounded by rows of plush leather and high-tech lighting rivaling many modern living rooms.
The Lincoln Navigator is one of the originals. The Escalade might have popularized the large luxury SUV and 24-inch spinner wheels but the Expedition-based Navigator was first to market, in production since 1997, a year earlier than the Caddy.
For 2020 the Navigator gets more standard equipment including power running boards, heated and ventilated front seats, and a wireless charger. Lincoln’s self-explanatory Phone-as-a-key is also included as is the comprehensive Lincoln 360 suite of safety nannies and driver aids.
Luxury vehicles have become as much about the experience as they have about their gizmos, gadgets, and build quality. Approach the Navigator with the key (or phone) in hand and the headlights and Lincoln badge greet you with a choreographed lighting sequence that also extends the running boards and projects a Lincoln welcome mat on the ground. It’s called the “Lincoln embrace” and even after a week with the Navigator, the novelty of the whole thing didn’t wear off.
The Navigator is based on the Ford Expedition, which is based on the F-150 pickup, but you’d never know it. When you climb in for the first time you are treated to what might be the best example of a domestic luxury cabin in existence. From the design and layout to the materials and execution, when auto scribes say, “this is a nice place to spend some time” this is what they mean.
Most of the touchpoints feel expensive and knobs and buttons operate with a precise, weighty feel. You still find some switchgear that feels like it came straight from Ford’s parts bin but that’s the exception and not the rule. There’s also less use of shiny chrome now on the dash, a good move, and the floating centre console makes me feel like I’m in command of my very own starship. I even quickly got used to the piano key gear selector, that’s so well integrated into dashboard you might not immediately find it.
The digital instrument cluster is one of my favourite parts of the interior, with a minimalist design that only displays what is necessary. The theme here is elegance and it carries over to the way the Navigator drives.
Normally a vehicle this large is anything but elegant, but adaptive dampers, laminated glass, and an independent rear suspension provide a ride that will waft passengers along in peace and quiet. Even with 22-inch wheels and low profile tires, the suspension soaks up most road imperfections, but every so often you’ll hit bumps that reverberate through the chassis, a reminder of the Navigator’s utilitarian underpinnings.
At other times the driving experience can feel a bit too soft and disconnected. Road undulations and dips send the Navigator bobbing and weaving, making you well aware of the size of the vehicle you are piloting. Switching to “Excite” from the Navigator’s list of drive modes firms things up considerably and enhances throttle response and shift speed. There’s definitely more confidence behind the wheel to be found here but it comes at the cost of ride quality. A setting somewhere in between “Excite” and the default “Normal” would be ideal.
There’s no issue with the powertrain, though, unless you like the brag about how many cylinders you have because there’s only 6 under this hood. And it really doesn’t need more. Thanks to twin turbochargers, this 3.5-L V6 that also sees duty in the F-150 Raptor makes 450 hp and 510 ft-lb of torque. More than any V8-powered Navigator that came before. Mated to a 10-speed autobox, that can drop multiple gears at once, the Navigator feels responsive and powerful. And because it has so many gears, highway cruising will yield economy in the 10L/100 km range.
Considering much of my driving was done on surface streets, and not on the highway, my result of 14L/100 km is not all that bad considering this Navigator could basically double as a second home.
This year the Navigator is available only as Reserve model, which means most of what you expect in this ilk of vehicle is included. As before there are long and short wheelbase models. Choose the long wheelbase if you require extra cargo room behind the third row. It adds about a foot to the length of the vehicle and nearly doubles the cargo capacity. Either model, though, provides ample room for up to 8 people. And the third row will accommodate adults, unless you’re well north of 6 feet.
Extras include optional wheels, an appearance package with a body-coloured grille, and a Luxury package, which includes 30-way power seats with individual thigh support adjustment for each leg and a thumping 20-speaker Revel Ultima stereo system.
Plan on towing a lot? A heavy-duty tow package is also available.
The Navigator continues to be one of the best vehicles in its segment, with an interior that can hold its own even when compared to models from across the pond. The new Escalade might slow down some of the Navigator’s momentum but not very many vehicles in this space including said Caddy have as much presence on the road.
If you have the money (and the passengers) the Navigator is worth a look. If you haven’t considered a domestic product in the past it will definitely surprise you.