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2020 Lincoln Aviator Plug-In Hybrid First Drive: Still Getting Its Wings

2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring plug-in hybrid

With the return of the Aviator mid-size SUV to Lincoln’s lineup for the 2020 model year, Ford’s luxury brand is also launching its first plug-in hybrid. Dubbed Aviator Grand Touring, the plug-in-hybrid variant delivers the same level of luxury as its gas-only counterpart, but it’s shortchanged by powertrain and braking systems that don’t feel as refined.

Related: 2020 Lincoln Aviator First Drive: A Surprisingly Sporty Luxury SUV

Lincoln invited us to Northern California to drive both the gas-only Aviator and plug-in-hybrid Grand Touring for the first time. (Per our ethics policy, Cars.com pays for its own airfare and lodging at such automaker-sponsored events.)

The Aviator is related to the recently redesigned Ford Explorer, which comes with a choice of gas engines as well as a conventional, non-plug-in-hybrid drivetrain. Regular Aviators are on sale now, but the Grand Touring covered here is scheduled to hit Lincoln dealerships in the fall.

How It Drives

Like most other luxury plug-in hybrids, the Aviator Grand Touring emphasizes performance over electric-only range. (Lincoln says the Grand Touring can go about 18 miles solely on electric power, but official EPA estimates haven’t been released yet.) Lincoln says the integration of a 75-kilowatt electric motor with the SUV’s twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 and 10-speed automatic transmission results in total system output of 494 horsepower and a massive 630 pounds-feet of torque.

While the Grand Touring makes plenty of power, it doesn’t deliver it as well as the gas-only Aviator. Its 10-speed automatic isn’t as decisive and shifts aren’t as refined. Overall, there’s a busyness to the drivetrain that wasn’t there in the regular Aviator.

Brake feel also isn’t as good as the gas version. The Grand Touring’s brake pedal feels spongy and isn’t as linear as the regular Aviator’s. This kind of pedal feel isn’t uncommon among hybrids, however, which incorporate regenerative braking systems to capture and reuse kinetic energy that would otherwise be lost as heat.

Grand Touring models get two additional drive modes: Preserve EV and Pure EV. In Preserve EV, the gas engine acts as a generator to recharge the SUV’s 13.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack up to 75 percent of its capacity for later use. Pure EV lets you drive on electric power alone provided the battery has enough of a charge, and it’ll maintain all-electric operation even if you floor the accelerator. Maximum acceleration on electric power is modest, and this will trigger an alert in the digital instrument panel that asks whether you want to also use the gas engine for better performance.

2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring plug-in hybrid

Official fuel economy figures for the Grand Touring haven’t been released as of publication, but Lincoln said it should get 23 mpg in combined driving, which is 3 mpg better than the all-wheel-drive Aviator (the Grand Touring comes only with all-wheel drive). Lincoln says it’ll take three to four hours to fully charge the lithium-ion battery pack on 240-volt service.

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Which Aviator Should You Buy?

With a starting price of $69,895, including a $1,095 destination charge, the Grand Touring model is around $10,000 more expensive than the similarly equipped Reserve trim level with all-wheel drive, and about $2,000 more than the 2019 Volvo XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid, which offers similar electric-only range. The EPA hasn’t posted federal tax credit information for the Grand Touring as of publication, but based on the IRS formula that determines the amount of the credit, it should be eligible for up to $6,500 in savings. Additional incentives are available in select states.

The federal tax credit brings the Grand Touring within a few thousand dollars of a similar gas Aviator, but the plug-in’s modest electric-only range and fuel economy bump aren’t enough to make it more appealing than the regular Aviator — especially because the Grand Touring’s drivetrain and braking systems could still use some sorting.

2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring plug-in hybrid

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