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Lincoln Aviator Rises to the Occasion With Elevated Style, High Tech

Lincoln Aviator SUV

Competes with: Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Infiniti QX60

Looks like: The best application of Lincoln styling to date

Powertrain: Twin-turbocharged gasoline engine, available plug-in hybrid system with same engine; rear-wheel drive standard

Hits dealerships: 2019

Lincoln has taken the wraps off the latest addition to its lineup: a three-row SUV called the Aviator, which makes its debut at the 2018 New York International Auto Show. The Aviator is the first of two all-new SUVs that Lincoln says it will bring to market before 2020.

Related: More 2018 New York Auto Show Coverage

Bear in mind that the Aviator being shown here is not a full production version of the Aviator that will start construction and roll to dealerships sometime in 2019. Lincoln is calling this a "production preview" — which means that there may be some minor tweaks to a few features before the real version is shown (such as the side mirrors and wheels). But the general styling and shape are both "very close" to what you'll see in dealerships, according to Lincoln representatives.

Though the Aviator name isn't new to Lincoln (it was sold from 2003 to 2005), everything else about the SUV is very much revelatory. This is the first application of a new rear-wheel-drive SUV platform that Lincoln has developed; it's also the first time Lincoln will pair one of its twin-turbo gas engines with a plug-in hybrid system.

Exterior

The Aviator's styling is head-turning in a good way. It uses many familiar shapes and touches found in other Lincoln vehicles, but they come together here in a way that I didn't expect and am pleasantly surprised by.

It starts with the front grille, which has the same general shape as Lincoln's other models, except designers say they flipped the mesh to give it unique detailing, and it makes the grille pop even more. The Aviator also features a very flat beltline, which can be distinguished by a chrome strip running right underneath the side windows. This helps to give the Aviator gigantic side windows, which improve cabin visibility, as well.

Interior

There are parts of the Aviator's interior that are borrowed from the larger Navigator — and that's a good thing. These include the 10-inch touchscreen center display, 12-inch instrument-cluster display and 30-way Perfect Position power adjustable front seats with a massage function. Lincoln tells us that the Aviator will also come with expanded massage patterns that are more soothing so you can relax and drive all at once.

Lincoln says the second and third rows will have ample room for adult passengers, that a 6-foot-tall passenger should fit in the third row and that someone up to 6-foot-2 will fit in the second-row from a legroom perspective; that's something we'll have to test in the production car when we get the chance. The second row will tilt and slide forward on both sides to allow easier access to the third row.

The Aviator will also debut Phone as a Key technology for Lincoln, enabling your smartphone to become a car key: An app will give the phone the same functionality as a key fob, allowing it to lock and unlock doors and chirp to help find the Aviator in parking lots. If your phone dies, a backup passcode can be used to unlock the doors and start the vehicle.

Under the Hood

Lincoln didn't provide any real details on the powertrain, but we do know a few things. The Aviator will be the first Lincoln on a new, rear-wheel-drive SUV architecture, and we can reasonably assume an all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive version will be offered. The gas engine will be a twin-turbocharged engine of some kind; that would point to one of Ford's twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6s (either 2.7- or 3.5-liters) if an existing engine were used.

What's most exciting about the powertrain details Lincoln was willing to share is that a plug-in hybrid system will be layered on top of this gas engine to give the Aviator some upfront electric range. No details were yet available on the system components or how powerful it would be — but adding that kind of technology will help the Aviator stand out among competitors.

Safety

The Aviator will be well-equipped on the safety front, as well. The SUV will feature the Ford-based Lincoln Co-Pilot360 standard, a suite of technologies that includes forward automatic braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warnings, lane keep assist and automatic high beams. A rear brake assist system will also be available that will automatically brake the Aviator if an obstacle is detected behind it.

The Aviator also adds another use for its forward camera: It will scan the road ahead of the car to detect road imperfections and potholes. The vehicle will then prep the adaptive damping suspension to smooth out the Aviator's ride over those obstacles.

Lincoln says the Aviator will start production and roll to dealerships sometime in 2019, and we'll keep an eye out for a full production version of the all-new SUV before that.

Lincoln Aviator; Cars.com photos by Christian Lantry

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