The verdict: Lincoln’s largest SUV has been largely known as forgettable airport transport, but a redesign for 2018 makes it more memorable in every way.
Versus the competition: All luxury SUVs are fancy, but the Navigator does it with a capital F, providing extras not found in the competition.
It’s been more than a decade since the Lincoln Motor Company Navigator’s last redesign, and some long-overdue changes for 2018 modernize it inside and out, including an opulent exterior styling makeover, a new twin-turbo engine and a slick new multimedia system. (Use our tools to compare the new model with the old version.) There’s also an extended version, which we haven’t driven, called the Navigator L; its extra length increases cargo capacity (see them compared).
The Navigator competes with full-size luxury SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade and Infiniti QX80 (compare them).
A Rolling Palace
The Lincoln Navigator announces its arrival — and yours — with an enormous jeweled grille anchored by an illuminated Lincoln emblem, yet its opulence only hints at the luxuries inside.
To check it out, though, you’ll first have to actually make it inside. The step-in height is high, but I got to skip my usual large-SUV running leap thanks to my favorite standard feature: proximity-activated power running boards. While your key is still in your purse or pocket, the running boards deploy as you approach the vehicle, making climbing into this beast a much more graceful process. Bonus: They also saved me from having to hurl my kids into their car seats. Unlike fixed steps, which err on the higher side to maximize ground clearance, powered running boards extend lower, allowing even little ones to step up into the vehicle.
While driving around with a friend, she commented that riding in the Navigator is like riding around in a couch — and she’s close to right. I’d say it’s more like a giant, plush, cushy leather recliner perched in the lobby of a five-diamond hotel. The Lincoln Navigator’s interior is among the most impressive I’ve seen in terms of both features and comfort.
First, the seats are nap-worthy. Sink into them and you can almost hear a sigh of relaxation (or maybe that’s the leather breathing). They’re enormous, cushy yet supportive, and they offer seemingly infinite adjustments for maximum comfort. They’re available with 30 power adjustments, they’re heated and they can also be ventilated — and they can be equipped with a massage function.
Second, materials quality is top-notch, and the design is simple but sophisticated. Everything is padded and looks and feels classy, from the low-gloss wood trim to the supple leather seats. Driving around during my low-key, errand-filled weekend, I felt underdressed.
There are a couple of bells and whistles that stand out in the rear seats, too. Both the second and third rows have adult-friendly headroom and legroom, and it’s a breeze to get back to the third row — unlike in the QX80. The Lincoln Navigator’s power sliding seats move out of the way to create a huge opening to the third row. In our Car Seat Check, the second row was also roomy enough to accommodate three car seats; two car seats fit in the third row.
Another highlight of the second row is the Navigator’s illuminated seat belt buckles. Yes, that sounds gimmicky, but they were quite helpful when my second-grader was fumbling around for her buckle in the dark.
Both rows of seats go down in a sort of power-folding seat ballet controlled by cargo-area buttons. By the numbers, the Navigator has more cargo room than the competition, with 18.1 cubic feet behind the third row, 54.4 cubic feet behind the second row and 103.3 cubic feet with all seats folded. The Escalade offers 15.2/51.6/94.2 cubic feet, and the QX80 has 16.6/49.6/95.1 cubic feet. Note that with both backseat rows folded, the Navigator offers almost 10 cubic feet more than either competitor. If you need more room still, the Navigator L provides 34.3/73.3/120.2 cubic feet.
The other side of the coin is that piloting the Navigator is a lot like driving a couch, too — a massive, whisper-quiet couch; there’s no disguising its enormity on the road. It feels bulky and truck-based in terms of maneuverability, and I relied heavily on the standard multiview camera with distance alert to park it.
I felt comfortable with the Lincoln Navigator’s firm, natural steering, but its handling often felt clumsy. It careened around corners with all the grace of a labradoodle puppy. Ride quality is an issue, too; it’s overly soft and lacks control over big bumps, but it also shimmies over smaller bumps and patches of broken pavement.
Power, however, isn’t a problem. Despite all that heft, the Navigator never felt slow. Its 450-horsepower, twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 was more than enough around town, and it had ample grunt on the highway — though I never tried it loaded down with people or stuff. Its responsiveness is helped by a quick, smooth and well-timed 10-speed automatic transmission, another new feature for 2018. Also new is a stop-start system that could use some polish; it’s pretty intrusive, but can be deactivated via a button on the console.
Fuel economy is up for 2018 thanks to the new powertrain. The Lincoln Navigator is EPA-rated at 16/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined with rear-wheel drive, up from last year’s rating of 15/21/17 mpg. It sacrifices 1 mpg combined when equipped with all-wheel drive. Competitors trail it: The Escalade is rated 14/23/17 and the QX80 is 14/20/16 mpg (both with rear-wheel drive).
Big Leaps in Technology
The Navigator’s wide array of technology features also dazzles. The standard multimedia system is powered by the latest version of Ford’s Sync system, Sync 3, and has standard Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility. The touchscreen is mounted high on the dash for great visibility, and it’s huge. Even better, it’s also responsive and easy to use. Behind the steering wheel is a customizable 12-inch digital instrument display that the driver can alter to show a range of information.
Most of the controls are handily located, but I did find the climate controls to be a little clumsy. Some are grouped separately under the screen, while others appear within menus in the touchscreen; the setup took some acclimation. In the same vein, the electronic gear selector threw me a bit, though I got used to it pretty quickly. The panel features P, R, N and D buttons arranged horizontally and tucked above the climate controls.
Wireless hot spot capability for up to 10 devices is standard, as is a wireless charging mat for compatible devices. There are six USB ports, four 12-volt outlets and a 110-volt household outlet to keep devices juiced up.
Though my test car didn’t have a rear entertainment system, there is one available. It has two 10-inch screens mounted to the back of the front seats, each of which can play different content simultaneously via an HDMI- or USB-connected device. Users can also stream content from Android devices wirelessly to the screens; at this point, Apple devices can do so only via a USB cord.
The all-new 2018 Lincoln Navigator has not yet been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A 360-degree camera system is standard, as is a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. Other features, like forward collision warning and braking (with the added feature of pedestrian detection), radar-based adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning are optional. Also optional is a new Trailer Backup Assist system, which uses a dial to the right of the steering wheel to help you steer while backing up with a trailer.
Big Ticket Item
Lincoln’s new land yacht looks and feels expensive, so its lofty price shouldn’t surprise you. What might surprise you is that its price tag sits in the middle of the competition: The Navigator’s base price starts at $73,250 for two-wheel-drive model. A base Cadillac Escalade starts at $75,990, and the QX80 starts at $64,845 (all prices include destination charges). The Navigator’s price climbs quickly, however: The uplevel Reserve trim I tested topped out at almost $89,000 after adding extras like Burgundy Velvet paint, a premium Revel audio system and — oddly — a $225 single-CD player option.
With this redesign, Lincoln added heightened levels of style, comfort and technology to the Navigator. As a driver or passenger, you won’t forget it.
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