Lincoln invented the big, unapologetic luxury SUV with the Navigator in 1997. But after they set the table, Cadillac sat down to lunch with 1999's Escalade becoming the darling of a thousand music video producers and Manhattan car services, helping it steal the market: 26,435 Escalades have sold so far this year compared to 7,193 Navigators. Even Infiniti's Fudgie the Whale outsells the Nav, two to one.
With the 2018 Navigator, Lincoln puts its shoulder back into the category it created: Think Continental on a grand scale and, for Lincoln, a grand profit scale: The new Navigator starts at $73,250 delivered, over $8,500 more than the outgoing base model, and the Black Label trim 4x4 version we sampled came to $98,145. This better not be just a trimmed out Expedition. And it's not.
If you love the new Continental but share America and China's massive appetite for SUVs, the Navigator is for you. It migrates Continental style without becoming distorted or grotesque. Aside from gullwing doors and a deployable staircase (!), this is almost exactlyin 2016.
Inside, you settle into available 30-way power seats that seem absurd until you get them right - and then you wonder if you've ever had a comfortable car seat before. The center console is laid back to create a spaciousness. The knobs, switches and displays are finely wrought and no longer from the Expedition parts sheet. Personally, I'm sick of goofy, offset organic shapes in car interiors and the Navigator cabin avoids those with a rectangular, handsome look that is rooted in 60's Lincolns.
Check the Tech
A 12" LCD instrument panel isn't novel any more, but the spareness of the Lincoln's display could make a Volvo look rococo. Over in the center stack, a 10-inch, squarish center screen juts up a bit too proudly but is easy to reach and has faultless touch response to drive the SYNC 3, Android Auto or Apple CarPlay interfaces.
No new ground is broken here in terms of voice recognition, until late 2017 when Navigators will start to offer Amazon Alexa integration to handle things like media playback or controlling your smart home with a push of the steering wheel voice button. If you buy a Navigator before then, get your dealer to sign - in blood - a guarantee that they'll upgrade your early production 2018 Navigator to have Alexa later.
The head up display (HUD) is bright and vast in the windshield, the biggest in the business Lincoln claims. (Oddly, they are up against the new Camry in the battle for those bragging rights.) There are no silly gesture controls.
I barely noticed the 20-speaker Revel audio rig. It sounded excellent but at this price point, they all do.
I find second row screens that support USB/HDMI/SD inputs useless in a world of phones and tablets, but here they also support Miracast for wireless streaming from your mobile device. The Miracast consortium claims nearly 7,000 devices support the standard, but none of them are iPhones or Pixels so it remains a non-standard standard. The rear seat screens also have an embedded Sling player to watch your home Slingbox on the road via the Navigator's integrated 4G modem and hotspot. Slick, but a little late.
The second and third rows flatten at the press of a couple buttons but the second row console remains there like an island in a stream; Temper your dreams of hauling sheetrock in style. That's not why you buy a Navigator, but there will be the occasional weekend when you're confounded that you own something this big and still have to rent a truck to move a sofa.
2018 Navs can also be had in a long wheelbase L version which adds a foot of length to the rear cargo area - no legroom is gained in any row of seats.
On the Road
I was told to expect a great disconnect between the visual mass of the Navigator and the perceived mass of its handling. They were right and that disconnect is one of the most important things a full size SUV can deliver. Nobody enjoys driving a house, and I never felt like I was. Turn-in through curves involves the front wheels and body at once, not the first and then the latter.
All new Navigators are powered by a rortier version of the corporate 3.5L twin turbo V6, in stark contrast to the Escalade's honking 6.2L V8 that delivers less power and torque. The new Lincoln's 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque also best the outgoing 2017 Navigator by 70 horsepower and 50 lb-ft.
The key to feeling those numbers is to switch the drive mode to "Excite", Lincoln's take on Sport mode that makes everything more eager and alert without turning the Navigator into a Jack Russell Terrier. After initially playing with the shift paddles, I stopped using them because Excite handled adaption so well. When pressed, there's just enough exhaust snarl to make you wonder whatever happened to the beater Z you had in college. Standard drive mode was less satisfying, doing the usual top gear hunt for best MPG that deadens response. All new Navigators send power to either rear or all wheels via a 10-speed automatic that was, ironically, developed with GM. A gallon is consumed every 18-19 miles.
The entire body is aluminum over high strength steel, a page taken from the F-150 playbook. It's said to shave 200 pounds from the new Navigator, paltry compared to the 700+ pounds the technique shaved off F-150 but this is a fully enclosed vehicle loaded with content, not a truck with a bed full of air.
Ride quality is excellent, but that wasn't surprising given the adaptive suspension and lots of mass: 2018 Navigators weigh 5,700 to 6,000 pounds.
Driver assists seemed well calibrated and center around the usual troika of adaptive cruise control, active lane keeping and automatic emergency braking. No new ground is tilled here while Ford sorts out its stated focus on achieving Level 4 autonomy.
Better than Escalade?
I need to get the two head-to-head, and alongside the upstart Infiniti QX-80, but Lincoln has completely restated their offer with the 2018 Navigator. Continental style, responsive driving centered on a smarter engine architecture, and lots of tech without holding a science fair make for a combination the Escalade intender cannot ignore.