2015 Lincoln Navigator review: Lincoln luxes up the Navigator, doesn't change SUV character

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Roadshow Editors' Rating

5.8 Overall
  • Performance 5
  • Features 6
  • Design 7
  • Media 5

The Good The 2015 Lincoln Navigator can be optioned with a versatile four-wheel-drive system and exhibits a surprisingly tight turning circle considering its size. Automatically lowering running boards ease access to the cabin and the Ecoboost V-6 engine gets better fuel economy than the V-8s common in this class.

The Bad Even with an adaptive suspension, the Navigator doesn't handle bumps smoothly. The MyLincoln Touch infotainment system responds sluggishly to inputs.

The Bottom Line Many of the 2015 Lincoln Navigator's high points can be had in its platform-mate, the Ford Expedition, at a lower price, while its bid for luxury status falls short due to bumpy ride quality.

Can we stop trying to pass off SUVs as luxury cars? That was my thought as I drove the 2015 Lincoln Navigator, noting the thin veneer of civility it washes over what is essentially a truck frame. It is, essentially, a Ford Expedition sporting a Lincoln-styled grille, leather seating and niceties such as automatically lowering running boards.

Those trim elements look good, but what really speaks luxury to me is ride quality. I'm talking air suspensions that soak up jolts from the worst that poor road maintenance has to offer, and sound-deadening materials making the cabin a serene place removed from the outside world.

The Navigator makes a reach for these attributes, but falls short. Fortunately, its price undercuts competition from the Cadillac Escalade and Lexus LX .

2015 Lincoln Navigator
The Navigator shows off a stylish Lincoln grille, but underneath it is nearly identical to the Ford Expedition. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

At a base price of $63,115 delivered, and weight of about 3 tons, the 2015 Navigator sits at the top of Lincoln's line-up both in price and size. The model I drove also featured four-wheel-drive and an equipment group that added an adaptive suspension, bringing the total up to $73,395. That's a lot of money, but similar luxury SUVs run closer to $100k. As the Lincoln brand hasn't quite the global reach as Ford, you won't find the Navigator in the UK or Australia.

A V-6 among V-8s

One thing that sets the Navigator apart from the competition is its engine, a 3.5-liter V-6 in a world of V-8s. But down-sized displacement does not mean down-sized power. Despite its two fewer cylinders, this engine gets direct injection and two turbochargers, one for each bank of cylinders, bringing output to an impressive 380 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. That compares favorably to the 383 horsepower from the Lexus LX's 5.7-liter V-8.

The Navigator's lower displacement means better fuel economy, by a little, over the V-8 crowd. With its four-wheel-drive option, the Navigator gets 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, not great numbers but better than the competition. Lose four-wheel-drive and gain about 2 mpg overall.

Turbos deliver power differently than with a naturally-aspirated engine, however, such that I had to really dig into the accelerator when passing or merging. The power felt light when I just tipped into the throttle, where a V-8 would tend to more linear acceleration.

The Navigator's three-ton bulk and box-like, non-aerodynamic design proved a challenge for the engine.

The six-speed automatic transmission, with two low ranges and manual gear selection, gave me some ability to control power delivery, although those features are included for dealing with difficult traction or trailering more than simple freeway driving. The body-on-frame construction is proven architecture for towing, although vehicles with unibody construction, such as the Ford Explorer, are showing their mettle in this regard.

2015 Lincoln Navigator
Middle and third row seats in the Navigator don't exactly coddle passengers. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The four-wheel drive, although pricey on the sticker and in fuel efficiency, offers versatility. With a row of buttons on the dashboard I could go from rear-wheel drive to four-wheel auto to four-wheel drive. The auto mode shifts torque around like an all-wheel-drive vehicle, primarily relying on the rear wheels but moving torque forward as needed. The four-wheel-drive mode ensures power is going to the front and rear axles. In that mode the steering stiffens a bit, but I didn't feel significant binding at the wheels even at full steering lock.

And the Navigator's steering circle is very tight for such a big vehicle. Electric power steering provided plenty of boost and I could pull a U-turn on a typical suburban street. Included as an option, Lincoln Drive Control gave me three different settings, Sport, Normal and Comfort, affecting steering, throttle and ride quality. The drive modes didn't feel drastically different, but I did notice the difference in steering feel.

Of course, a Sport mode is kind of ridiculous in the Navigator, as it's a far cry from the Range Rover SVR or BMW X5 M . The adaptive suspension technology under the Navigator isn't exactly up to hard cornering, nor does it mitigate the weight and full-frame construction in Comfort mode. All the apparently luxury of the leather and glossy wood trim in the cabin became irrelevant as the Navigator bounced over bumps like a tractor.

2015 Lincoln Navigator
With a traditional steel frame, the Navigator's ride quality tends towards the truck-like. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Quadrant-based interface

As a more obvious lack of distinction between the Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition, the navigation head units are identical. Call it MyLincoln Touch or MyFord Touch, the interfaces are the same, organized around a quartered home screen showing navigation, audio, phone and climate controls. Touching any quarter of the home screen launches the relevant function, and within any specific function, such as navigation, tabs at each corner of the screen give access to the other main functions.

Although logically organized, the interface reacted sluggishly to my inputs, far from the type of responsiveness I've become used to from my smartphone. And those tabs in the corners proved difficult to accurately touch on the 8-inch touch screen, especially when the Navigator was bouncing me over the bumps.

2015 Lincoln Navigator
This navigation and infotainment system is identical to what you will find in a Ford SUV. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The Navigator's navigation system proved useful, providing good route guidance, easy-to-read maps in perspective and plan views, and routing around bad traffic. At times, though, the maps loaded very slowly, filling out the screen a chunk at a time. Lacking in this system is online destination search or integration with location-based apps, something becoming more common among competitors.

Traffic, fuel prices, weather and other external data comes into the Navigator's dashboard through its satellite radio connection.

A USB port in the console let me plug in my iPhone or a USB drive loaded with MP3s, letting my use the onscreen interface to browse my music library or use voice command to directly request music. There is also Bluetooth streaming, although the only onscreen controls are skip, play and pause. The system also supports HD radio and the aforementioned satellite radio.

As a bid for more elegance, the Navigator includes a THX-branded audio with eight speakers. While I enjoyed the overall balance of the sound quality, the system wasn't up to the task of filling the large confines of the cabin with the majestic audio I would expect.

Capability, not luxury

The 2015 Lincoln Navigator certainly shows the big SUV capabilities of its platform-mate, the Ford Expedition, including towing capacity of 8,600 pounds, but if I wanted luxury I would spend my money elsewhere. The Navigator's adaptive suspension doesn't seem to have the capability of delivering a truly comfortable ride, leaving passengers to endure the jolts of a typical truck-based SUV. Likewise, the front seats may be plush, but the rear seats don't feel up to luxury standards.

Power from the V-6 Ecoboost engine is plenty for this big SUV, and fuel economy ticks above the average for this set. Lincoln's four-wheel-drive system is versatile, but you should definitely consider whether its usefulness will make up for the fuel economy hit.

The navigation head unit offers reasonably useful features, but its sluggishness can prove frustrating, especially for those used to modern tablets and smartphones. And one big caveat, Ford has begun to replace this head unit in its cars with a new system called Sync 3. The Navigator will likely benefit from this technology upgrade in either the 2016 or 2017 model year.

2015 Lincoln Navigator
It is difficult to find the value in the Lincoln Navigator over a nicely optioned Ford Expedition. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Tech specs

Model 2015 Lincoln Navigator
Powertrain Direct injection turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 14.2 mpg
Navigation Standard with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio
Audio system THX eight-speaker system
Driver assistance Blind-spot monitor, rear-view camera
Base price $63,115
Price as tested $73,395

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