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.
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.
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.