When Lincoln revamped the Navigator full-sized SUV for 2018, they had a lot of ground to make up.
Once an innovator in the full size luxury SUV segment when it first made its debut in 1998, the big Lincoln generated a lot of attention, and even inspired Cadillac to make its own entry, the Cadillac Escalade.
However, the Navigators that followed failed to maintain this initial momentum, with the situation growing increasingly dire in 2015 when the refreshed third generation Navigator appeared.
Lacking the precision and attention to detail that had become a staple of the fore-mentioned Escalade, that iteration of Navigator floundered with no direction amid a sea of vastly superior luxury SUV offerings. But can this new and improved Navigator restore some of the marque's lost luster and bring it back into the forefront of the luxury SUV pack? Or is it still a work in progress?
When viewed from many angles, it's clear that expressive styling and vivid detail has at long last returned to the Navigator. It's presence is still imposing with our standard wheelbase Black Label grade tester wielding a 122.5 inch wheelbase, as well as a 6000 plus lb curb weight.
However, Lincoln designers learned from the mistakes of the past, and have made better use of the Navigators size when they were crafting the 2018's suit of clothes. Wheras the front fascia looked like a tacked on after thought, this iteration is much more unified, and features a squared off mesh style front grille with a center mounted Lincoln logo.
The grille also features active shutters, which aims to try and improve the Navigator's aerodynamic efficiency, though at the end of the day, it is still a relatively squarish brick of a vehicle. The rest of the body still maintains an imposing character, but it infuses newfound levels of sleekness into the design, and still maintains a brutalist character at the same time.
Other elements bring a more unified theme into the Navigator's design, and include blacked out B and C-pillars to help make the greenhouse look more unified than before.
A slick crease that runs along the beltline also brings everything together, and it eliminates a lot of the clumsiness and design compromises that used to define the Navigator for the last decade or so. The rear fascia of the Navigator is arguably the lone weakness of the design, some folks will appreciate the way it accents the bold Lincoln script on the tailgate, while others will grumble about its massive proportions. We for one like it, and the look redeems itself when viewed at night or in twilight hours. Our favorite feature has to be the 22-inch wheels that adorn Black Label models like our tester, they are very sharp, and bring a healthy dose of modernism to the big Lincoln's already elegant profile.
The new clothes also highlight Lincoln's switch to an all aluminum body for the Navigator versus the all steel construction of its ancestors. Like its Ford badged cousin the Expedition, the Navigator aims to save weight with this change, and it does help shave 200 lbs of flab from its flanks.
While this may not seem like much when you look back at its still hefty curb weight, it is important to remember that every shaved ounce matters, especially when trying to enhance overall fuel economy.
A consequence is that the material is more expensive to fix and repair if the Navigator ever encounters an accident, but look for that to not be a major item of concern for the bulk of its targeted clientele.
An Interior That's Nip and Tucked for Pampering:
Along with the exterior, the interior of the Navigator also needed a drastic reboot to allow it to stay ahead of current trends. The odd wood trim placements, shoddy plastics, and questionable ergonomics have been pitched for an all new design that can make one feel they have slipped their way into a five star hotel depending on the trim level selected.
Like other luxury offerings, Lincoln piles on the luxury in increments, with lower trims gradually adding to the pampering that buyers receive. But go all in with the Black Label model like we did with our tester, and you are transported to a unique luxury laden universe.
Black Label buyers can choose from three distinct interior themes, with each one supposedly honed to a particular setting. In our case, we were treated to the "Yacht Club" Theme which brings a nautical flair to the festivities, and also matched the Chroma Crystal blue paint that adorned the exterior of our tester quite nicely.
Blue Bay/Alpine leather accents greet occupants, while gorgeous White Washed Teak wood accents do their part to infuse even more boat inspired touches to the cabin. This theme also brings special Coastal Blue Venetian leather seating surfaces to all three rows, and choosing Black Label means standard Perfect Position front seats with active massage.
While we we're impressed with the sheer amount of adjustments that the seats had to offer (30 for those that are curious,) both me and Emily quickly discovered that it does take a bit of time to set the seats to find the "perfect position" that worked best for us.
In particular, the middle of the seat has a prominent split between the seat bottom and seat back which adds some unnecessary discomfort on long journeys, and forced us to spend even more time tweaking adjustments to make its impact as minimal as possible. Rear passengers on the second leg of our journey in Grand Rapids enjoyed the acres of legroom as well as rocking out via the headphones that are part of the Navigator's rear entertainment system.
A massive touchscreen infotainment system dominates the instrument panel, while the gauge cluster is also displayed via a separate configurable screen. This particular screen caused the speedometer to appear as a ghostly specter in the center of a broader black plane, with the gauge only illuminating the numbers around the actual speed we were doing. We wish that Lincoln would allow drivers to choose a more comprehensive gauge display since there were occasions where we wanted more information in front of us.
Material quality in the rest of the cabin is top notch, with Black Label models in particular standing out in this category. Lesser Navigators do have areas where surface quality varies, especially on the door panels, where a cheap feeling vinyl wrap is utilized.
This vinyl is thankfully pitched in the Black Label, with honest to goodness leather used in that particular area. This is a big time improvement over its chief rival the Cadillac Escalade which still has cheap plastics in high visibility areas, and does not quite match the Navigator when it comes to overall polish and leather quality.
This is especially evident in button layout, with the Navigator having better ergonomics than the button heavy layout that defines the Escalade, as well as its lesser siblings the GMC Yukon and the Chevrolet Tahoe. On the flip side though, the improved ergonomics were paired with some complicated controls, and Lincoln could work on simplifying things for owners.
Both screens house a literal sea of menus, and it took us several trips to the owners manual (as well as a good chunk of our day) to get ourselves acquainted with all of its charms.
Raptor Infused Muscle:
With the combination of its sheer size, as well as its over 6000 lb curb weight, it's natural to assume that the Navigator is not the quickest luxury SUV we ever tested.
However, this assumption is quickly turned on its head with the impressive amounts of performance that our tester generated during our time with it. V8 engines are no longer offered on the Navigator, with an all V6 lineup greeting customers when they undertake the task of choosing performance equipment.
Our Black Label tester featured the Ford F-150 Raptor's 3.5 liter twin-turbocharged V6 which brings 450 horsepower to the party, and that model's 10-speed automatic to boot. These two additions helped give our tester some much needed zest, and in some regards, it was like driving a Raptor, but with a penthouse mounted on it instead of the expected pickup bed.
It also outshines the Escalade's 6.2 liter 420 horsepower V8 in power, and the Caddy still uses a solid rear axle versus the Navigator's independent rear suspension.
We decided to give the Navigator a formidable test of its road trip abilities, and set off on a 245 mile road trip from Metro Detroit all the way to Sutton's Bay in Northern Michigan, to celebrate both me and Emily's respective birthdays. Before we could begin our trek, we had to get the Navigator packed, and our tester offered plentiful amounts of rear cargo space to achieve this feat.
With power controls for the third row, we were able to quickly get the seats down and fit all of our luggage with room to spare. Once we were packed, we unleashed the Navigator northwards on the freeway, where it transformed into a very good cruiser.
Ride quality was butter smooth, and the V6 delivers snappy responses with a mild but forceful bark when tasked with acceleration sprints. The bulk of the engine's punch is found at 5,900 RPM which gives the Navigator a good response in the middle of the rev band.
This nature also makes the 10-speed automatic a great partner for this engine, with the transmission delivering crisp sharp responses even in manual mode. The transmission also manages to be in the right gear at the right time, with very few instances of gear hunting during our road trip.
As the miles rolled away, we discovered that the powertrain's magic did not necessarily transfer to other aspects of our tester.
For instance, the standard 22-inch wheels produced a far busier feel than rivals, and there were instances where the silky ride was disturbed by large divots, road imperfections, as well as occasional bouts of cab quiver. Eventually we arrived at our destination, and navigating the winding roads that dotted Sutton's Bay, as well as neighboring Traverse City, gave us the chance to see how the Navigator handled the daily commute.
The Navigator has a certain degree of poise with Sport mode (or rather Excite as Lincoln likes you to call it) really giving it a unique charm in some of the meandering roads we encountered. More demanding tarmac will make the Gator roll like a porpoise on its bump stops, but if you let it stay within its comfort zone, then the Navigator will not disappoint you.
Our trips to Leland and some of the restaurants in the area highlighted that the Navigator is still a handful to park. While the addition of numerous sensors, cameras, and a trick 360 degree backup camera is designed to help make this easier, this is still a big SUV, and as such, narrow parking spaces are simply not its cup of tea. Visiting Blackstar Farms later that afternoon allowed our tester to not only enjoy a wider space, but also allow Emily to sample some of the wines that this special venue had to offer as well.
The tail end of our journey saw a brief layover in Grand Rapids to see some friends before we made the trip back to Metro Detroit.
Our guests enjoyed the comfy second row seats, and were also enthralled by the 20 speaker Revel Ultima sound system. However, parking reared its ugly head once again while navigating downtown Grand Rapids, with our tester eventually finding shelter in a parking garage after some delicate maneuvering to get it into its assigned real estate.
That said, our tester's ability to attract attention, was undisputed, and we had plenty of passersby that were eager to take a closer look, including our neighbors at the hotel in Sutton's Bay, as well as onlookers at a book signing in Leland.
Buyers looking to buy a vehicle like this will undoubtedly have a pretty hefty checkbook at their disposal when it comes to crafting the Navigator of their dreams.
While 2019 Navigators are slowly trickling into Lincoln showrooms as we speak, 2018 pricing is still available, with the Standard model ( AKA "Base") Navigator model starting at $73,205.
Opt for the Select and Reserve trims, and you are greeted with a higher base price of $77,555 and $85,205 respectively. This pricing ladder puts them in contention with their Escalade counterparts, and also allows the Navigator to play comfortably with rivals such as the Range Rover, Infiniti QX80, and even the Lexus GX range.
Checking the box for the Black Label experience transports you to a whole new world of pricing with the standard Black Label model featuring a base price of $96,395.
Lincoln is keen on making the Black Label stand out from the rest of the range, with the official configurator setting the tricked out SUV against a black background. Our standard wheelbase tester arrived with just under $5,000 in optional extras, which helped push the final price tag to a whopping $99,895 which includes the equally hefty $1,195 destination fee.
While this isn't cheap, our tester is slightly less expensive than a comparable Black Label L model, with some of the iron in our area easily cresting $100,000 when fully equipped.
The figure wielded by our rig is higher than select flavors of the Escalade, but it is refreshingly cheaper than flagship V8 Range Rover model, and even some of its German competition too. This is a strong value for this elite slice of the SUV segment, and will certainly please Lincoln dealers looking to regroup after a period of declining sales with the previous generation model.
With a brand new set of clothes, an impressive suite of equipment, as well as a renewed focus on being the benchmark of the luxury SUV segment, the 2018 Lincoln Navigator certainly has the tools necessary to make this dream a reality.
From the ritzy Black Label, to the more mundane members of the Navigator family, each one has something for everyone, and our road trip test revealed that while there are still a few quirks that are baked into this latest Navigator.
The sheer levels of luxury, performance, and technology on hand is enough to not only win over Lincoln loyalists, but also a new generation of younger buyers as well.