First Drive: 2018 Lincoln Navigator

Lincoln looks to take the Navigator further than the airport pickup lot.

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Lincoln

COMPARED WITH THE RIDICULOUS STYLING attempts on some full-size SUVs, the 2018 Navigator actually comes off as sort of honest. Maybe that’s what Lincoln means when it says that the industry has taken an aggressive approach to luxury, where it has opted for an elegant one. We’ll call its approach inoffensive instead, and take it over aggressive all day long—thanks.

The new Navigator looks a bit like a bigger Ford Explorer, with sides laid flat as drywall supporting a gigantic greenhouse. Curved headlights do their best to round the whole thing out. It’s hard to make something this big look like it’s not, but Lincoln has succeeded.

Underneath, the Navigator is still a giant body-on-frame SUV and drives like one, but with a caveat: It hauls ass. Not, like, it hauls ass for a nearly three-ton SUV, but, like, it just plain hauls ass. Mat the pedal and the Navigator will laugh in the face of physics, dutifully banging through the gears and catapulting you and seven others into triple digits before they can ask if there’s surge pricing. The Navigator shares its drivetrain with the Ford F-150 Raptor, a 450-hp version of Ford’s EcoBoost V-6 paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission developed jointly with General Motors. The transmission is good, too; even with 10 gears, it doesn’t hunt. There was never a situation where we wished for more power.

The wishing starts when it’s time to make everything stop in a hurry and you dive into the brake pedal of a softly sprung, 5900-pound SUV. Remember, this thing moves, and halting so much mass is a real challenge.

There are six drive modes, which animate in the instrument cluster as you turn a selector wheel on the console. The sportiest is named Excite, with descriptors to add color: “Responsive and Engaging.” Over-the-top? Perhaps. But then again, we’re talking about a vehicle with an optional Yacht Club interior package.

Kumar Galhotra, president of Lincoln Motor Company (now Group Vice President and President, Ford North America - Ed.), says the unconventional labels are meant to demystify. “Customers are paying for all this technology, but they’re not quite sure how to use it. So, for Navigator, we just decided we’re going to speak to them in normal English,” he says.

Going from Normal mode to Excite mode, there’s an immediate and effective difference in throttle mapping and transmission control. The suspension is noticeably harsher in Excite, too, but there’s still a heck of a lot of body roll. You can only do so much in an SUV this big.

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Lincoln

The regular-length Navigator can be had in one of four trims. If you opt for the extended version (which adds 11.9 inches overall and a foot of length to the cargo area), the low-end Premiere trim drops, leaving three choices. In either length, the top two trims, Reserve and Black Label, only come with four-wheel drive.

Within the Black Label, three themes— Chalet, Destination, and Yacht Club—change the interior dramatically, with different woods, carpeting, leather, and accents. Yacht Club—our favorite—definitely feels luxury-boat-like, and Destination just needs a waft of scotch to be dad’s study.

Cheeky names aside, inside a Navigator is hardly a bad place to be. The long, horizontal dash makes the big cabin feel even airier, and the seats wouldn’t be out of place on a custom Gulfstream. The Yacht Club theme we sampled featured heated and cooled 30-way (you read that right) “Perfect Position” seats with massage function and thigh supports individually adjustable for each leg. Whether you choose a bench seat or two chairs separated by a console for the second row, it’s easy to access to the third row. There’s no knees-up squatting back there, either.

So the Navigator earns its own seat at the buffet of overfed mega SUVs built for American families who shrug with faux resignation as they mumble, “Well, gosh, we need one, what with the kids and all.” But exactly how many kids are the Johnsons having these days? According to Experian, there’s a one-in-five chance the Navigator next to you is being driven by a chauffeur.

The Navigator doesn’t have the deal-breaker schnoz of either the Lexus LX 570 or the last-gen Infiniti QX80. The regular-length, rear-wheel-drive Navigator with tow package out-tows the competition, and you can enjoy a delightful massage while doing so. But, honestly, if you’re looking at one, you probably just want to know if it’s better than a Cadillac Escalade. Yep, buy away.

Lincoln Navigator 4x4 Black Label

Price: $94,900

Powertrain: 3.5-liter twin-turbo v-6,450 hp, 510 lb-ft; 4wd, 10-speed automatic

Weight: 5900 lb

On Sale: now

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