WHISTLER, B.C. – If size matters when you’re looking for an SUV, the all-new 2018 Lincoln Navigator should be on your shopping list. This is one big premium vehicle, with three rows of seating, cargo space galore and all the luxurious amenities and connectivity features you could imagine.
The new exterior design of this third-generation Navigator softens that boxy shape so prevalent in the full-size luxury SUV segment, creating a look that’s quite pleasing to the eye – and to several onlookers we encountered during a drive in this picturesque region north of Vancouver. The designers have incorporated styling tricks, such as shrinking the “greenhouse” or glass area above the beltline, to make the Navigator appear better proportioned, but in fact, it’s actually a bit longer and wider and sits higher than its predecessor.
Two sizes, two trim levels
Two versions of Lincoln’s flagship SUV are offered for 2018 – the base model with a 3,112-mm wheelbase, and the extended-length L with a 3,343-mm wheelbase.
While the extended version doesn’t alter the already generous cabin space, it does open up additional cargo area, with 1,019 litres (36 cubic feet) behind the third row, compared to the 592 litres (20.9 cubic feet) in the standard-length model. Overall, there’s a cavernous 3,407 litres (120.3 cubic feet) of space for stuff in the extended model (compared to the standard model’s 2928 litres (103.4 cubic feet)( once you lower the second- and third-row seatbacks – which is accomplished by simply pushing a couple of buttons located in the rear of the cargo bay.
Unlike the U.S. market, just two trim levels are offered in Canada – Select and Reserve – and Navigators destined for our market are only available with all-wheel drive. A control knob mounted on the centre console offers the driver a choice of six drive modes, from “Excite,” which is a sporty setting, and “Conserve,” which tunes the vehicle for optimum fuel efficiency, to “Slippery” and “Deep Conditions,” which both make adjustments that help the Navigator adapt to the more challenging road conditions. The system alters throttle response, transmission shift points and even suspension dampening to make the vehicle more drivable in specific conditions.
During my time in Whistler and on the return drive to Vancouver, heavy snowfalls made the roads extremely slippery. By engaging the “Slippery” mode, however, the Navigator never once hinted we were closing on the edge of adhesion. I must admit it took several kilometres winding through snow-covered curves to build up my confidence in the system’s capabilities – after all, we’re dealing with a hefty 2,762-kilogram vehicle that can readily build up noticeable momentum on a downhill run – but it stayed true to the course.
It's still a truck
One must acknowledge the Navigator is, underneath that plush interior and smooth, silky exterior, a truck. In fact, it has been named the 2018 North American Truck of the Year by a panel of American and Canadian journalists. (It was also selected as the Detroit News readers’ choice for Best in Show at the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit.)
It’s built on a fully boxed, hydroformed, high-strength steel Ford truck frame, but those truck roots don’t show through when you’re behind the wheel. The ride is extremely comfortable and there’s little body roll when it’s pushed through the curvy bits. The sound-deadening is superb – there’s minimal road, tire and engine noise intruding into the cabin.
The Navigator also shares its powertrain with a truck – Ford’s awesome Raptor high-performance pickup.
Under the hood there’s a double-overhead camshaft, aluminum block, 3.5-litre V-6 engine with twin turbochargers and port and direct fuel injection. It churns out 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. That output is channeled through a 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission with overdrive and paddle shifters.
Obviously, with that kind of ouput, power was not an issue on our drive. There was plenty of grunt on tap instantly when elevation changes became significant or there was a lumbering 18-wheeler to overtake. The transmission never spent time searching for the appropriate ratio – it always picked the right gear for the conditions at hand and its shifts were snappy and precise.
Your fuel consumption may vary
Fuel consumption, however, was all over the map, which may have been due to the extreme elevation changes on our routes and the fact the vehicles we were driving had less than 1,500 km on the odometer.
Officially, the Navigator is rated at 14.9L/100 km in city driving, 11.3 on the highway and 13.3 combined. On our drive up the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler, which is mostly uphill, we posted an unimpressive average rate of 18.2L/100. On the return trip (in a different Navigator), the average dipped to 10.4 during extended downhill stretches and ended at 13.0 by the time we reached the Vancouver airport, which was marginally better than the official combined rating. With more kilometres on these vehicles, I expect the fuel numbers will stabilize, but it does make one wonder how more efficient the twin-turbo V-6 powering this big beast is, compared to Ford’s 5.0-litre V-8 with its fuel-saving technologies such as cylinder deactivation.
For me, the highlight of the new Navigator has to be its amazing cabin. First, there’s plenty of space to stretch out and be comfortable – even the second and third rows are easy to access and suitable for adults. There’s no shortage of space to put all the stuff a family brings along on a road trip – and there’s still room for the humans, big and small. The level of luxury, amenities, connectivity and safety technologies is second to none.
The Perfect Position seats certainly live up to their name. The front seats are heated and ventilated (though I didn’t check out the cooling feature on this chilly drive) and their adjustability is almost infinite. The Select and Reserve trims get 24-way power adjustability as standard equipment, while Reserve buyers can opt for 30-way adjustability that includes Active Motion massage. With the heat feature cranked up and the massage system kneading my sore back, I hated to get out of the vehicle at the end of the drive. These leather-covered seats have to be among the most comfortable I’ve ever parked my butt in, period.
I also found the Navigator’s available head-up display to be a very helpful driver’s aid. It beamed such information as vehicle speed, road speed limit and upcoming navigation moves in a display that Lincoln says is the biggest and brightest in its class. I could readily check the information, even while wearing polarized sunglasses.
I did hear some criticism by colleagues of the new piano-key gear selector. It’s a horizontal row of four piano key-like buttons for engaging the transmission that’s set alongside the centre stack of the instrument panel. I concede it took me a few times to get used to the placement, but I think owners will quickly become comfortable with it.
But it’s not cheap
What buyers may not become comfortable with so quickly is the pricing strategy for the Navigator. The price tags start at $87,650 for the Select and $90,650 for the Reserve trims. Add $3,000 to step up to the extended-length L versions, plus $2,000 for delivery fees.
While the list of standard features is extensive, one would expect that in a vehicle that’s already hovering around the $100k mark, you’d find safety technologies such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and pre-collision assist to be included as well. These features are available – in an optional tech package that adds $3,000 to the bottom line. This pricing strategy may cause some buyers to ponder, especially when these technologies are standard in far less pricey vehicles.
That issue aside, the 2018 Lincoln Navigator is a stout candidate for buyers in the ultra-luxury, full-size SUV segment. Its premium features, outstanding comfort and impressive drivability definitely make it worth considering if you’re shopping for the ultimate in utility-type vehicles.