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2018 Lincoln Navigator Test Drive Review
Lincoln hopes the redesigned 2018 Navigator will remind U.S. car shoppers exactly how much style and swagger an American luxury vehicle can offer.
There was once a time when American luxury really meant something. But it seemed like that time was long past. Sure, the 1960s boasted Cadillacs and Lincolns cruising along America’s expanding interstate system. But somewhere along the way, that “special” feel that American luxury cars once boasted faded, like so many Route 66 pit stops.
Who was to blame? Well for starters, once-special features became available among more affordable cars. So luxury brands had to rely on build quality, which suffered through the decades. But looking at the 2018 Lincoln Navigator, has American luxury finally returned?
You’d be forgiven if you couldn’t remember what a Lincoln Navigator was or looked like, but it wasn’t always this way. The Navigator first hit the market in 1997, amidst the height of the SUV craze, and was an instant hit. Although it became a status symbol, it was one of many big SUVs that had a hard time in the mid-2000s as gas prices climbed.
But Lincoln’s problems were more than external. Its lineup of vehicles had gotten stale, with anonymous styling and an alphabet soup of vehicle names. Meanwhile, Ford put all its effort into its “Blue Oval” products, and many of its cars, crossovers, and SUVs are now available in trims so well equipped that they almost negate their Lincoln counterparts.
This is all important, because for everything going wrong with Lincoln, its latest wave of styling is a bright point. The Continental, debuting Nautilus, and Navigator are all sharp-looking vehicles. And if the Navigator is any indicator, Lincoln may have finally found its mojo again.
Look and Feel
This new Navigator was first seen at the 2016 New York International Auto Show. What's so impressive is how little has changed from the Navigator Concept to the production vehicle. The sleek headlights, massive chrome-clad grille, and bold character line running all the way back to the full-width taillights all make quite the impression. The Navigator towers over vehicles next to it, but without these elegant styling elements, it would be a garish vehicle.
As visually pleasing as the exterior is, the real surprise is in the Navigator's cabin. It needed work inside and out to truly make it over, but a simple redesign wouldn’t do. It’s a quantum leap over the model it replaces.
Size and space was never an issue with the Navigator. It came down to look and feel, as well as fit and finish. The new-look cabin features bold, straight lines and floating control panels, but also offers sensible storage compartments everywhere.
Trims for the Navigator are Premiere, Select, Reserve, and Black Label. Even in the base Premiere trim, the Navigator is quite lavish and well equipped. It comes standard with 20-inch wheels, dual-color door handles (body color with a chrome strap), dual exhaust, and LED daytime running lights, headlights, fog lamps, and taillights.
Inside, it features heated first- and second-row seats, including massive second-row captain’s chairs, as well as power folding second- and third-row seating. It also features 4G Wi-Fi hotspot capability, a wall-style power outlet, remote start, massive 10-inch touchscreen with navigation, rain-sensing wipers, and tri-zone climate control with rear seat control. The Navigator also comes standard with a 12-inch reconfigurable instrument cluster.
The Select trim adds an adaptive suspension system, 22-inch wheels, a heated steering wheel, wireless charging pad, power side running boards, and 360-degree camera.
The Reserve boasts the panoramic dual-pane sunroof, a backlit Lincoln logo in the front grille, heated and ventilated front seats, and its own unique design for the 22-inch wheels.
As you might notice from the interior images, our test Navigator boasted a standout slate blue cabin. It’s called Coastal Blue Venetian, and it’s part of the top-tier Black Label package. This color scheme corresponds to the Yacht Club theme. You can also choose Destination and Chalet themes, but as for the blue interior in our test model—few modern cars pull off an interior like this.
On paper, the Black Label doesn’t offer a whole lot more than the Reserve, save for the unique color swatches, the heavy-duty trailer package, and the technology package. But it's much more than that. Black Label is more like a membership for premium services. Such services include having your car picked up for maintenance while you’re at home or the office. A Navigator Black Label also comes with an upgraded maintenance program and free car washes any time.
When dealing with Lincoln dealerships, Black Label members deal with specialized staff. Additionally, Black Label members get access to unique experiences, such as a “Culinary Collection of Restaurants.”
The Navigator comes standard with a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6. Incredibly, this is the same engine used by the Ford F-150 Raptor, making the same 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. Those output numbers are a testament to the advancement of engine technology. In years past, a vehicle this size (weighing between 5,685 and 6,056 pounds) would need at least a V8 engine for reasonable motivation. With the power this V6 makes, you'll never be left yearning for an 8-cylinder engine.
The Navigator sends power to the rear wheels (RWD) or available 4-wheel drive (4WD). 4WD is optional on the Premiere and Select, but comes standard on the Reserve and Black Label.
No matter which trim you choose, power gets sent through a 10-speed automatic transmission, which is operated via a button-style shifter. The shifter buttons are arranged like keys on a piano, and though it takes a bit of getting used to, this system doesn't get in the way. The button layout actually complements the rest of the visually striking interior.
Overall, the Navigator stays quite level through corners, especially for a vehicle of this size and heft. Indeed, it has some body roll, but you won’t find yourself reaching for the emergency handle above the window in a hard turn.
In normal driving conditions, steering is incredibly light. It feels something like that throwback feeling of an old Lincoln or Cadillac with over-boosted power steering, where you could turn the wheel with your pinky. But it’s safe to say many large SUV (and truck) buyers already expect the steering to be over-boosted and light.
You can tweak the steering feel as well as suspension feel, throttle response, and shift mapping with the Drive Mode selector. Drive Modes include Normal, Conserve, Excite, 4x4 Normal, Slippery, Deep Conditions, and Slow Climb. You can select each mode using the dial in the center console, and each mode change displays a rather elaborate animation on the massive digital cluster. Some Drive Modes also change the configuration of the instrument cluster, prioritizing certain readouts over others.
Fuel economy for the 2018 Lincoln Navigator with RWD is 16 mpg city, 23 highway, 19 combined. 4WD versions return 16, 21, 18.
If towing is a priority, the RWD Navigator should be your preferred choice. It has the highest available towing capacity, at 8,700 pounds. The 4WD model isn’t too far behind, boasting an 8,400-pound towing capacity.
Form and Function
The sheer size of the Navigator means it can, and will, hold up to 8 passengers and all their gear. But Lincoln got very clever with its use of space, marrying form to function. The driver will notice how the center console hides deep pockets, with dual USB ports and a wireless charging pad for compatible devices. And yet all these features fold away as panels close up, leaving a clean look in the cabin.
One neat feature is the fact that the center console is “floating,” meaning it has a massive tray for items below the main cupholder area. The Navigator also has a very deep center console bin. This design is echoed in the second row, if you opt for the second-row captain’s chairs.
Speaking of the second row, the optional captain’s chairs are big and comfortable and provide incredible legroom. Once again, the floating center console provides an incredible amount of space for snacks and other items.
The third row was surprising in that I actually had a bit of room, but it is not ideal for full-size adults on long trips. It should be fine if you have to pack everyone in to head to a restaurant or somewhere in town.
The Navigator has 19.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. Drop that third row, and cargo space increases to 57.5 cubic feet of cargo space. With the second and third rows folded, the Navigator provides up to 103 cubic feet of total cargo space. Opt for the extended-wheelbase “L” version, and total cargo space grows to 120.2 cubic feet. And for either version of the Navigator, the hands-free, foot-activated power liftgate comes as standard equipment.
That total figure for the “L” is only 0.7 cubic feet of cargo space shy of the extended Escalade ESV which has 120.9. If you are looking at either vehicle, you can expect plenty of cargo room.
Despite its size, the Navigator's large 10-inch touchscreen is not a distraction. Yes, it’s enormous, but so are the icons and fonts. And even if its very logical layout doesn’t have you convinced that it’s easy to use, you still get real Volume and Tuning knobs.
The touchscreen is running Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, which is leaps and bounds ahead of the previous infotainment system. It makes things like pairing a smartphone and setting radio presets very easy.
The Navigator also supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and now even works with Amazon Alexa through AppLink. Alexa can play your Amazon music and audiobooks, and you can also use Alexa to get information on destinations, like restaurants.
You might not think of seats as a tech feature, but the Navigator is different. While the base model gets 10-way power seats, our test model came with these 30-way power seats. In addition to being heated and cooled, they even came with a massaging function!
You can opt for a rear-seat entertainment package, which includes large 10-inch screens—one for each second-row passenger. It also comes with a pair of headphones and controllers. The large second-row center console also provides controls for the Revel 20-speaker system, which provides incredible sound quality and is optional in the Reserve and standard in the Black Label. Other models have the Revel 14-speaker stereo.
Standard safety features for the Navigator include a full array of front- and side-impact airbags, the LATCH child-seat anchoring system, tire pressure monitoring system, a reversing camera, and a feature called Side Wind Stabilization. For a vehicle this size, crosswinds matter, and this system keeps the big Navigator from veering due to a gust.
The Navigator also comes standard with blind-spot warning, but you need to move up to the Black Label for lane-departure warning. The Black Label also includes forward-collision warning and mitigation with pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control with “stop-and-go,” which—as the name suggests—lets the Navigator automatically cruise with the flow of congestion traffic.
These are great safety features, but at these prices, they would have been welcome as standard equipment.
The base MSRP for a 2018 Lincoln Navigator is $72,055. The Select starts at $76,055, while the Reserve starts at $81,205. The Black Label starts at $93,705, but our test model broke the six-figure mark, clocking in at $100,315.
Compared to the 2017 Navigator, that’s a considerable jump in price. Each trim saw a $9,000 to $10,000 increase compared to the previous model year. (Black Label did not exist then.)
But this is a whole new Navigator, and you get so much more content, quality, and style for the price. Pricing now compares more closely with the Cadillac Escalade's, and in fact, the 2018 Navigator is finally up to the challenge to take that ultra-luxe SUV head-on.
One hundred grand for any American car seems like a hard sell, but Lincoln put in serious effort to make the Navigator stand out. The result is a large SUV that has both quality and quantity, and to make it once again, a really special vehicle.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
What's your take on the 2018 Lincoln Navigator?
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