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2020 Lincoln Navigator Test Drive Review
The 2020 Lincoln Navigator is one of the largest, most comfortable, and most capable models in the full-size luxury SUV segment.
From an impressive customer care program to a lineup of luxury vehicles focused on catering to and coddling its clients, Lincoln is carving a niche for itself in a space the automaker has referred to as “quiet luxury.” With the discontinuation of both the Continental and MKZ sedans after the 2020 model year, Lincoln will now rely on a lineup of four SUVs to continue its quest for success. Of those SUVs, the 2020 Lincoln Navigator is the flagship setting the course for the future.
Look and Feel
Traditionally, chrome and other brightwork set big luxury SUVs apart from the more common mainstream models on which they are frequently based. That’s true of the 2020 Lincoln Navigator, which shares a basic platform with the Ford Expedition. Designers go the extra mile to differentiate the Navigator with completely different front and rear styling elements, plus what the company calls the Lincoln Embrace, an exterior lighting system that sequentially illuminates the SUV to welcome its owner.
Further detailing includes a lattice-type grille insert mimicking the shape of the Lincoln star logo as well as an illuminated star in the center of it. Fender vents with simulated exposed front door hinges and full-width taillights are also Lincoln-specific design hallmarks, and black roof pillars (except for those framing the windshield) give the Navigator’s glass a full wraparound appearance.
For 2020, a new Reserve Monochromatic Package debuts, adding to the Navigator’s custom look. Offered with White, Ceramic Pearl, and Infinite Black paint colors, it includes body-color grille and side mirror enhancements combined with 22-inch black-painted wheels.
Lincoln offers the monochromatic upgrade with Navigator Reserve trim. Other choices include the standard Navigator and the ultra-plush Navigator Black Label trim. You can also choose between the standard-wheelbase and long-wheelbase Navigator L body styles, and between rear-wheel drive (RWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD).
The test vehicle was a standard-length Navigator Reserve with 4WD, extra-cost paint, and both the Luxury and Reserve Monochromatic option packages. The price came to $92,385 including the $1,295 destination charge.
Thanks to the Luxury Package, the Dark Slate leather interior included Lincoln’s amazing 30-way Perfect Position front seats with heating, ventilation, and massaging functions. They faced a dashboard rife with mid-century modern styling cues, and were separated by a wide, two-tiered storage console with plenty of space inside and underneath.
Digital instrumentation, a 10-inch infotainment touchscreen, and piano-key transmission controls on the dashboard clearly separate the Navigator from the Ford Expedition. Additionally, a panoramic glass roof bathes the interior in natural light, and Lincoln uses high-quality materials in all of the places that matter the most.
Taken together, the look and feel of today’s Lincoln Navigator makes it a convincingly luxurious flagship SUV.
Lincoln offers a single engine choice for the Navigator, a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine generating 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque. That’s 50 more horses and 30 more lb-ft of torque than the most powerful version of the Ford Expedition.
A 10-speed automatic transmission transfers the power to the rear wheels unless you upgrade the Navigator with four-wheel drive. Multiple Lincoln Drive Modes tailor the powertrain to specific driving situations or emotional states of being, such as Conserve, Normal, Excite, Slippery, Deep Conditions, and, with the optional towing package, Slow Climb.
Maximum towing capacity is 8,700 pounds with rear-wheel drive and 8,300 pounds with four-wheel drive. Lincoln makes it easier to tow a trailer thanks to Pro Trailer Backup Assist. This system allows the driver to point the trailer in the desired direction using a dashboard knob, and the Navigator then responds to that input by actually steering to move the trailer in that direction. In other words, it takes the mental gymnastics associated with reversing a trailer out of the equation.
Acceleration from the twin-turbo V6 is strong, and from the driver’s seat, the engine note is subtle with a tinge of aggression. But it’s no V8 rumble, so if you can’t live without the resonant signature sound of an eight-cylinder engine, perhaps a Navigator isn’t right for you.
Otherwise, you’ll find nothing to complain about with regard to the Navigator’s powertrain, aside from perhaps fuel economy. On the testing loop, the SUV averaged 16.4 mpg. The EPA says to expect 18 mpg in combined driving.
With 22-inch wheels and 285/45 tires, impact harshness over imperfect stretches of pavement was a problem in spite of the standard adaptive damping suspension. This was especially true when the Excite driving mode was engaged. However, the Navigator’s body motion control proved excellent, lending this big linebacker of an SUV a hint of athleticism. Still, it’s clear a Navigator is best on open roads where its size and weight aren’t liabilities. And the smoother the pavement, the better.
Around town, the Navigator feels huge. A tight turning radius, a parking assist system, and numerous camera views help to make it more maneuverable in tight parking situations. The SUV also offers an automatic hold function for driving in heavy traffic. Once the Navigator comes to a stop, you can lift your foot from the brake pedal and the Lincoln remains stopped until you press the accelerator pedal.
Form and Function
To enter a Navigator, you must climb up and into the SUV, almost like you’re ascending a short flight of stairs (available power running boards help somewhat). But once you’re inside, you and all of your passengers will find plenty of room to stretch out in comfort.
Equipped with the optional Luxury Package, the test vehicle’s 30-way Perfect Position front seats are exceptionally comfortable. It does, however, take some time to find a just-right combination of settings. During this process, don’t forget to adjust both the power-adjustable pedals and the power-adjustable and heated steering wheel. And, once you’ve achieved that perfect position, make sure you save it using the front seat memory settings.
For the second row of seats, you can choose between a three-person bench or a two-passenger configuration with captain’s chairs. Get the latter, and you can upgrade the Navigator with a large center console between the captain’s chairs, complete with audio system controls. Triple-zone climate control is also standard to ensure optimum comfort across all three rows, and the test vehicle also had heated rear seat cushions.
Tell passengers relegated to the Navigator’s third-row seat not to worry about comfort, because unless they’re really tall they’ll be quite happy with the accommodations. Among 2020 model-year competitors, no other luxury three-row SUV comes close to providing the legroom and the thigh support that the Lincoln Navigator does.
Cargo volumes are class-leading for the 2020 model year, too. A standard-length model supplies 19.3 cubic feet of volume behind the third-row seat, 57.5 cubic feet behind the second-row seat, and a maximum of 103.3 cubic feet. Choose the longer Navigator L, and those measurements jump to 34.3, 73.3, and 120.2, respectively.
Next year, a redesigned 2021 Cadillac Escalade arrives, and it is going to match the Navigator in terms of passenger comfort and cargo space, erasing two benefits for choosing the Lincoln.
Easily the least impressive piece of technology in the 2020 Lincoln Navigator, the Sync 3 infotainment system takes quite some time to load content, which can be frustrating. However, Lincoln’s parent company Ford is rolling out a new Sync 4 infotainment platform that is much improved over what this SUV currently offers. It’s only a matter of time before it finds its way into the Navigator.
In the meantime, the system provides Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Lincoln Connect services with a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot and 911 Assist, a Lincoln Way smartphone and smartwatch app, and wireless device charging. "Phone As A Key" technology is also standard, transforming your smartphone into the vehicle key, allowing you to unlock the SUV, start the engine, and drive it without the bulky key fob.
Sync 3’s voice recognition system works reasonably well. However, it is not a fully natural system like your smartphone assistant, Alexa, or some of the better technologies found in other luxury vehicles. Depending on what you want to do, you still need to take specific command pathways in order to achieve success.
As part of the Reserve’s Luxury Package, the 20-speaker Revel Ultima audio system produces a compelling audio experience. Of the three listening profiles—Stereo, Audience, and On Stage—our preference was Stereo.
Additional technologies on the test vehicle included a surround-view camera system and a head-up display. It did not, however, have the optional Lincoln Play rear-seat entertainment system. This setup installs dual 10-inch displays mounted to the front seatbacks, and adds wireless headphones, Slingbox access, Roku media streaming, and both Apple and Android compatibility.
Mentally exhausted by all of the technology on the Navigator? The list isn’t complete until we discuss the standard Lincoln Co-Pilot360 collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS).
This collection of safety features includes forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assistance, a blind-spot warning system with trailer coverage, a rear cross-traffic warning system, and automatic high-beam headlights. With Reserve trim, adaptive cruise control is also standard, complete with stop-and-go capability.
While driving, we found the Navigator’s adaptive cruise control to operate with refinement, reacting to changes in traffic ahead in a sophisticated manner. Likewise, the lane-keeping assistance system is subtle, yet effective. The lane-departure warning system produces a vibration in the steering wheel, but at normal sensitivity, it is hard to detect due to the vibration coming up from the road surface.
Given the Navigator’s nearly three-ton curb weight, in almost any collision it’s going to emerge as the safer vehicle. Beyond the laws of physics, this SUV’s safety level is borne out by a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, keep in mind that with RWD, the NHTSA says the rollover resistance rating is just three stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) hasn't tested the 2020 model.
One of the best reasons to buy a new Lincoln is for the appealing ownership benefits, which the company recently enhanced with a new one-year free membership to the mental fitness app Calm.
In addition, every new Lincoln comes with valet pickup and delivery when the time comes for scheduled dealer service. Concierge services are also available to assist owners, and a Lincoln Access Rewards points program provides special benefits and experiences. A Clear membership for quick passage through airport security is also standard.
Choose a Black Label model, and even more freebies are thrown in from the personalized ordering process to free maintenance and car washes. Navigator Black Label owners are definitely catered to on a higher level.
Is this attractive after-purchase customer care worth selecting a Lincoln over something else that you might prefer more? No, but it sure goes a long way toward making you want another Lincoln in the future. And it certainly is better than what the Navigator’s closest competitor—the Cadillac Escalade—offers.
As far as cost-effectiveness is concerned, the smart money is on a certified pre-owned 2018 Navigator. It’s basically the same thing as a 2020, and you can potentially save tens of thousands of dollars by skipping the new-SUV smell. And while this advice holds true for any vehicle, it’s especially valid when shopping for a luxury model because they lose so much of their value the moment you drive one off of the dealership’s lot.
Unless, of course, you’ve negotiated a big discount off the MSRP.
Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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