Test Drive: 2015 Lincoln Navigator

I didn’t know what to expect from the 2015 Lincoln Navigator. Truth is, I’ve joked about the Navigator a lot. I considered it a sad relic, built on an old truck platform and sucking gas like it’s going out of style.

While the overall shape has gently evolved, it remains a huge boxy SUV. Lincoln has made small but noticeable changes along the way and have refreshed this big SUV. The Navigator is endowed with the new Lincoln grille and the HID headlights are cradled in a curved strip of LED lights. The slab-sided beast looks confident but remains understated, unlike the Escalade, which still shows up in the dictionary next to “blingy”. But even Lincoln understands the value of some bling, and they fill the wheel wells with it. In this case, 22-inch polished aluminum rims that are shod with massive 285/45-sized tires. I always hated the Navigator’s skinny little chromed exhaust tip – it finally has one that looks like it means business.

While the Navigator doesn’t grab your eyeballs, it does make a statement. And there’s nothing wrong with a bit of understated statement.

A cool touch – when you step up to the vehicle, you’ll find a welcome mat waiting for you. Your Navigator welcomes you by illuminating your path with a pool of white LED light, containing the Lincoln logo.

The high step up into the cabin is made easy thanks to the full-length power-deployable running boards that silently glide down when you open a door, and retract back into the belly of the beast when you close the door. Very slick.

Once in, you’ll find a very spacious interior with ample headroom. Everything feels beautifully made and is sumptuous – even to the touch. Any plastics you’ll find are soft and textured, but there isn’t much plastic. That’s because the dual-bin dash is upholstered in hand-wrapped and -stitched leather. So are the console and the door trim. Add the gorgeous real wood-grain inlays and what appears to be outstanding fit and finish, and you’ve got an interior that truly shines.

The Navigator’s leather seats – heated, cooled and ridiculously adjustable – are exceedingly comfortable. Lincoln says they are clad in Trevino leather, which is absolutely gorgeous. I appreciate the nod to Lee Trevino, since I’ve always thought he looks like he’s made of handsome leather, too.

The steering wheel is a work of art crafted from leather and wood – it’s power-adjustable, as are the pedals. The eight-inch MyLincolnTouch screen that handles media, phone, navigation and climate settings is pretty responsive these days. Thankfully Lincoln has done away with the touch-control-only experiment - those silly slide-your-finger-along-a-capacitive-strip-and-pray-it-will-work days won’t be missed. Unfortunately the volume and tuning knobs feel a tad cheap to the touch, and when rotated, have a grindy, grainy feeling to them, instead of a buttery smooth click that I’d expect from something that represents the pinnacle of a manufacturer’s ‘luxury’ model line. The 14-speaker THX sound system comes through, sounding incredible.

Lincoln ensures that you have three rows of premium seating in the Navigator. Both the second- and third-row seating areas are clad with the same high-end leather you get on the front seats. Thanks Lee Trevino! The two second-row bucket seats are heated, and like the front seats, exceptionally comfortable. They recline but do not slide fore and aft, which is a bit surprising. It matters little, as there’s plenty of legroom. Second-row passengers get their own climate controls, as well as household and 12V plugs and a separate audio zone.

My review vehicle came with the optional DVD entertainment system, putting screens for the second-row passengers on the front headrests. A silly upgrade that is completely limited in utility and vastly overpriced. Save yourself a bundle and buy your kids each an iPad, which is way more functional and can come out of the vehicle. And save yourself over a grand in the process. You’re welcome.

Getting to the third row isn’t too hard as the second-row seats can be tumbled forward. Once you’re back there, you’ll find a row of three seats, which Lincoln claims to have best-in-class third-row legroom. I have no quibble with this claim. The overall space and seating is still more comfortable than any other third row I’ve been in, with more than enough legroom and headroom for me – I’m 5’10”. In my opinion, even the middle seat back there is big enough for an adult, and that really impressed me. You could transport seven adults in the Navigator and everyone would be fine.

With a cabin this size, you can expect plenty of storage (with USB and 12V plugs) as well as four cupholders in the centre console. The power liftgate gets you into the sizeable trunk – even with the third row in use, you get 514 L of cargo space – more than some sedan trunks.

Tap the PowerFold buttons in the trunk, which fold the third-row seats down (or up), and you’ll find a massive 1542 L behind the second row. If you want to go crazy and move into your vehicle, fold the second row flat and enjoy the 2,926 L space. The liftgate’s flip-up glass is handy for quick access to the trunk area.

Take a peek under the hood for some more news. No more old-school V8. The Navigator gets a 3.5L EcoBoost V6, which churns out 380 hp at 5,250 rpm and more importantly, 460 lb-ft of torque at 2,750 rpm. It gets a six-speed automatic and the power ends up going through a Control Trac 4x4 system.

A leviathan of this size isn’t going to break any fuel consumption records. Well, actually it might, but on the wrong end of the spectrum. The Navi is rated at 16.2 L/100 km in the city and 11.8 L/100 km on the highway. We averaged 17.6 L/100 over the week, driving mostly in the city through the snow. You’ll enjoy filling the 106-litre tank about once a week.

Obviously the Navigator is a big, heavy vehicle but somehow, it seems to embrace and celebrate these qualities. And I appreciate that. All of its motions are laid back and chilled out. There’s no pretense of sport here – it’s happy to be a full-size SUV and delivers on that promise.

Of course you can expect a very luxurious, comfortable ride – one of the best I’ve ever experienced, to be honest – the independent, multi-link rear suspension with continuously-variable dampers goes a long way. Handling is ponderous around town, but what else could one expect of a full-size SUV? You can toy with the suspension somewhat, switching drive modes between Comfort, Normal and Sport, but let’s be honest here – even Sport mode isn’t going to make this thing sporty. That’s not a knock – it’s totally fine for this kind of vehicle.

The drivetrain has ample power to move the Navigator off the line, and I can’t imagine a driving situation where I’d need more power. That’s not to say it’s a fast vehicle by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not a slow one either – the middle ground is, again, perfectly suited to the Navigator’s mission. The transmission is very smooth, and comes across as a bit lazy with downshifts taking a couple of seconds to show. The Control Trac system allows you to choose between rear-wheel drive, automatic four-wheel drive and full-time four-wheel drive. I drove the Navigator during one of our first major snowfalls and the automatic 4x4 mode is very good, getting traction and providing ample grip whenever it is needed.

Everything in the Navigator is quiet – road noise, wind noise and drivetrain noise are all very effectively dampened. Interestingly, I did find some coarseness though – in the all-wheel-drive system and from the engine. To be clear, it’s nothing intrusive but there were times where I felt it. In the end it’s just not as perfectly smooth as I had expected from a top-of-the-line vehicle.

As you can probably imagine, parking the Navigator is no small task, as it is no small vehicle. But easing this land barge into a spot becomes a touch more manageable thanks to the rear-view camera with front and rear parking sensors, as well as the folding side mirrors. There’s some other driver assistance technology too – a blind-spot monitoring system and a cross-traffic alert letting you know if you’re backing into traffic.

Towing capacity is best in class at 3,900 kg (8,600 lb) – the transmission has a tow/haul mode and trailer sway control is standard equipment. Hilariously, the Navigator also has a hill-descent mode for all those who will take this thing off-roading.

I’ve got a few nitpicks with the Navigator. Mostly I found myself taking issue with what was missing in a vehicle that costs this much. While some of these will sound like whiny first world problems, they are the kinds of things one would expect on a vehicle that costs this much. For example, no heated steering wheel. Kias that cost a third as much have heated steering wheels. No Active Park Assist. You can find this feature on basically every Ford and Lincoln product. Why not make it standard equipment on what is basically the biggest thing you produce? No adaptive cruise control, which is becoming the de facto standard in the industry among high-end vehicles. A stellar road tripper like the Navigator would really benefit from that.

And finally, someone at Lincoln decided it was okay to wrap some wiring with black tape and drop it down from the headliner to the rear-view mirror. Typically a manufacturer hides this wiring with a plastic shroud, but not Lincoln. Nope. And let me tell you – this little thing just irked me. I’d be pissed off if I dropped this kind of coin on a vehicle that sports a beautifully crafted, hand-stitched leather dash – only to look up and see this nasty mess of wiring. And you can’t miss it. Whoever made that call should be slapped upside the head, because it cheapens the vehicle. It really does. Just terrible.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was interesting. She said she was actually afraid to park it and found herself heading to the far reaches of parking lots, just so she wouldn’t have to sneak between cars. But she also said she couldn’t remember a more comfortable vehicle and said she’d love to head out onto the highway with our family in a Navigator.

As I said, I wasn’t sure what to expect when the Navigator arrived. But I ended up liking it. Quite a bit. If you’re after a full-sizer and like driving a big, fluffy couch around, this could be the ride for you. Yes, it’s pricey – but they all are. Yes, it’s a pig on gas – but they all are. Yes, it’s freaking humongous – but they all are. None of these things would be a surprise if you’re shopping in this category. Lincoln knocked it out of the park with much of the interior – it’s stunning. The exterior is subjective, of course, but I found it conveyed a sense of elegant, understated luxury – as it always has. The updated Navigator wasn’t so bad after all, but it still remains perhaps the most antiquated option in the king-size SUV category. Maybe that’s why I still haven’t seen a 2015 in the wild, other than the one I reviewed.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 6 years/110,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Cadillac Escalade
GMC Yukon Denali
Infiniti QX80
Land Rover Range Rover
Lexus LX570
Mercedes-Benz GL-Class

2015 Lincoln Navigator
2015 Lincoln Navigator
Base Price $75,110
Optional Equipment $7,250 Reserve package; $2,350 headrest DVD entertainment system; $50 second row bucket seats with console
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,750
Price as Tested $86,610
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.6
7 Exterior Styling
7 Performance
8 Interior
10 Comfort
6 Fuel Economy