When picking up a 2015 Lincoln Navigator last week, I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect. To be brutally honest, the gargantuan SUV category is what it is: a hangar sized two box platform with three rows of seats and either next to no cargo space or enough to park an original Mini. I had recently spent some quality time with the new Yukon Denali though and was thoroughly impressed with it. Perhaps the refreshed Navigator would be on par with GM’s luxo-utes.
As I approached the Java Metallic Navigator, the first thing that I noticed was that its imposing, squared off front end was distinctly Lincoln. Doing a walk-a-round, I was duly impressed by the super sexy dark grey wheels, which set off the rich looking finish. A tasteful dose of chrome adds a bit of elegance, rather than bling. Open the door and the power side step rails emerged to help me clamber into the cabin. So far, so good.
Once inside however, I was faced with a dashboard design that could have come from the Eighties, albeit with somewhat nicer surface materials. Clearly inspired by the Mustang’s dual cowl dashboard, the exaggerated interpretation had me thinking that the Lincoln brand is still sort of lost at sea, as execs try to figure out just where they are going with the image. Beyond that, the interior is tasteful and pretty much does its job of carrying passengers in comfort as one might expect.
With those feelings fresh in my mind, I was intrigued by an article from Ben Keeshin at Maxim, which offered up his interpretation of “How to Make Lincoln Cars Cool Again”. To paraphrase, Keeshin suggests they make ’em big and driven by the rear wheels. Make use of standalone technology rather than draw from the Ford parts bin and then give them great names. He also suggests nixing future fleet sales. Not sure how the airport commuter crowd would feel about this one. All in all, the writer makes sense, but he may have missed something: today’s youth seem to think that Lincoln is cool.
Yes, you read that correctly. My two teenage sons and all of their buddies went absolutely bananas over the Navigator. They loved the dash that I hate. They loved the fact that it easily held five passengers and at least two more hockey bags. Even the hockey sticks fit in the cargo area, rather than having to be in the back seat. They tweeted pics of the chrome grille and Instagram’d shots of the 20″ dark grey aluminum wheels. These guys, several of whom are already of driving age, thought the big brown Navi was one of the coolest machines I have ever brought home.
My early impression of the dashboard began to soften as I fell in love with the silky smooth and surprisingly powerful 3.5-liter, twin-turbo’d EcoBoost six. Despite being down a couple of cylinders from the usual propulsion units found in this class of vehicle, the boosted six easily moves the big hauler to highway speeds thanks to its impressive torque figures. 460 lb.-ft. of torque is available at 2,750 rpm while horsepower peaks at 380 way up at 5,250 rpm, although it is doubtful that most drivers will ever spin it that fast. It just isn’t needed.
The readily available power leads one to drive the Navigator more like a car than a full size SUV, which likely consumes more fuel than expected. During our week with the truck, we averaged 18.3 L/100 KM, with a mix of in town short trips and open road highway travel. Your experience may vary.
Another feature the teens loved was the feeling of floating along a smooth road, rather than feeling every bump in the road. I guess you could call that feeling a throwback to the earlier days of living room on wheels American luxury cars. The challenge engineers face when creating this feeling is to get shock absorber settings for jounce and rebound just right. They didn’t succeed in this case. On undulating pavement, the Navigator bounces like a porpoise with ADHD as the dampers struggle to rein in the beast’s prodigious mass.
As a parent, I love the big honkin’ SUV segment, thanks to their ability to move people and stuff. As an enthusiastic driver, I am willing to accept some of the inherent negatives that come with driving a vehicle the size of a small school bus. The challenge for me comes when one manufacturer does as good a job as GM has done with its Yukon Denali and a competitor falls short with their newest offering.
By the end of my week with the Navigator, I was beginning to have feelings for it. I was becoming accepting of its flaws, much as we do with humans we become attached to. I’m torn however, because I think that if I had also had a Yukon in the driveway last week, it would likely have been the one I chose to drive more often then not.
So where does this leave Lincoln? Well, given that Navigator vs. Yukon scenario, I know that my boys would have been begging me to take the Lincoln instead.
Perhaps what Lincoln needs to do is figure out what it is that the car buyers of tomorrow absolutely love about their current crop of vehicles and build on that rather than continuing to try to win back those of us who lived through the Lincoln of the Eighties. I don’t mean that Lincoln should start building import fighting tuner cars, but rather to dig into the brains of future customers who already dig the brand and see what it is that they love about the brand today. You never know, their parents might even make a visit to a Lincoln showroom.