[REVIEW] 2019 Lincoln Navigator

The new Navigator is big news for Lincoln, the luxury brand best known for warmed-over Fords until just a couple of years ago. For much of the 20th century, it was Ford versus GM, or Lincoln versus Cadillac. This Detroit rivalry was a big deal. It was not just about bragging rights, but it was also about national pride in and for the US of A. America was the leader of the free world, and therefore was also supposed to be the best of the best at building luxury cars.

Today, things are a bit different. After a few years of stagnation, Lincoln is mounting its strongest offensive yet as the traditional luxury car segment evolves. The Navigator is not just the largest, most opulent, and most powerful Lincoln ever; it delivers what an American luxury vehicle arguably has to be in this day and age. And Lincoln has chosen to hedge its bets in the market segment where luxury buyers have gathered.

Yes, it’s true that the brand’s models are still based on Fords, but they’re now so extensively differentiated that they can authentically be passed off as a completely separate brand. And Lincoln of course, charges for this privilege.

New from the ground up

It’s huge. A proper full-size SUV.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Lincoln’s idea of quiet luxury. Lincoln tells us it took inspiration from luxury sailboats and yachts in a bid to improve the previous Navigator, ushering in a quieter, more powerful and refined concept.

Shaped with restraint, the Navigator’s lines are clean and its exterior chrome bits are tastefully applied, starting with the recessed grille that’s large but proportional to the vehicle. It looks properly modern, properly premium, with unique body panels that seem to be different from that of the Expedition

If you’re familiar with the MKZ and the Continental, you’ll also be familiar with the grille’s Lincoln star logo pattern, originally adapted from an emblem used on the Lincoln Continental Mark II in the mid-1950s.

As it is a premium vehicle, the Navigator appropriately also has its own jewelled little touches, such as the dual LED Daytime Running lights which chase on or off as “welcome lighting” as you approach or depart. The signature emblem in the grille’s center lights up.

Some may say it’s over the top, but I love that it adds some pantomime to the experience. Out back, the Lincoln’s horizontal LED tail lights adds visual width and high techiness to the vehicle’s appearance.

Large chunks of its aluminum body, which Lincoln claims saves some 200 pounds over the 2017 model, are taken from the Expedition, which in and of itself is taken from the Ford F-150 playbook. In fact. the entire body is aluminum over high strength steel.

This is not much compared to the “up to” 700+ pounds shaved off the F-150 pickup truck, but of course, the Navigator is a proper SUV with three row of seats and a lot more toys and sound deadening that you wouldn’t find in the F-150.

Properly Premium, Pleasantly Plush

Step inside the new Navigator’s comprehensively overhauled cabin and you will be pleasantly shocked to see how this is not the badge engineering business like it used to be.  Firstly, you’re greeted by the “Perfect Position” 30-way adjustable leather seats.

These front perches offer three heat settings, three cooling/ventilation settings, and also the obligatory massage feature. I have never seen the ability to individually lengthen individual thigh supports before.

This seems like a ridiculous feature until you realize how brilliant it is on long distance trips, where one can extend the driver’s side thigh support a bit longer due to where your foot is position against the throttle pedal.

Get your seat right in the big Lincoln, and then you will indeed wonder if you’ve ever had a more comfortable car seat before.

Out back, the second-row captain’s chairs may not be quite as lavish, but they’re hardly church pews either. They’re heated, they recline, and they slide forward easily to provide access to the spacious third-row bench that can seat three adults.

The second and third rows flatten at the press of a couple buttons but the second row console remains fixed. Leave the pieces of plywood for the contractor to bring home in his F-150.

As expected, there are also air-conditioning vents throughout the headliner. What is less expected is that the front and second row seatbelt buckles light up at night for easier visibility. Okay, this may be a bit derivative from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class flagship and they don’t mechanically rise up like the S-Class’ do. But having the S-Class as a benchmark ain’t a bad thing!

While some of the Navigator’s items still borrow from the Ford parts bin, the main tactile bits and pieces are no longer from the Expedition parts sheet. This is no longer simple a case of simply layering better materials on top of the Ford’s. Most of the knurled knobs and switches are unique, including the turn signal and wiper stalks. Even the dash itself is completely different with an exclusive centre-console design and gear selector.

Lincoln also claims that the head up display (HUD) is the biggest in the business. It is bright and vast in the windshield, but perhaps not quite as sharp or clear as something from the Europeans or the Japanese.

The gauges and infotainment arrangement are Navigator-specific too. A configurable 12.0-inch screen displays some classy looking digital instrumentation, and a 10.0-inch touchscreen atop the dashboard handles the infotainment and navigation duties.

The squarish centre screen is easy to reach and has faultless touch response to drive Ford’s latest SYNC 3 interface, albeit with a vastly altered Lincoln-esque user-interface. Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are integrated as well.

The features list seems endless and yet par for the luxury segment, from rear audio controls and onboard Wi-Fi to a 360-degree surround view camera setup. My truck also came with illuminated, power-extendable running boards, and an absolutely gargantuan panoramic moonroof.

For your passengers’ comfort, second row seats can be equipped with screens that support the obligatory USB/HDMI/SD inputs.There is also Miracast support for wireless streaming from your mobile device. But it doesn’t seem to support an Apple iPhone or Google Pixel, so is it actually worth it? Nonetheless, it’s all in, pretty amazing.

If I were to nit pick, I would have to say that for the older buyers that may gravitate to this expensive vehicle, there may be a few too many features and settings that are buried in a sea of menus between the truck’s two screens.

Better hope that the delivery specialist sets it all up upon signing the paperwork!

My test Navigator was also equipped with a configurable dual lever parcel shelf, but save yourself the $500 and get some bins and a cargo net. It was needlessly complicated. I did, however, appreciate the tailgate window that could be opened separately. This is a feature that is appearing on less and less vehicles despite how handy it can be.

How does it drive?

The front of the Navigator’s steel ladder frame is similar to that of the Expedition and F-150 pickup. However, the rear of the frame and the design of the Navigator’s independent multilink rear suspension are shared with the former, and are essentially unchanged from outgoing model. The Cadillac Escalade still makes do with a solid rear axle, so the Navigator’s ride and handling superiority goes unchallenged here.

Open the high and huge hood and you’ll find the Ford F-150 Raptor’s twin-turbocharged DOHC 3.5-liter V-6 and 10-speed automatic transmission. As in the Raptor, this engine makes 450 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 510 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm, significantly more than the 420 horsepower output of the Cadillac Escalade’s massive 6.2-liter V8.

The 10-speed automatic transmission, interestingly enough, is a unit that was engineered and built in a Ford/GM partnership. The transmission’s programming is spot-on for the Navigator and always seems to be in the right gear at the right time. Part-throttle gear changes are tight and snappy, and the transmission with its closely spaced gears click off quickly all the way till redline.

The Navigator’s Ecoboost V6 is smooth and refined. There is a deep burble much like the Raptor, albeit a bit more muted. Pstttt…the main reason you can hear it inside the cabin is only because Lincoln wants you to. They actually pipe it in through the speakers, but who cares. It sounds fantastic and engaging.

Tuned for a strong bottom-end punch so as to accommodate towing duties, the twin turbo V6 is a perfect match for the 10-speed automatic. Something as large as the Navigator shouldn’t be quick, but oh my giddy aunt it is. Half throttle upon green lights leaves most traffic for dead and it handles passing duties as easy as apple pie.

The Navigator’s ride is a bit compromised by the large 22-inch rollers, but dang they look good. It’s compromised in the sense that it is busier over washboard surfaces, but isn’t uncomfortable per se. Body motions are well controlled, but large impacts reveal the Navigator’s truck-based roots and its heavy curb weight.

As with most luxury or even non-luxury vehicles these days, there are multiple driver controlled modes. The steering, suspension and even level of noise is all adjustable, to suit the discerning driver. Each mode selection is confirmed with an elaborate animated graphic that momentarily takes over the 12 inch digital gauge cluster screen.

For everyday driving, there is a Conserve mode which maximises fuel efficiency by switching to rear-wheel-drive, leaving the start-stop system active, adjusting throttle, engine, and transmission shift points appropriately. Normal / Balanced modes are what most people will likely leave their Navigators in, with automatic all-wheel-drive selected as part of the mode.

For slightly twistier roads, switch to Excite which weighs up the steering, retunes the transmission for more aggressive gearholding and stiffens the dampers. The Navigator becomes more confident and capable, but in the way that a charging rhinoceros is deceptively quick and agile.

That being said, the truck doesn’t encourage you to drive quickly, but it will hang in there till its Hankook Dynapro HT tires approach their limits and break away progressively into understeer to warn you away from further increments in speed.

As many large SUV shoppers are interested in using these vehicles as tow rigs, a trailer brake controller is nicely integrated. The standard wheelbase Navigator’s towing capacity is a stout 8,700 pounds.

Final Thoughts

Lincoln has done a masterful job translating the Continental’s style into an SUV without becoming distorted or grotesque. With its expansive cabin, comfortable ride, lengthy list of standard features, and outstanding towing capacity, the new Lincoln Navigator easily finishes near the top of the full-sized luxury SUV game.

The Mercedes-Benz GLS may ride and handle better for around the same price, but it will not be able to match the passenger space or towing capacity of the big Lincoln. Same goes for BMW’s upcoming X7 SUV.

In short, this is a Lincoln showing exactly what the company is capable of. And it turns out what they’re capable of is quite a lot.


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