2018 Lincoln Navigator First Drive | Edmunds

2018 Lincoln Navigator First Drive

Exceeding Expectations With Outsized Luxury

Lincoln has been facing an uphill battle against other premium luxury brands. Much of this struggle was rooted in the notion that its vehicles failed to differentiate themselves from the Ford products they were based on. As a result, Lincoln lacked the physical and aspirational qualities its prices suggested. With the recent launch of the Continental sedan and now the all-new 2018 Navigator, Lincoln has taken some significant steps to becoming a legitimate luxury brand that is worth considering against the established heavyweights.

What It Shares and What's Unique
As with the previous Lincoln Navigator, much of its underpinnings are shared with the Ford Expedition. The chassis, engine and transmission are shared between the two, as are some features. In terms of size, the new model's wheelbase, overall length and width grow by about 2 inches while overall height drops by about 2 inches. Opting for the larger Navigator L increases the wheelbase by 9 inches and the overall length by almost a full foot.

Under the hood, all 2018 Lincoln Navigator models have a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6 that produces 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission sends power to the rear wheels or all four wheels, depending on trim level.

The $73,000 Premiere trim gets you features that include 20-inch wheels; LED exterior lighting; a hands-free liftgate; tri-zone automatic climate control; 10-way power-adjustable, heated front seats; power-folding, heated second-row captain's chairs; a virtual instrument panel; a Wi-Fi hotspot, the Sync 3 infotainment system with navigation; Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration; and a 14-speaker Revel audio system.

Stepping up to the Select trim will set you back another $4,000 and adds 22-inch wheels, an adaptive suspension, power-deployed running boards, a heated steering wheel, a wireless charging pad and a surround-view camera. This trim is also eligible for many more options that include four-wheel drive and the long-wheelbase upgrade. For another $5,000, the Reserve trim includes four-wheel drive along with 24-way adjustable front seats with ventilation and memory functions and a second-row center console.

At the top of the range, the $94,000-plus Black Label is only available with four-wheel drive and tacks on a towing package (trailer brake, backup assist and other mechanical upgrades), full-range adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, an automated parking system, frontal collision warning and mitigation, lane departure warning and a 20-speaker Revel Ultima audio system. The Black Label is also eligible for three interior treatment themes. Some features are available on supporting trims as options, as is a a panoramic sunroof, 30-way adjustable front seats with massage functions, deletion of the second-row console, and a second-row bench that increases passenger capacity to eight.

2018 Lincoln Navigator

A Huge Upgrade Inside
If there's one aspect that can make or break a luxury vehicle, it's the interior. In the case of the Lincoln Navigator, it makes the grade thanks to a pleasing design, excellent materials and smart features. You're immediately struck by the spaciousness of the cabin, especially when it comes to shoulder and hip room, which is reinforced with very wide center consoles. The dashboard is simple, uncluttered and sports a tabletlike touchscreen that visually floats near the top. With standard power-adjustable pedals that allow you to get closer to the dash, it's positioned within easy reach of the driver, and since it's mounted high, it's easy to read at a glance with minimal distraction. Operation of the numerous systems is intuitive, and as a touchscreen, it's better suited to Apple CarPlay rather than dial controllers.

A few inches below the display are the unique transmission selector buttons. They take some getting used to, but they free up space for storage. A covered bin in the center console houses two USB ports and the optional wireless charging pad. Next to that is another covered bin that hides the cupholders and another narrow slot for personal devices. Under the armrest is a cavernous bin, and a large tray underneath the console can handle an average-size purse.

The Navigator's modern theme is further enhanced with a virtual instrument panel that has hints of traditional gauges, but it delivers vital information in a much more effective manner. A head-up display duplicates a good amount of that information onto the windshield, and unlike most competing systems, it is still visible if you're wearing polarized sunglasses.

Looks and Feels Expensive
We spent a considerable amount of time in the almost fully loaded Black Label trim with the Destination-themed interior that features deep mahogany-colored leather and exotic wood trim. The materials used and construction of the interior mark a big step forward for Lincoln, fulfilling or exceeding expectations for a premium luxury SUV. Likewise, the optional 30-way adjustable front seats with heating, ventilation and massage functions are some of the best at any price. At no point over a long day of driving did we feel the effects of fatigue.

By comparison, the second-row seats only slide and recline, but they are still quite comfortable thanks to an abundance of leg- and headroom. Buttons in the doorway release and fold the seats, allowing passengers to slide them forward to gain access to the third row. It takes a more effort than we'd expect to slide the seats, which could be an issue for smaller passengers. The passage to the rear seats is broad enough for adults to access without having to shimmy and is even easier in the Navigator L models. The third-row seats can accommodate average adults and also feature power-reclining seatbacks.

Behind the rear seats is a wide but shallow cargo area that can hold only 19.3 cubic feet. If you require having all seats in place and more cargo capacity, the Navigator L increases that space to 34.3 cubic feet. A clever shelf can be unfolded from the floor of the cargo area, creating a handy split-level platform. The upper glass section of the power tailgate can be opened independently for quicker access to the top of the shelf, but the tall liftover height can be a problem for shorter people. Similarly, the load floor is also rather high, and a lowering mechanism found in other SUVs is not available. A slight lip in the cargo floor helps to prevent items from rolling out if you're parked on an incline.

The rear and middle rows of seats fold flat with the floor with the tap of a button, increasing capacity to 57.5 cubic feet behind the second row and maxing out at 103 cubic feet. The Navigator L further increases those capacities to 73.3 cubic feet and 120.2 cubic feet, respectively. These figures are more generous than those of the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class and Cadillac Escalade and comparable to the Escalade ESV's numbers. Unfortunately, the second-row center console extends well above the folded seats, prohibiting the loading of some very bulky items. You can specify a Navigator without the console or with a bench instead, if you think you need that extra bit of flexibility.

2018 Lincoln Navigator

Behind the Wheel
There's simply no getting around the sheer size and mass of the Navigator, yet it's easier to drive than you might expect. Power from the twin-turbo V6 is more than adequate. From a stop, it accelerates with authority, and passing slower traffic is stress-free. Even when flooring the pedal, the engine neither sounds nor feels as though it's being overstressed. The 10-speed automatic transmission is quick to react and smooth when shifting, adding to the sensation of effortless power. Manual shifting is possible through wheel-mounted paddles and is particularly helpful on long downhill grades.

The brakes are also up to the task of stopping a vehicle weighing almost 6,000 pounds. In normal driving, the moderately soft pedal is easy to modulate and will bring the Navigator to very smooth stop. Under hard braking you definitely feel the weight shift forward as the nose dips, but it doesn't feel alarming and remains controllable. With heavy repeated use, we also noticed a strong brake odor but no degradation of stopping power.

To our surprise, our prescribed driving route included a twisting road over a challenging mountain pass, highlighting the Navigator's handling ability. The high ride height does little to encourage spirited driving, but the big SUV is surprisingly capable. On all but the base trim, an adaptive suspension is included, but we couldn't feel much of a difference between drive modes.

Our expectations for maneuverability were also pleasantly exceeded. We anticipated the Navigator would be somewhat difficult in tight confines, but the surprisingly small turning circle reduced the back-and-forth of multipoint turns. Steering effort is appropriately light at lower speeds and builds on the highway. The wheel doesn't recenter as quickly as we'd like, so drivers will have to unwind it by hand, but this is fairly typical for large body-on-frame vehicles like this. Visibility is fairly unobstructed as well, with only the roof pillar directly behind the driver obscuring the over-the-shoulder view to a notable degree. The wide mirrors and surround-view camera eliminate any guesswork when backing into a spot.

For the driver and passengers, the cabin is remarkably smooth and quiet. On the highway or over coarse asphalt, road and wind noise is abated to near silence. None of the hollow booming sounds we usually associate with such large interior volumes were present.

2018 Lincoln Navigator

Head of the Class
This new Navigator is impressive where it matters most, namely its premium interior details and confident handling. Meanwhile, other secondary touches continue to win us over. The exterior styling is unapologetically bold as it serves to accentuate its substantial size rather than attempt to hide it. The hidden power-deployed running boards make climbing in easy, and there's even a certain wow factor when seeing them in action.

As quiet as the interior is, the premium Revel Ultima audio system does a great job of filling the cabin with powerful sound that remains sharp and clear at high volumes. As far as audio upgrade options go, this system is one of our favorites.

In the end, we're left with very little to complain about when it comes to the 2018 Lincoln Navigator. It's the newest vehicle in the limited class of large luxury SUVs that includes the Mercedes GLS-Class that is five six years into its life cycle and the Cadillac Escalade that is three years into its current generation. The Navigator easily gets our nod among these choices for its overall excellence. It's been a rare occurence to have a Lincoln achieve class-leading status, and in this case it is well-deserved. If this is any indication of Lincoln's future, we're eager to see what's next.

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