Say hello to what Lincoln refers to as the new face of "Elegant American Luxury." Who knew that elegant Americans were supposed to have unibrows? Thanks for telling us now, Lincoln. We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble over the years had we known that earlier.
Already we've misspoken. The 2007 Lincoln Navigator full-size luxury SUV doesn't actually reveal the new face of Elegant American Luxury because the new Navigator has no face. Instead, it has a grille, and only a grille. A grille that has grown to such hideously large proportions that it partly covers the headlights. On second thought, it is possible that it's not a grille at all. Possibly, the new Navigator is just playing a very, very large harmonica.
But we digress. The '07 Lincoln Navigator is more than just a grille. Indeed, according to Lincoln, there are more than 18 and a half feet of Navigator behind that grille. Or there are if one chooses the new super-long "L" version. (You'll want to measure the depth of your garage before going there.)
That's right! The Navigator L is almost an inch longer than the new Cadillac Escalade ESV. We suspect this did not happen by accident. Lincoln doesn't even bother trying to pretend that it's not copying the Escalade. Why would it?
The Cadillac is not just the acknowledged leader of the class; it is the class. The Escalade is so well established from name-checking rappers and suburban guys who would be driving Caddy Fleetwoods if that model were still available, that it has ascended to the level of cultural icon. It's even got a nickname.
The Navigator? Not so much. We've gamely tried for years to spread the nickname "'Gator" but it never really took.
Behind the grille
Like the 2007 Ford Expedition on which it's based, the 'Gator is substantially reworked. It's not all new, but there are significant changes other than just the grille, which is quite large.
Behind the grille is the 300-horsepower 5.4-liter three-valve V8 familiar from previous Navigators. But behind that is something new: A six-speed automatic transmission takes the place of the old four-speed. The extra two cogs help compensate for the dismal weight-to-power ratio of about 22 pounds per horse.
This means the Navigator accelerates much more quickly than a stationary object but is about 2 seconds slower to 60 mph than the Cadillac. The Caddy's big 6.2-liter pushrod V8 pumps out 403 hp and has 355 fewer pounds of chrome and luxury to pull around. To paraphrase the president of these United States, "The 'Gator takes a thumpin'."
Behind the transmission (which is a few feet behind the grille) is a new interior design. The new instrument panel is a variation on the retro-style, two-pod design of the previous Navigator. And it is handsome and distinctive.
We're not big fans of the old-style square gauges. They remind us too much of the days when Ford Fairmonts roamed the Earth. As with other Lincolns, the Navigator's "satin nickel" trim looks a bit cheap, but otherwise the craftsmanship and materials quality are quite good.
Because a driver cannot see the grille from the interior, Lincoln has thoughtfully added big chrome accents to the front door panels — one is the Lincoln badge and the other is the thick trim around the door handles, on which is written "NAVIGATOR." If it weren't for the new 2007 Escalade's high-quality interior, we'd say that the Lincoln's is the best in this class of two.
Silence is golden
Lincoln also added more sound-deadening material to the 'Gator compared to the old model. This helps make the interior a pretty serene place to spend time. The company claims that it has made such dramatic improvements in quietness that it had to set new targets for quietness.
While this is a big chunk of hyperbole, the Navigator is a fine place to listen to your iPod selections through the standard auxiliary outlet. Lincoln also called in experts from its corporate cousin, Volvo, to help design new front seats. And the seats were comfortable enough on our two-hour preview drive, but they are hardly up to the standards of those excellent butt-and-back coddlers found in Volvos.
The Escalade is just as comfortable, except when you're stuck in the third-row seats. Back there, the Navigator, whether the standard-length version or the L model with its 15-inch stretch, provides more room and a better seating position. Additionally, the Navigator's split third row can be conveniently folded into the floor via two cargo-bay-mounted electric switches. The Escalade, which still uses a solid rear axle compared to the independent rear of the Lincoln, makes no such provision.
Whether you choose the standard-length Navigator, the new L version or a Cadillac ESV, the second-row accommodations are near identically sized. All of the additional room provided by the Navigator L compared to the standard model is behind the second-row seats. Cargo room behind the L's third row is up by almost 25 cubic feet (or roughly the volume of two midsize sedan trunks). But cargo space is still less than that of the ESV Caddy, between 3 and 10 feet depending on seat configuration. If the maximum of 128.2 cubic feet of space provided by the L is not enough for you, you might consider piloting an oil tanker instead.
The Navigator comes standard with side curtain airbags covering all three rows in addition to seat-mounted side airbags and the company's AdvanceTrac stability control system with Roll Stability Control.
The long and winding road
Not so long ago, the drive we did through the Great Smoky Mountains in the pouring rain would have been a deeply troubling experience in the Navigator. In the '07, though, it was merely unpleasant. There was nothing particularly spooky about how the Navigator L handles the steep grades and constant turns of the route.
In truth, we came away impressed at how accurately and consistently the Navigator L handled. Do not mistake this with good handling in the broader sense. At about 6,300 pounds, the Navigator L is destined to feel a little like driving a large building. But taken at a reasonable clip, the Navigator floats and bobbles less than the old model. Lincoln credits this newfound (and relative) prowess to a stiffer ladder frame and a new independent multilink rear suspension.
We still would have preferred to drive the Escalade through this patch of road. Its lighter weight, additional 100 hp and automanual operation of its six-speed make it the easy choice on steep grades. Truth be told, the Escalade feels every bit as confident a handler as does the Navigator, despite the Caddy's solid rear axle. Because of the Lincoln's extra weight, similarly equipped Escalades will stop shorter, even though the Lincoln's brakes are bigger.
The Navigator manages to return slightly better fuel economy than a similarly equipped Escalade. This is something like being crowned the sprightliest man in the nursing home. But fuel is money and the less of it used, the better as far as we're concerned. The EPA estimates that a standard Navigator will get 15 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. The standard-length Escalade gets 13/19. A rear-drive Navigator L gets 13/18.
The Navigator holds an advantage over the Escalade in maximum towing capacity — by more than 600 pounds in long-wheelbase all-wheel-drive versions. And the Navigator L is available in rear-drive form, which the ESV is not, which adds 200 pounds to the Lincoln's towing advantage.
A Navigator buyer is likely to spend less money to get into their very expensive luxury barge than an Escalade buyer, too. A base level, rear-wheel-drive Navigator will set you back at least $45,755. Model for model, the Escalade base price averages about $6,000 higher. Our tester, an all-wheel-drive L model that came with myriad options including rear-seat entertainment system, chrome-plated 20-inch wheels, navigation system and more listed for $63,860. A well-equipped Escalade ESV can top $67,000.
But price and fuel economy are less of a deciding factor with chrome-bedecked behemoths like these two. In this class, image reigns supreme. And it's going to take more than subtle improvements and a decidedly unsubtle new grille to topple the Escalade.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.