Once upon a time, the Cadillac Escalade and the Lincoln Navigator were locked in a fierce battle for full-size luxury SUV street-cred. That score was settled close to a decade ago when the Escalade emerged triumphant, reducing the Navigator to an extended life-cycle that saw it largely ignored by Lincoln product planners and engineers. Plummeting sales and a fade from the mainstream soon followed, leaving many to wonder if this traditional sport-utility vehicle might have much of a future.
The 2015 Lincoln Navigator represents the first significant update of the people mover since 2007, and while its primary improvement is a welcome one (the replacement of its ancient V8 engine in favour of a high-tech EcoBoost V6), the rest of the Navigator package still feels like a blast from the past. This is especially true when comparing the premium ride to its nearly-as-comfortable Ford Expedition platform-mate. We could be nearing the end of the road for the Navigator - at least in its present form - and that could very well be a good thing for Lincoln as a brand.
It's Really, Really Big
There are two versions of the 2015 Lincoln Navigator available: large, and extra-large (labelled the Navigator L). I spent a week with the standard-wheelbase model and was struck by how enormous the SUV felt in daily driving, especially when trying to park it in the alley behind my home. While it's the same size as the Expedition on which it is based, somehow the Navigator's boxy proportions emphasized its bulk, a distortion that extended, surprisingly, to an unstable feel when driven on snow-covered roads here in Montreal.
In contrast to any other SUV I have recently tested during winter conditions, the Navigator imparted no sense of confidence even with four-wheel drive engaged. I was so uncomfortable pushing the vehicle up to highway speeds that I even abandoned my standard acceleration testing in the interests of safety. Handling was similarly compromised, leading me to add an extra buffer of space between the Lincoln and other vehicles around me when driving in traffic.
Much Better Drivetrain
Before the snow hit, I did have the chance to sample the Lincoln Navigator's new EcoBoost engine on dry pavement, and I have to say that it dramatically changes the character of the SUV. The twin-turbo, 3.5-litre V6 outfitted to the 2015 model offers up 380 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, numbers that obliterate the feeble 5.4-litre V8 that served as the Navigator's sole source of motivation for far too many years. The EcoBoost mill is up to the task of dealing with the Lincoln's considerable curb weight, with none of the lag one would expect from a turbo motor. Fuel mileage has ostensibly improved as well, although very cold temperatures combined with slippery road conditions prohibited me from making an accurate assessment of that claim.
Practical, If You've Got The Space To Park It
Like the Expedition, the Lincoln Navigator features a magnetically-adjustable suspension system that does an excellent job of soaking up rough roads and insulating driver and passengers from the outside world. This smoothness was enhanced by the presence of an independent rear suspension system, a feature that none of the Lincoln's GM competitors can match. Also appreciated were the reams of leather stitched into the door panels, dash, and seats of the Navigator, which helped impart a classy feel to the vehicle's cavernous interior (updated for 2015, along with revised exterior styling that brings it more in line with the rest of Lincoln's line-up). There's a lot of room inside the SUV, with space for up to eight passengers if you swap out the standard second-row captain's chairs for a bench, and cargo space is suitably enormous - and in fact, greater than that of the also-redesigned 2015 Cadillac Escalade. You won't have to work hard when folding down the rearmost accommodations, either, as they disappear into the Lincoln's floor at the press of a single button.
Much of the Navigator's feature set is accessed via the MyLincoln Touch system, and while most of the time it works well - and offers pleasant graphics - there are frustrating moments when the touchscreen won't respond to your fingers (and forget wearing gloves if you want to use it at all). I did like how MyLincoln Touch integrates into the driver's gauges, offering substantial customization of what you see directly in front of you, along with the ability to interact with the system using steering wheel-mounted controllers in place of the LCD screen.
Requiem For A Dream?
The biggest argument against the continued existence of the Lincoln Navigator can be found just across the showroom floor in the form of the vehicle I have already mentioned several times: the Ford Expedition. Especially now that the Expedition can be had in Platinum trim, which provides almost every one of the bells and whistles offered by the $77,0000 Navigator but at a near-$10k discount, it's hard to justify spending more for a vehicle that offers only a higher grade of interior materials along with different exterior styling to set it apart from its Blue Oval roots.
Given that Lincoln's stock has fallen so far in the eyes of the general public, it's no longer even possible to make the argument that one is paying more for the prestige that comes with the automaker's badge. Although better than before, the Navigator is no longer a compelling full-size luxury SUV option, and if it is to continue to be a part of Lincoln's future plans it would seem that this vehicle is ripe for a complete reinvention.