We bet you haven’t considered Lincoln for your next luxury SUV purchase, except maybe if you’re shopping for a full-size model. Ironically, the venerable Navigator is the brand’s flagship SUV and the one that attracts the youngest customers.
The Aviator, which was initially sold in the early 2000s, is making a return for 2020 and it essentially uses the same recipe as the Navigator in a slightly smaller package.
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With seating for up to seven, this three-row SUV is set to compete against the Acura MDX and Infiniti QX60. Lincoln also aims to take on the Audi Q7, but the brand still lacks the prestige to go head-to-head with the German competitors.
More than a Jazzed-up Ford Explorer
The first-generation Aviator was criticized for being nothing more than a jazzed-up Ford Explorer. While the new model shares its RWD architecture with the Explorer, engineers made sure history won’t repeat itself by giving it unique components, particularly when it comes to the suspension.
Seven-passenger SUVs appeal to customers with their rear-seat space and cargo capacity. The 2020 Lincoln Aviator is a bit longer, wider and taller than others, trumping the Q7 and the Volvo XC90 in all interior dimensions. The amount of room in the third row is remarkable, even when you slide the second-row seats all the way back.
With regard to styling, the Aviator borrows the latest design cues of Lincoln including the unmistakable front grille. The Aviator emblems on the fenders are reminiscent of those on the Range Rover. The looks are understated, yet sophisticated, with the massive wheels adding a dynamic touch. There’s nothing fancy or flamboyant about this vehicle, especially the colour palette.
Inside, it literally feels like you’re sitting in a smaller Navigator. The dashboard design is virtually identical and you get the same impression of luxury and opulence. This SUV clearly wants to put on a show for all passengers. The rich leathers, trim pieces and attention to detail ensure the Aviator won’t look and feel inferior next to its competitors.
The 10.1-inch centre screen is your hub for everything, though Lincoln designers wisely kept a few physical controls for the HVAC system and the radio. There’s a rotary dial on the console and various drive modes to choose from, with unique names like “Excite” (sport) and Slippery (snow/rain). You can’t customize all the different vehicle settings, however, since Lincoln wanted to keep things simple and straightforward.
Two Powertrains Including a Plug-in Hybrid
Starting at a steep price of $69,000, the 2020 Lincoln Aviator comes standard with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 that produces 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. It’s the same proven engine you’ll find in the Continental and the Ford Explorer ST. All-wheel drive is part of the mix, too, plus a 10-speed automatic transmission shared with the Ford F-150 and Mustang.
On the winding roads of Napa Valley in California, we quickly realized the Aviator is no threat to the Q7. While ride quality is exceptional, the overall driving dynamics are closer to those of Infiniti, Lexus and Acura products. You can spend hours on the highway in regal comfort, but there’s no real connection with the road like in the Q7. As soon as you depress the throttle, the rear end squats and the nose rises in the air. The Aviator also feels fairly portly in corners.
Lincoln is making a foray into the world of plug-in hybrids, not to please environmentalists or Mother Nature, but rather to improve performance through electrification. The Aviator Grand Touring, as it’s called, generates 494 horsepower and an amazing 630 pound-feet of torque. An electric motor resides between the aforementioned 3.0-litre V6 and the transmission.
You can recognize this variant with its blue exterior accents and two additional drive modes including Pure EV and Preserve EV. The first allows about 30 kilometres of emission-free driving, while the other preserves battery charge for a later use. In cold weather, you’ll be left with not much EV range.
The Aviator Grand Touring retails for $81,000, which is a pretty big step from the base trim, but the drive proves a lot more exciting. Torque is plentiful and readily available, pinning you to your seat at every acceleration. One-pedal driving is not really possible because the single regenerative braking mode is not very aggressive, so the brakes need to work a bit more. And due to the added weight of the plug-in hybrid powertrain, towing capacity is reduced from 6,700 pounds to 5,600 pounds.
Both Aviator models can be equipped with an adaptive suspension that analyzes variations in the road surface and adjusts 100 times per second. Called Air Glide, this air suspension replaces the traditional coil springs.
Furthermore, the Lincoln-first Road Preview technology uses a front-facing camera to read the road surface nearly 50 feet ahead and look for height deviations between two and eight inches. It can spot speed bumps, frost heaves and of course those dreaded potholes, preparing the suspension and making the ride over them as comfortable as possible.