A different driving experience is worth a few points in my book. A vehicle can be flawed, even seriously flawed, but if it provides a unique experience I personally find it more appealing than a technically superior but emotionally vacant appliance. With this in mind, and a Lexus LX 570 my ride for the week, I decided to have one last fling with a pair of dinosaurs, the Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade. Few vehicles are more out of step with the current market. Today, the Lincoln.
So, how do you take a large Ford SUV and make it seem worthy of the Lincoln badge and a $60,000+ MSRP? Well, there’s the right way, and then there’s the easy way. The easy way: add a lot of chrome. The slabs on the lower doors are standard, while that over the grille is a $75 option. To these the dealer appears to have felt the need to add the B-pillar appliques. Even paired with “tuxedo black metallic” the result isn’t convincing. The Navigator had a few years in the middle of its run when it looked almost classy. But both the early and recent generations have been all about wretched excess superficially and even haphazardly applied to a basic box that’s much more at home as a Ford.
Inside the Lincoln Navigator this story continues. The current interior is a step back in materials and style from the one the preceded it. Lincoln claims that the wood is real, but it doesn’t look real, and it certainly isn’t spectacular. The instruments look dated and cheap, while the controls feel dated and cheap, even clunky in the case of the shifter. The controls in a luxury vehicle should never feel clunky. The same HVAC controls that look a little cheap inside the 2008 Ford Taurus X I recently purchased are employed inside this $63,360 Lincoln. Lincoln has upgraded the interiors in its most recent products, but the Navigator is apparently being left to die on the vine as time passes it by.
In terms of function the Lincoln fares better. The seats in the first two rows are huge and cushy. Perhaps even a little too cushy and lacking in support, but they befit the brand. Expansive windows pair with a high seating position to provide outstanding visibility. One ergonomic shortcoming: there’s nowhere for the driver to rest a left foot. So said foot must simply be planted flat on the floor.
Unlike the Cadillac Escalade (or the Lexus LX 570, for that matter), the Lincoln Navigator has an independent rear suspension. The main benefit: a low, flat floor in the rear of the vehicle, for the best third-row seat in the entire industry. There’s plenty of room back there, and with the third-row bench very high off the floor and a little less cushy than the others it’s arguably the most comfortable place to sit in the Navigator. This never happens.
There’s only a foot or so of cargo space behind the third row. For those who want to carry six-plus people AND their luggage Lincoln offers the Navigator EL. In the EL the seating dimensions remain about the same, but there’s another foot behind the third row for luggage. If you’re getting this sort of vehicle you might as well go all the way; I tested the regular wheelbase only because it was closer in size to the Lexus.
Ford’s “modular” V8 has never received much love, and that’s not about to change in its waning days. The three-valve-per-cylinder 5.4-liter V8’s specs aren’t bad: 310 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 365 pound-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. But they’re up against a curb weight north of three tons. Worse, the V8 produces an unseemly roar while going about its work and the six-speed automatic isn’t the smoothest. With so many gears to choose from, you wouldn’t expect the sort of overly aggressive kick down common with lesser endowed boxes, but it’s here.
The steering has a moderate weightiness to it and feels pretty good for this class of vehicle. That’s the high point of the suspension. Handling is thoroughly predictable but ponderous, even compared to the Cadillac. Despite the independent rear suspension and luxury mission the Navigator pounds and shimmies over bumps. The body feels flexy and too loosely attached to the frame. Old man Leland must be rolling in his grave. His Lincolns never rode anything like this. The tested vehicle was shod with the optional 275/55R20 tires. These could be poorly suited for the suspension, and the standard 18s could ride better. But the 20s possess plenty of sidewall. They’re hardly rim protectors. Even with them there’s no obvious reason the Navigator rides as badly or feels as unpolished as it does. Competitors also tend to be quieter inside.
When testing Explorers and Expeditions in the past I’ve wondered how Ford could go through the cost and trouble of fitting an independent rear suspension to its otherwise conventional SUVs and still manage to underperform the live-axled competition from General Motors. With the latest, and perhaps last, Navigator, this mystery continues. The big SUV’s roominess and comfort are outstanding, but in just about every other way it falls short, even far short. The luxury is all superficial, at best. From the minor controls to the shifter to the engine to the chassis the Navigator feels clunky. Given its age and configuration I expected the SUV to feel dated. But the thorough lack of finesse came as a surprise. While rare these days even among low-priced subcompacts, this isn’t the sort of distinctive driving experience I was looking for.