There was a time when the Lincoln Navigator was the hottest SUV going, an epoch that coincided with the “shiny suit era” of rap music. From a peak of nearly 39,000 sold in 2003, Lincoln sold just 8018 in 2011.
An anecdote related to me by a former Ford PR exec has it that Lincoln and P. Diddy were going to collaborate on a product placement/endorsement deal – Ford gave P. Diddy a Navigator, and P. Diddy then became involved a nightclub shooting that tarnished the reputation of the music mogul himself and his then boo Jennifer Lopez. P. Diddy protegé (and recent convert to Orthodox Judaism) Shyne took the rap for the shooting, and Ford pulled the deal. Why does this bizarre footnote merit a mention? Because Diddy then adopted the Cadillac Escalade as his vehicle of choice, and everyone with any pop culture exposure knows that the Escalade is the car to have for anyone who has suddenly come in to money. The Navigator became an instant also-ran, while Cadillac’s brand was at a high point not seen since the days of tail fins.
Despite cutting a bold figure, the Navigator’s utilitarian pickup truck roots are immediately apparent after climbing aboard, as you step up from the F-Series sourced power running boards and sit in the cushy driver’s seat. There are plenty of parts bin interior pieces here, and the blonde wood, tobacco tan leather upholstery, analog clock and retro typeface gauges are ostensibly designed to evoke a sort of 1960’s Mad Men feel. The Navigator is no 1963 Continental – if anything, its Betty Draper’s Country Squire station wagon with a dose of nouveau riche vulgarity, thanks to the shiny latticework of the grille and the chrome dubs mounted at all 4 corners.
The 5.4L modular V8 isn’t a bad powerplant, with 310 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque on tap. The biggest handicap is Ford’s 6-speed automatic, which felt like an antiquated 4-speed until the spec sheet shed light on the extra two gears. On minor inclines, the transmission hunted for gears repeatedly, and kickdowns were slow and clumsy. With the 2WD setting engaged, I saw a whopping 10 mpg in the city and that’s with conservative throttle applications. $100 was barely enough to fill the Lincoln’s gargantuan gas tank. On brief highway drives, window noise seemed excessive for a luxury vehicle, and it seemed to come through the A-Pillar much like it would on an economy car. The Navigator handles as expected – tracking solidly in a straight line, soaking up bumps efficiently, feeling top-heavy but stable during directional changes.
Ford’s SYNC system with an in-dash touch screen was standard, and the system seems to have a fair number of bugs and glitches worked out. The THX certified stereo sounded crisp at high volumes, and rap music had just the right amount of obnoxious bass to render the music clear and audible to pedestrians who scowled at me while they walked past. A back-up camera and front and rear park assist systems helped maneuver the Navigator into tight spaces, a boon for soccer moms who may take the Navigator to gentrified urban neighborhoods designed before the mass adoption of the automobile.
The best place to be in a Navigator is the back seat. There’s ample room for your person in both the second and third row, though truck space is severely compromised unless the third row is folded. Luckily, there are power folding systems for the last two seats, and a power tailgate option when you’re finished.
When the Navigator first debuted, car magazines still came with mail-away cards for customers to order brochures. What a quaint notion. Even sales of the once-mighty Escalade are in the toilet, as consumers move away from profligate body-on-frame SUVs to the car-based CUV. As an ironic novelty, the Navigator might be acceptable as a potential purchase, but I just can’t fathom why one would buy this over an Expedition (if they needed to tow a boat) or any number of crossovers out there that are better than the Navigator in every objective area. The Range Rover, an equally ostentatious (and much better engineered) vehicle has stolen the title of the official vehicle of gauche showoffs from both the Navigator and it’s Cadillac counterpart. The Navigator isn’t likely to die any time soon, as it’s a great source of profit for Ford. Ironically, for a vehicle so clearly engineered in the dreadful pre-Mulally era of Ford, the Navigator arguably has the strongest and most unique identity within Lincoln’s otherwise uninspiring lineup. Maybe keeping it around isn’t such a bad thing after all?