Review: 2015 Lincoln Navigator
Long-time followers of my racing adventures, if there are any, will know that my trips to Houston have been less than perfectly satisfying and/or marked by misbehavior. By contrast, my stint behind the wheel of a 944 Turbo in the LeMons Gator-O-Rama was probably my sanest Texas trip in years.
It didn’t hurt that I wasn’t driving a Kia with the bumper ripped halfway off but rather a vehicle that, like David Bowie’s stage outfits, only works in one place, but perfectly so when it is there.
That place is Texas and the vehicle is the revised-for-2015 Lincoln Navigator. Our august founder, Robert Farago, would have started his review by reminding all and sundry that this SUV is, fundamentally, a 2004 Ford F-150. While that’s true, as the former owner of a 2003 Discovery 4.6 and its straight-outta-1970-Range-Rover underpinnings, I’m not necessarily inclined to damn it simply because it’s not based on the most modern vehicle in the segment. So let’s give the Navigator a chance to stand or fall on its own merits.
Start with the looks: the maxi-MKC front end is a distinct improvement on the faux-Continental, MKX-derived look that marked the current Navi for its first seven years on the market. Although the idea of the 2007 Navigator’s styling was sound, the execution had Ford doing a last-minute flip-flop on the brightwork and the dealers were very far from being happy with it. Remember, as always, that the dealers are the true customers in the eyes of the manufacturers. If they don’t like, it’s no good, and they most definitely did not like the “Continental” Navigator. The new tail is extremely distinctive and had plenty of people in Houston parking lots inquiring about the ‘Gator’s price and availability.
There’s no getting around the fact that the Lincoln Navigator and its direct competitor, the Cadillac Escalade, are depressingly crass exercises in marketing that demean everyone involved in their design, production, and consumption — as long as you live on the East Coast or in San Francisco or in my remarkably reserved hometown of Powell, Ohio. In Texas, by contrast, these are just trucks with some gingerbread, fundamentally no different from the Suburbans a-la-LTZ and loaded Expeditions all around them on the freeway. They don’t even feel or look particularly large in context with the F-350s favored for grocery runs by the Houston-Dallas crowd. After a week spent looking up at people in other trucks, this Navigator started to seem like a remarkably restrained and tasteful effort.
It helps that over the course of three generations this big SUV has become remarkably easy to operate and maneuver. It’s Volvo-square and chock-full of glass windows so parking in tight spaces is a surprising breeze. The rearview camera is as good as one could wish for and the park sensors are neither lazy nor hysterical. Steering effort is on par with my dear departed Town Car and all the controls provide feedback that is high-quality by domestic-truck standards. I’m currently spending a lot of time driving a late-model GMT900 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 around, which gives me a bit of perspective on what’s out there. Compared to that GMT900, this Navigator is superior in all respects. Compared to the current Escalade? Well, it’s less expensive at the very least, by a full eleven grand base-trim-to-base-trim.
My test vehicle had two particular virtues over above its predecessors. First, the Ecoboost six, which returned 16.2mpg over the course of about 900 miles and was perfectly matched to the needs of the vehicle. Compared to a Tahoe 5.3 it might as well be an F-106 Delta Dart, but of course you’d be comparing it to the six-liter Escalade. Which it still whips and a I have the results of a late-night stoplight drag in Cy-Fair to prove it. The Ecoboost is just enough motor for this thing and most importantly it doesn’t feel soft at low revs the way the GM LS truck engines do. Don’t think of this as a big Grand Cherokee SRT-8 competitor; it has neither Sturm nor Drang. It’s just a nice luxury truck that happens to be properly motivated.
Apologies for the stock photography, as all my shots of the Gator’s interior feature a healthy helping of autumn Texas mud. As supplied, with the “Reserve” interior package, this truck closely approximates an actual luxury automobile, from the quality of the leather on the seats (outstanding) to the fit and finish of the dashboard (pretty tight for a body-on-frame automobile). The capacitance-touch sliders that frustrated and impressed Ford drivers in equal measure over the past few years are replaced here with chrome rocker switches. Given the massive available dashboard space in this very wide vehicle, the net effect of the small chrome buttons and restrained labeling is one of mid-fi stereo equipment.
Speaking of… I never quite got along with the THX sound system, but everybody else who heard it thought it was dynamically spacious and whatnot. When the vehicle is stopped, you can make it produce the “THX Sound” at ear-splitting volume. Quite fun, really. The associated MyFordTouch system finally works at the speed we expected back in 2010 and I never experienced any failures to operate or MFT blackscreens over the course of about nine hundred miles behind the wheel. The double-LCD instrument panel was similarly flawless. It’s really a bit of a coup to make a vehicle of this vintage work just like a new MKZ in this respect; I assume that there’s a completely modern set of fiber optics wrapped around the Navigator’s innards.
Wind noise is very mild, the ride is pretty good and very short on “head toss” thanks to the independent rear suspension that also allows a low cargo floor, and conversation between the rows is both easy and pleasant. The original Navigator was a pretty ridiculous — as in, it deserved ridicule — effort, but this one benefits both from the vast improvements on the base Expedition and the diligent effort spent on differentiating it from said Expo. My chocolate-brown test example just felt expensive inside and out. The paint sparkled. The chrome trim was solid and durable-looking. It’s no longer an F-150 with a cap and a crosshairs badge.
As a replacement for an Audi A6 or something like that, the Navigator works very well, assuming you live in Texas or Oklahoma. If you live somewhere else, you’re likely to find the sheer size and bourgeois visual aggression of the thing a bit over the top. But on its home ground, the big Lincoln is just as appropriate as a Citroen C6 would have been on the Paris autoroute. It has virtually no direct competition, insofar as the Cadillac and Lexus both cost a lot more and the Germans aren’t nearly as massive. It’s not economical but if you run something like a V8 S-Class you won’t do any better in most circumstances and on long freeway trips at 85mph — Texas, remember? — the Lincoln could return 20mpg easily.
With all that said, I would never buy a Navigator. Not in a million years. I have one major issue with the vehicle, and it’s this: As a short-wheelbase four-door, it makes no sense. The Navigator L is the one you want. The massive increase in usable space for passengers and cargo comes at a very low cost and it turns this truck from a curiosity to a genuine double-duty superstar, able to carry plywood or passengers with aplomb. It tows better thanks to the long wheelbase, too.
The era of Navigators standing-in for Town Cars or Taurus-based Continentals is nearly over, thanks to fuel prices and social perceptions. The Lincoln of the future is the hybrid MKZ or a thoroughly revised RWD Conti, neither of which will ever come close to the sheer massiveness of this truck. Still, if you want to drive something like this, and you can afford both to purchase and to operate it, why not?
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