While Ford's Lincoln luxury brand explores new market niches with the MKC compact SUV and strives to compete with BMW and Lexus with the sleek MKZ midsize sedan, the 2015 Lincoln Navigator AWD large SUV (I give it three out of four stars) shows the brand hasn't forgotten the loyal customers who stuck with it through a nearly uninterrupted 30-year run of lackluster cars and trucks.
The Navigator is like your father's — perhaps your grandfather's — Lincoln: big and cushy, with space and power to burn. It's the only Lincoln that has a name, not a string of letters in the current fashion for luxury vehicles. Longtime Lincoln owners may look askance at the sleek little MKC, but they'll know exactly what the Navigator is for: carrying large groups, large people or large trailers in comfort at speed.
Despite an aging architecture that didn't accommodate new features like adaptive cruise control and automatic brakes, the Navigator remains a roomy and luxurious big SUV. It's unlikely to lure anybody out of newer competitors like the Cadillac Escalade and Land Rover's Range Rover, but it's a lot of truck for the money.
Navigator prices start at $61,920 for a rear-drive model. A six-speed automatic transmission and turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 380 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque are standard. Three rows of seats are standard: A middle bench provides seating for eight while captain's chairs reduce capacity to seven adults. All-wheel-drive raises the starting price to $65,495. The long-wheelbase Navigator L starts at $64,284 for rear drive and $67,860 with AWD. It competes with bigger SUVS like the Escalade ESV.
I tested a well-equipped eight-passenger AWD Navigator with leather instrument panel and trim, power running boards and an adaptive suspension. It stickered at $71,950. All prices exclude destination charges.
The Navigator's price is at the low end of its competitive set, which includes the BMW X5, Escalade, Infiniti QX80, Range Rover, Lexus LX 570 and Mercedes GL 550 4Matic. The Navigator is also the longest and heaviest, in base trim.
A roomy interior is one of the Navigator's strongest selling points. The middle row of seats slide forward for easy access to the rear. There's more cargo room behind the rear seat than any of the three-row competitors offer.
The high seating position and large windows provide clear lines of sight.
While the interior is accommodating, it's not particularly plush. The optional leather covering the dash and doors of my test car had very little padding and didn't look or feel much different from good plastic.
The controls avoid the flat-panel layout that marred some recent Lincolns, but some functions rely on skinny rocker switches and small touch screen buttons that are hard to use in a moving vehicle. The voice recognition works well, particularly for phone calls and dictating destinations to the navigation system.
The ride is exceptionally comfortable, thanks to an independent rear suspension and shocks that adjust quickly to absorb bumps. Well-tuned steering makes the Navigator maneuverable despite its large size.
The big change to the 2015 Navigator is under the hood. Lincoln has ditched the unimpressive 5.4-liter V-8 that powered previous models for a 3.5-liter turbocharged V-6. The Ecoboost V-6's horsepower trails its competitors, but the 460 pound-feet of torque it produces from just 2,750 rpm is among the segment's best. Only the Mercedes' twin-turbo V-8 beats the Lincoln significantly for power and torque range.
The Navigator responds quickly to the accelerator pedal and has plenty of power for fast cruising. Its 8,600-pound towing capacity leads the segment.
The Environmental Protection Agency rates the AWD Navigator I tested at 15 mpg in the city, 20 on the highway and 17 in combined driving. Not numbers to set a Prius owner's heart aflutter, but fine for an eight-seat, three-ton SUV. The Navigator also runs fine on regular gasoline, unlike many luxury SUVs. The combination of efficiency and inexpensive ties the Navigator and Escalade as the least expensive of the big SUVs to run, according to EPA estimates.
By combining that value with a competitive price, roomy interior, comfortable ride and good performance, the 2015 Navigator has plenty to keep longtime Lincoln owners happy.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
2015 Lincoln Navigator AWD
All-wheel-drive eight-passenger large SUV
Price as tested: $71.950 (excluding destination charge)
Rating: Three out of 4 stars
Reasons to buy: Room, ride, fuel economy
Shortcomings: Controls, interior materials, aging platform
COMPETITIVE EPA FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS
(Automatic transmission, All-wheel-drive models)
2015 Lincoln Navigator AWD: 15 mpg city/20 highway/17 combined. Regular gasoline.
BMW X5 xDrive50i: 15/22/17. Premium gasoline.
Cadillac Escalade AWD: 15/21/17. Regular gasoline.
Infiniti QX 80 4WD: 14/20/16. Premium gasoline.
Land Rover Range Rover SC LWB: 14/19/16. Premium gasoline.
Lexus LX 570: 12/17/14. Premium gasoline.
Mercedes GL 550 4Matic: 13/18/15. Premium gasoline.
COMPARATIVE BASE PRICES (excluding destination charges)
(Automatic transmission, All-wheel-drive models)
2015 Lincoln Navigator AWD: $71,950
BMW X5 xDrive50i: $70,100
Cadillac Escalade AWD: $75,570
Infiniti QX 80 4WD: $66,350
Land Rover Range Rover SC LWB: $106,995
Lexus LX 570: $83,180
Mercedes GL 550 4Matic: $89,950
SPECIFICATIONS AS TESTED
Engine: 3.5-liter turbocharged 24-valve V-6
Power: 380 horsepower at 5,250 rpm; 460 pound-feet of torque at 2,750 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 119.0 inches
Length: 207.4 inches
Width: 78.8 inches
Height: 78.1 inches
Curb Weight: 6,069 lbs.
Where assembled: Louisville, Ky.
KEY FEATURES ON VEHICLE TESTED
Standard equipment: Anti-lock brakes; stability control; curtain air bags; front seat side air bags; high-intensity discharge lamp, or HID, headlights; daytime running lights; ultrasonic parking assist; backup camera; Bluetooth phone and audio compatible; USB port; touch screen; voice recognition; three-zone automatic climate control; leather and wood steering wheel with audio and cruise controls; cruise control; heated and cooled front seats; power driver seat; memory for driver's settings; power folding third row seats; heated second row seats; power adjustable pedals; power windows, locks and mirrors; navigation system; THX II audio; Sirius satellite radio; keyless entry with keypad; trailer sway control; blind spot and cross traffic alerts; ambient lighting.
Options: Twenty-two-inch polished aluminum wheels; adaptive cruise control; two-tone tuxedo black paint; 4.10 ratio rear axle; 40/20/40 split second-row bench seat; power running boards; ziricote wood trim; upgraded leather upholstery; leather wrapped instrument panel door and console trim.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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