Road Tests

First Drive: 2018 Lincoln Navigator Reserve

Lincoln’s new suburban assault vehicle isn’t much of a looker, but its interior is sweet

LAGUNA BEACH, California—The appropriateness of the drive route Lincoln mapped out for our first taste of the 2018 Lincoln Navigator didn’t occur to me until well after I’d already handed back the key fob to the Ruby Red, full-size luxury SUV.

And then it hit me. The journey inland from the upscale coastal enclave to the Temecula wine country and back I’d just completed is one that Lincoln no doubt envisions potential Navigator buyers making with some frequency. The Laguna Beach crowd is exactly the type of customer the all-new, 2018 Navigator needs to attract if it’s going to succeed beyond being a go-to for livery companies.

The changes to the brawny Lincoln SUV are immediately evident from behind the wheel. It acquitted itself well over the various forms of tarmac we encountered during our day’s drive, handling bumps and imperfections in a manner resembling that of a Great Dane’s reaction to a yapping terrier—acknowledgement followed by utter disregard. This nearly 6,000-pound SUV is not easily unsettled. And although it features an independent rear suspension, the Navigator still feels trucky in its on-road demeanor, an appealing characteristic to some that helps differentiate it from German alternatives such as the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS.

On the twists and turns of Ortega Highway, the only direct route to Temecula from Orange County over the Santa Ana Mountains, the 17.5-foot-long Lincoln shifted its weight left and right predictably. It’s no Jaguar F-Pace, but it’ll get you up to the ski resort without inducing any undue panic or stress, especially if you tighten things up by engaging Excite mode. After playing with the system’s other modes, I ended up leaving it in Excite during the bulk of my drive thanks to the sharper steering feel and throttle response the setting provides.

Motivation when the throttle is pinned comes courtesy of a version of Ford’s proven 3.5-liter EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6, which sends 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque through a new 10-speed automatic transmission. The package hustles the big SUV along well enough when prodded, and the engine emits a subdued but appropriate growl as it does. Lincoln didn’t divulge a 0-60-mph test time, but given that the outgoing Navigator needed 6.5 seconds with 380 hp on tap, 6.0 seconds seems a reasonable estimate. When it comes time to halt the proceedings, it’s best not to pump the brakes too hard. They’ll stop you quickly enough all right, but nobody on board will enjoy the nosedive that results.

Its on-road behavior is solid enough, but Lincoln did its best work in the 2018 Navigator’s cabin. Not only is it pleasant on the eyes, it’s a pleasure to occupy as well, starting with the near complete absence of noise and vibration being passed into the well-insulated cabin. The front seats are quite comfortable and can be adjusted to meet the ergonomic desires of almost anyone. Highlights include the individually adjustable thigh extenders and the easily accessible massage function (part of the $1,250 Perfect Position package), which can be turned on with the push of a button next to the other door-mounted seat adjustment controls. Some will rightly accuse Lincoln of stealing Mercedes’ idea. I’m glad it did; the number of adjustments available would force occupants to blindly fiddle with far too many buttons.

Key to the interior’s stylish elegance is the smart use of chrome throughout, which contrasts well with the piano-black accents and any choice of trim (I’m partial to the white teak found in the Black Label Yacht Club package). The stylish, old-school-looking dash neatly encases a vintage-looking rectangular gauge cluster—all digital, of course—and drives home the mid-century inspiration. The infotainment screen, which runs the Lincoln-ized version of Ford’s Sync 3, breaks up the flow unfortunately, but to be fair, there really isn’t a good way to way to incorporate something as modern as a touchscreen into a design that evokes car interiors of 60 years ago. It’s a shame the screen can’t be folded or retracted when not in use.

It is worth noting, however, that at least in the Reserve trim (and presumably, the Premiere and Select levels below), there are a few places where materials quality isn’t what it should be, such as on the upper door panel. Spring for the Black Label model though, and the Venetian leather Lincoln uses for its range-topping trim feels better to the touch and is found in more places. You’ll also appreciate the Black Label’s standard 20-speaker Revel Ultima Audio system, Technology Package (adaptive cruise control, active park assist, auto high beams, head-up display, collision assist, and lane-keep assist), and 22-inch wheels, which are optional on the lower level models.

While the 2018 Navigator’s interior is nearly perfect, its exterior lacks the imposing presence you’d expect this shy giant to have. From the side, it bears far too much resemblance to the humble Ford Explorer, as if the sheetmetal of the smaller crossover was simply scaled up then given a slight polish, fender accents, and retractable running boards. The Navigator Concept Lincoln rolled out in 2016 featuring a slightly sloping roof and more elongated and premium-looking shape reminiscent of one of today’s luxury SUV gold standards—the Range Rover. It’s unfortunate those elements didn’t make the cut, but the flat roof of the production model does allow for ample headroom in the third row, with the stated 37.3 inches being enough to comfortably fit even my 6-foot-4-inch self. The 42.3 inches of legroom third-row occupants are offered doesn’t suck, either.

That lack of visual slope negatively impacts matters back at the back of the Navigator, as well. While an improvement over the outgoing model thanks to the black D-pillars and inverted horizontal light bar, the 2018 Navigator’s rear still looks quite slabby, thanks in part to its nearly 1:1 width:height proportions.

And then there’s the front. An SUV-size version of the grille that’s not doing anything special for the Continental doesn’t do much for Navigator, either. In fact, out in the wild, it looks squished, like someone shrunk the photo horizontally instead of vertically. The giant Lincoln logo is a nice touch, but it needs to be on a grille with a horizontal pattern—perhaps that of the ’65 Continental—rather than a vertical one.

Exterior design shortcomings aside, Lincoln nailed nearly everything else on the 2018 Navigator. The package includes an excellent interior, a strong powertrain, good equipment list, a tow rating north of 8,000 pounds, and a competitive price tag that starts at $73,250. Black car fleets will surely love them, but only time will tell if the image-conscious, high-net-worth suburbanites Lincoln wants to attract will feel the same way. Lincoln’s concierge services are an extra selling point, but failure or success may come down to the strength of the brand’s marketing push, as the hip-hop cred the original Navigator was able to snag probably isn’t coming back.

2018 Lincoln Navigator 4×4 Reserve Specifications

ON SALE December 2017
PRICE $82,400/$88,675 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 3.5L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/450 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 510 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 16/21 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 210.0 x 79.9 x 76.3 in
WHEELBASE 122.5 in
WEIGHT 5,855 lb
0-60 MPH 6.0 sec (est)
TOP SPEED N/A

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