You can't mention the Lincoln Navigator without bringing up the Cadillac Escalade, the big-personality celebrity wagon that toppled the Navigator as King of All That Is Cool back in the late 1990s. That hierarchy has changed little since, so Lincoln has a new plan: if the latest Escalade is all brash personality, then the Navigator--now offered in regular and long-wheelbase configuration just like the Cadillac--should instead embody refinement and subtle confidence. Not that the gallons of chrome slathered all over the Navigator are exactly subtle. (When pictures of the new Navigator were released early last year, the reaction around here was unanimous: "What the hell happened to the front end?")
So it isn't quite subdued, but the Lincoln is reasonably refined, thanks in part to efforts to curb noise coming from the powertrain, the wind, and the road. Indeed, little hubbub filtered into the cabin as we barreled up and down steep Smoky Mountain passes, blowing by eighteen-wheelers and mufflerless old rustbuckets. A control-arm front suspension and an improved multilink independent rear setup (the Cadillac soldiers on with a live rear axle) provide a stable and compliant ride, and the decent--but not so talkative--steering helps provide good directional stability.
But the last Navigator already did the subtle and refined thing. What this model really needs is an infusion of Escalade-style attitude. The Navigator doesn't even have the personality of the Infiniti QX56, never mind the megamagnetic Caddy. Lincoln says more powerful engines--maybe even a diesel--and bigger, twenty-two-inch wheels may be offered, but not for a couple of years. The Escalade, of course, offers more power (403 hp versus the Navigator's 300 hp) and deuce-deuces right now. As for all that chrome, buyers can specify body-colored trim in place of much of it starting in February. Make up your mind already, Lincoln.
But that's the thing. Cadillac knows exactly what it wants the Escalade to be, whereas Lincoln appears to be struggling to figure out where the current Navigator fits into its newly revamped lineup.