When the redesigned Lincoln Navigator spent time with us last year, we said the luxo-truck appears to be struggling. It didn't have the Cadillac Escalade's style or attitude. It didn't have a particularly powerful engine (300 hp in the Navigator, 403 hp in the Escalade). And its monstrous, `60s Continental-inspired grille flashed more gaudy chrome than a southern rapper.
A year later, the Lincoln is still saddled with an underpowered engine, but the Navigator has a key advantage over the Escalade -- at $54,645, the biggest Navigator (L) costs some $2000 less than a base Escalade -- and it comes loaded.
For 2008, several comfort and convenience features that were extras are now standard, including a power liftgate, heated and cooled seats, Sirius satellite radio, a 14-speaker THX surround-sound audio system, and PowerFold third-row seats. A new rearview camera system is also available, although one would think a 17-foot long SUV merits more than a tiny, two-inch screen display packed into the rear-view mirror.
Both GM (Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Cadillac Escalade) and Chrysler (the forthcoming Aspen and Dodge Durango) are offering hybrid SUV powertrain options this year, but not Lincoln. The Navigator's gas mileage remains virtually identical to the Escalade's (12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway in the 2WD version) and the SUV could use some bigger brakes. Yet despite the Navigator's performance and styling weaknesses, the forefather of luxury SUVs knows how to turn heads.
Though Escalades are better-styled and more common on roads (Cadillac sold 60,991 Escalades in 2007, while Lincoln sold only 24,050 Navigators) onlookers can't help but notice the Navigator. It's a scarce, Brachiosaurus-type SUV dinosaur, perhaps commanding too much attention in a world with $3.60 per gallon gasoline. But inside the vehicle, Lincoln did a tremendous job insulating passengers from an outside world that increasingly frowns upon such road thumpers. The Navigator also has just the right modern-retro details -- classic chrome and white-lit gauges, sensible steering-wheel and navigation controls, and "Navigator" inscribed chrome door handles. One improvement we would like for next year is lights near the retractable, electronic running boards, perhaps with backlit "Lincoln" script similar to those on the Lexus LX570.
After taking the SUV on a 400-mile highway trip (coincidentally, the vehicle has a 400-mile range), we learned drivers arrive at their destinations no worse-for-wear, although a few second-row passengers would have preferred less road feedback. When we reviewed the 2007 Navigator, we moaned that, unlike Cadillac, the Lincoln didn't offer 22-inch wheels on its large SUV (which would help reduce the Navigator's huge fender gaps). It still doesn't. And heck, at this stage of the game, Lincoln might as well sacrifice ride quality for more competitive, lavish wheels (the largest for 2008 are optional 20-inchers). Maybe Lincoln should even begin offering a lowering kit to differentiate the Navigator from its Cadillac competitor.