The vagaries of the oil market have granted Americans (relatively) cheap gasoline again — less than $3 a gallon in many parts of the country — and, unsurprisingly, sales of big, luxury SUVs are booming. They’re not ideal for carving up canyon roads or squeezing into tight urban parking spots, but for much of the driving that most Americans do, a big, honking luxury SUV is a pretty pleasant way to roll.
The Lincoln Navigator invented the genre, way back in 1998, and has been treated to an update for 2015. This isn’t a complete redesign, but with a new engine, restyled front and rear ends, and a redone interior, call it a major update.
From 8 to 6
The new engine is Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 turbo, which is standard throughout the lineup (standard in the Lincoln Navigator and Navigator L, each in 4×2 or 4×4 form). The six is the only game in town; the V-8 has left the building. Here Ford is displaying a bit more bravery than crosstown rival GM, which retained its 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V-8s in its redesigned big SUVs.
For Lincoln, the good news is that, from behind the wheel, you’d never suspect there are fewer than eight cylinders at work under the hood. Throttle response is linear, and the big Lincoln steps lively. The boosted six matches the Cadillac Escalade’s 6.2-liter V-8 in torque output: 460 lb-ft (delivered at 2,750 rpm versus 4,100), although the EcoBoost engine’s 380 hp is 40 hp shy of the Caddy.
Unfortunately, when it comes time to fill up, you’d again never suspect there were fewer than eight cylinders at work. EPA figures for the 3.5-liter Lincoln Navigator and the 6.2-liter Escalade are essentially a tossup, with neither having a clear advantage. (And while both SUVs currently use a six-speed automatic, GM is about to roll out an eight-speed, which should nudge its ratings a bit.) We averaged 17 mpg in a week’s driving, midway between the AWD Lincoln Navigator’s 15-mpg city and 20-mpg highway estimates.
What’s underneath does count
But, obviously, people buy these vehicles in spite of their fuel economy not because of it. They do so because they want a spacious, comfortable vehicle, and the Lincoln Navigator is one. In fact, it carves out significantly more usable space within its boxy body than does the newer Escalade. As you’d expect, the standard, 119-inch-wheelbase Navigator has a generous, three-person second-row bench — or two captain’s chairs, with or without a center console. More impressive is that its standard third-row seat is adult-habitable, boasting some 13 inches more legroom than the all-but-useless third row in its regular-sized Escalade. The Navigator third row even has more legroom than the Suburban-based Escalade ESV. Credit the far superior packaging afforded by Ford’s independent rear suspension versus GM’s live-axle arrangement. The Lincoln Navigator also enjoys a (minor) advantage in behind-the-third-seat cargo space, in both the standard-length and extra-long versions.
The expected ride-quality advantage of Lincoln’s independent rear suspension is more ephemeral, however. We found that the Navigator pretty well smothers bumps despite rolling on high fashion, optional 22-inch wheels (20-inch units are standard). But the tall vehicle does suffer some head toss, even though our test truck was fitted with continuously controlled dampers, which are part of the Reserve package.
MyLincoln Touch, retouched
The Reserve package was more in evidence inside, where it brings upgraded wood trim and nicer leather (on all three rows of seats). The Lincoln Navigator has adopted Ford’s corporate instrument cluster (seen first in the Fusion hybrid) with a central speedometer flanked by two configurable screens. It’s modern looking and highly customizable, but you’d think Lincoln would merit its own design. On the subject of screens, we’re happy to report that the new version of MyLincoln Touch is vastly improved, as it junks the annoying slider touch bars in favor of, yes, actual knobs. Big, easy-to-use knobs control volume and tuning, and there are also physical buttons for seek, fan speed, temperature, and seat heating/cooling.
Roomy and comfortable, the Lincoln Navigator may be old school, but it does have a certain appeal. That appeal is particularly evident when gas is cheap. And while its 2015 update is not a comprehensive redesign, this big boy remains competitive, at least with other body-on-frame luxury mastodons.
2015 Lincoln Navigator Specifications
- Base price: $66,050
- Price as Tested: $72,900
- Engine: 6.4-liter OHV 16-valve V-8/410 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 429 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- Layout: 4-door, 8-passenger, front-engine, all-wheel-drive SUV
- EPA Mileage: 15/20 mpg (city/highway)
- L x W x H: 207.4 x 78.8 x 78.1 in
- Wheelbase: 119.0 in
- Weight: 6,069 lb
- Headroom (first/second/third row): 39.5/39.7/37.6 in
- Legroom (first/second/third row): 43.0/39.1/37.7 in
- Shoulder room (first/second/third row): 63.3/63.7/51.9 in
- Cargo room (behind third/second/first row): 18.1/54.4/103.3 cu ft
- Towing: 8,700 lb
- Fuel range: 476 miles