Bringing back old names appears to be the trend du jour for Lincoln these days. The latest returnee is the Lincoln Aviator, which will join the lineup in 2019 after a 14-year absence. Originally launched in 2003 as a gussied-up Explorer, the Aviator lasted only two years, with the model being discontinued after the Explorer was redesigned for 2006 (Ford did redesign the Mercury Mountaineer, a decision it may want to have back given that the Mercury brand was discontinued in 2010).
The new Lincoln Aviator, which is being previewed at the 2018 New York Auto Show as a “teaser” model, will join a market that’s crazier for SUVs than ever before, and it brings kit designed to take advantage of emerging trends. Chief among these will be the availability of a plug-in hybrid variant, which will see an electric motor combined with an unspecified twin-turbo engine—presumably a version of the EcoBoost V-6. Lincoln Drive Modes will allow drivers to “further customize the driving experience.”
If you’re expecting a rework of the extant front-drive Explorer, think again. The Aviator will come riding on a rear-drive platform—unspecified, like the engine, but possibly the one used for the 2019 Ford Ranger and 2020 Bronco—with a long wheelbase that Lincoln says allows for a spacious second and third row. Whether this packaging is a preview of what’s to come for the next-generation Explorer remains to be seen, but there certainly won’t be a new Mercury Mountaineer.
Not surprisingly, the new Aviator carries multiple cues that connect it visually to the larger Navigator, starting with the large grille and fender accents (the one on the right fender also hides the charging outlet). However, the grille dispenses with the existing naked mesh look in favor of one lined with accents shaped much like the Lincoln logo itself. Joined by a sloping hood and headlights that extend up instead of back, the Aviator looks significantly more aggressive than the relatively docile land whale that is the Navigator.
Out back, the center light is once again flush with the top end of the taillights, as it was on the previous-generation Navigator, which works well with the midsize SUVs smaller proportions. Quad exhaust tips are seen on the plug-in “teaser,” which implies that it’s the performance Aviator variant as well as the economic once.
Inside, the Aviator more closely resembles its larger sibling, with key differences being the smaller air vents and more elegant integration of the navigation screen. The 12-inch digital gauge cluster remains, as does the piano-key shifter and the twin-box center console design. The cream interior of the teaser will likely be offered on the production model as a Black Label theme, though we’re hoping for a repeat appearance by the Navigator’s blue-and-white “Yacht Club.”
Lincoln plans to fit the production Aviator with its new Suspension Preview Technology, which it claims “seamlessly adjusts the suspension for upcoming road conditions.” If you’re having visions of the “Bose Active Suspension” from a couple decades ago, you’re not alone.
The new Aviator will come loaded with a battery of connectivity and safety tech as well. On the latter front will be the Lincoln Co-Pilot360 suite, which will be comprised of automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, lane keeping, reverse camera, and auto high-beams. An optional add-on—one that should come standard—is Reverse Brake Assist, which can automatically brake the vehicle if it detects an object (or a person, presumably) behind it while backing up using the rear sensors and camera.
To further appeal to upwardly mobile millennial families, the Aviator will feature “Phone as a Key” technology, which works exactly how the name implies. The “Lincoln Way” app will allow owners to not only lock or unlock their vehicle via their smartphone, but start and drive it as well. Owners will also be able to access the vehicle via Ford and Lincoln’s signature exterior keypad, which in this case will allow the vehicle to be started as well, resolving the “what if the phone is missing, out of juice, or locked inside” question.
According to Lincoln, the “medium luxury SUV” that the Aviator belongs to represents a quarter of the entire premium SUV market, adding up to over 585,000 vehicles sold in 2017. Even a small chunk of that market would substantially boost Lincoln’s fortunes. With the all-new Navigator selling as fast as Ford can build it, and the 2019 Nautilus (née MKX) arriving at dealers shortly alongside the updated 2019 MKC, the 2020 (or 2021) Aviator will be joining a fresh lineup and make the Lincoln brand primed for regaining the SUV dominance it enjoyed 15-20 years ago during the first-generation Navigator’s heyday.