AUTO REVIEW: 2018 Lincoln Navigator Outdoes Cadillac Escalade as Most Refined Family Hauler

(Chicago Tribune/TNS) —
Lincoln Navigator
Redesigned 2018 Lincoln Navigator AWD in Reserve trim (Robert Duffer/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

A familiar family scene in a full-size SUV: Two parents up front, four tweens behind, a sister in the third row aggravating her brother and his teammates in the second row, who are barking and bobbing with all the excitement of leaving for a far-away game. Here’s where it becomes less familiar: the parents are talking calmly, almost softly, massaged by 30-way adjustable seats and a sound system that dulls the discord from the rear seats.

To be clear, the 2018 Lincoln Navigator didn’t mute all the nuisances of traveling en masse, but this land yacht certainly diminished the dissonance from the deep. We could have fit two more tweens in comfort and relative quiet.

This calm in the storm fits Lincoln’s marketing mantra of “quiet luxury” for the fourth generation full-size SUV.

Navigator is deserving of its 2018 North American Truck of the Year award.

We can talk about the 200-pound reduction in weight from the outgoing model, a more fuel-efficient and more powerful 450-horsepower twin-turbo V-6 engine paired to a new 10-speed transmission used in Ford’s off-road warrior known as the Raptor, or that it’s built very similarly to the Ford F-150, America’s best-selling vehicle. That’s all fine and good but those seats! Those seats are something else.

It’s like a recliner built into a seat, but better than a La-Z-Boy because there is a separate thigh adjustment for each leg. Then there’s all the side bolstering and back functions. To customize the massager, the lumbar, mid- and upper back regions all have their own setting, with 10 degrees of intensity accessible through the touchscreen. Unlike other luxury massagers, the activation button is on the door panel with the other seat buttons, so it’s magic hands at the push of a button. I’ll go ahead and use Lincoln’s phrase of “perfect position” seats (a $1,500 option that is well worth it).

The seats epitomize Lincoln’s intentions with the new Navigator. For nearly $90,000, Lincoln wants to provide first-class comfort with full-size family functionality. Each of the three third-row seats can be lowered with a push of the button, and third-row passengers are not relegated to third-rate status, because a button reclines their seats as well. There’s plenty of headroom for two adults to fit back there, too, for when the tweens become teens and start pulling their weight behind the wheel. Without the power fold option, the second row seats are not as simple to move in the 8-seat configuration, though our tweens eventually figured it out on their own. Overall, it is roomier and more evolved than the Cadillac Escalade.

Approach the vehicle and welcome lighting illuminates the door handles and ground. The power running board acts like a robotic servant helping you in and out. Visually, the massively broad mesh grille dominates rear view mirrors, yet it can still fit in most garages, even with roof rails. The 22-inch wheels with 16 spokes can be dizzying to some, yet at most speeds it looks like the spokes are not moving at all.

Lincoln Navigator
(Robert Duffer/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Inside, the quiet cabin has gorgeously rich wood trim on the dash, doors and massive center console, which has an open storage area beneath it for handbags. Clever storage spaces abound throughout. It’s luxury defined on first sight, and that is reinforced by the technology, for the most part.

The 10-inch touchscreen is clear and sharp, even with the middling Sync3 system, but the screen is planted smack dab in the middle of that otherwise clean spartan dash. Embedded screens look and feel more unified. The controls, from the vents to the steering wheel, have notched dials, which provide a nuanced consistency. It took a while to figure out the functions of the steering wheel controls, from adaptive cruise to adjusting the head-up display, and how to quickly access the menus in the instrument cluster so you don’t have to bother with the screen. Cadillac’s system is more intuitive in that regard, but we started to get the hang of it by the end of the week in the Reserve trim tester. The head-up display is broad and low, and full of the essential drive info without being cluttered. And it’s a blast for the boys in the back, from the wonderful Revel 20-speaker sound system.

A knob in the center console opens access to the seven different drive modes, though we couldn’t much tell the difference in them, other than some more responsiveness and delayed shift points in “excite” mode. At 5,855 pounds, there’s more excitement from the seats. Toggling between normal and conserve modes, on mixed-use driving, we averaged just shy of 16 mpg, which is the EPA estimate for city only. On the highway only it was more like 19.5 mpg. That was disappointing, though we weren’t really lightfooting it. A car full of kids has a way of pushing the needle, so to speak. The 10-speed is quick and smooth, and the engine delivers what’s expected.

Lincoln Navigator
(Robert Duffer/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Expectations should be high at this price point, and Lincoln exceeds them. The Navigator in Reserve trim is roomier, more refined and more complete than the Escalade or the Infiniti QX80. The $10,000 question is if it’s worth that much more than the new 400-horsepower Ford Expedition in Platinum trim.

Given the state of air travel, the Navigator might be the best way for the larger family to travel the states, or to haul the team from one event to the next.


2018 Lincoln Navigator Reserve at a glance

Vehicle type: full-size SUV

Base price: $81,205

As tested: $87,680 (excluding $1,195 delivery)

Mpg: 16 city, 21 highway

Engine: Twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6

Transmission: 10-speed automatic to all-wheel drive

Parting shot: Serenity now, monthly payment later.

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