Ask anyone what their favorite Lincoln is, and you’re sure to get answers like the suicide-door Continentals, late-model Mark VII or Mark VIII coupes and perhaps even Panther-underpinned Town Cars. These cars, like nearly every other pre-1990 Lincoln product, were big, plush rear-drive luxury land yachts – something you definitely don’t see much of sitting around the Lincoln showrooms these days. And, unfortunately, the enthusiasm at Ford’s Lincoln brand was deflated long before the automaker started killing off its iconic nameplates in favor the haphazard MK_ naming convention.
Lincoln – or Lincoln Motor Company, as they’d prefer to be called – is currently looking to turn these tides as it is in the midst of a brand renaissance that has been very promising spawning models like the MKZ sedan, the all-new MKC crossover and soon enough the next-gen MKX, but Lincoln’s last tie to its glory days now lies with the Navigator. Like the most recent Town Car, though, the Navigator has been left to flounder in a quickly changing segment, but rather than being left to die a slow and painful death, some new life has been breathed into the 2015 Lincoln Navigator with improved styling, a new engine and a more refined interior with gobs of luxury.
After having recently driven two different versions of the 2015 Cadillac Escalade, my seat time in the Lincoln Navigator couldn’t have been planned any better. My tester was a four-wheel-drive, long-wheelbase Navigator L decked out with the all-new Reserve Equipment Group, and while Lincoln has definitely talked the talk in regards to its updated SUV, I wanted to see if it has walked the walk.
Right off the bat, the 2015 Lincoln Navigator is already worthy of a second look just thanks to its updated design, but still this is the mildest of refreshes, which sadly might be the most drastic change the Navigator’s styling has ever undergone in its 18 years on the market. The styling can’t hold a candle to the downright stunning look of the 2015 Escalade, although it is arguably more attractive than some of its other contemporaries such as the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Infiniti QX80, Lexus LX and even the Escalade’s close cousin, the GMC Yukon Denali.
Lincoln managed this visual transformation by ditching the awkwardly blinged-out look of the 2007-2014 model and replacing it with elements currently found on other Lincoln products like the split winged grille, LED-trimmed headlights and the full-width LED taillight design. And we aren’t talking about any groundbreaking design changes. This is the same kind of stuff we’ve come to expect from a mid-cycle styling change perhaps a few years after a vehicle has been introduced, which would make the 2015 Navigator’s update a good four or five years late. Better late than never I say – especially when you’re talking about the gaudy amount of chrome found on the old Navigator’s schnoz.
While the previous front end was far too busy, there is plenty of detail built into this new design.
The one that stuck out to me the most was this new grille. Not only did it replace the previous chrome mesh grille with a richer, brushed aluminum look, but the individual slats are positioned to perfectly line up with other elements of the front-end design such as the turn signal and running light portion of the headlights. It’s probably one of those things that most people might miss, but it adds to the more upscale appearance.
On the opposite end of that coin, it’s hard to ignore the weak attempt at the LED taillights that come off looking like they belong on a Dodge Durango rather than this Navigator or the tacky chrome exhaust tip. The Navigator does get some pretty cool puddle lights, which Lincoln refers to as a “Welcome Mat,” that is mounted under each door mirror, displays the Lincoln logo on the ground when illuminated.
New for 2015, the Lincoln Navigator adds a new Reserve Equipment Group package, and while the big gains are made on the interior, the exterior is also spruced up a bit. As part of the $7,150 package, the Navigator gets a set of polished 22-inch wheels, glossy black lower trim and power-retractable running boards.
It is on the inside, though, where this pricey package earns its keep where a high-quality, hand-stitched leather are now found on the instrument panel door panels, center console lid and steering wheel, and an exclusive Ziricote wood trim acts as the perfect accent. Sadly, the glossy wood trim doesn’t look as authentic as that found inside the Escalade, but its darker hue is a richer contrast with the lightly colored leather than what is offered on the lesser Navigator trims.
Even with the Reserve package, there’s still no hiding the fact that this is an 8-year-old interior design even with the modern tech such as the configurable gauge cluster and MyLincoln Touch infotainment system. Glaringly obvious omissions are the lack of modern safety/convenience features such as adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning (both of which are now available on vehicles in the $20,000 price range) not to mention the dated look and feel from components such as the steering wheel and window switches. Just not up to snuff with the Navigator’s price range and the current competitive set.
Sure, the Navigator has its shortcomings in the luxury SUV segment, the one thing it does better than just about anything else is comfort.
After all, there’s a reason why you’ll see a lot of Lincoln Navigator black cars if you spend enough time around airports. Front passengers on this model get heated and cooled seats, but the rest of the Navigator’s occupants (seven total in this tester thanks to the second-row captain’s chairs) get plenty of attention, too. The Navigator L receives 12 inches (30 cm) of added wheelbase and almost 15 inches (38 cm) of total length do little to improve upon the already-cavernous interior space of the standard Navigator.
Showing why the Navigator is a more ideal livery vehicle (or for larger families), the Navigator L has more cargo capacity and third-row passenger space than the Escalade ESV, and more impressive is the fact that even the standard-length Navigator has better third-row legroom than the lengthened Escalade ESV. And the icing on the cake is that the Navigator has better towing and hauling capabilities with 8,300 pounds (3,765 kg) of towing capacity and 1,540 pounds (699 kg) of payload.
Regardless of whether we’re talking about the standard Navigator or the stretched Navigator L, there is room for up to eight adult passengers thanks to standard three-row seating with a third row that can actually fit adult passengers with ease. In fact, the only real difference between the comfort of the Navigator and Navigator L is that the longer version comes with almost 16 extra inches of shoulder room.
When it comes to comfort, size definitely matters, but when it comes to dropping big money on a vehicle, it’s all about the intangibles. And this might be where the Navigator really starts to show its age. Factoring in the upgraded infotainment system, the technology inside the 2015 Navigator just doesn’t feel like a modern $60,000+ vehicle should feel – the opposite sentiment to how I recently felt after driving the Kia K900, which felt like more car for the money. The Reserve trim does inject quite a bit of opulence into the cabin, but the Escalade seats are far more supportive and the goodies are more plentiful. The biggest compliment I can give the Lincoln in terms of its cabin tech is that at least the MyLincoln Touch didn’t have an aneurism and crash.
The changes made to the styling and interior may have been good enough to bring up to par with most 2010 model year luxury SUVs, but it’s what is under the hood that finally brings the big Navi’ into the modern era. Since its introduction, the Lincoln Navigator has been powered by solely a 5.4-liter V-8, but the 2015 model year ditches that engine in favor of Ford’s downsized workhorse, the direct-injected 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 with twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT). This EcoBoost engine is now offered in everything from work trucks to police cars, and it’s now the exclusive engine of the Navigator.
Despite its drop in cylinders and displacement, power and torque are up considerably year over year with the engine producing 380 hp and 460 lb-ft (624 Nm) of torque, which is 70 hp and 95 lb-ft (129 Nm) of torque more than the previous V-8. These power ratings are with premium fuel in the tank, but this fuel is only recommended and not required. Speaking of that fuel tank, it’s still going to be expensive to fill up even with gas prices down due to the added-capacity 33.5-gallon (127 liters) fuel gas tank of the long-wheelbase model.
The good news is that with the EcoBoost engine, fuel economy is marginally better with this 4WD Navigator L having EPA-rated estimates of 15 mpg city (15.6 l/100 km), 19 mpg highway (12.3 l/100 km) and 16 mpg (14.7 l/100 km) in combined driving, which is 2 mpg better in the city and 1 mpg better on the highway. When our time with this Escalade concluded, these numbers proved to be very accurate with our figures showing about 15.4 mpg city (15.3 l/100km) and 19.8 on the highway (11.8 l/100km). And that’s with Ford’s six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. We can only imagine these numbers will improve with a more advanced eight-speed automatic like the Escalade now has.
In the city, the new electric power steering makes this big SUV easier to operate in tight spaces with a 14.8:1 ratio that provides the steering wheel with fewer turns lock-to-lock and a smaller turning diameter than the hydraulic steering found in the previous Navigator. While you could certainly ding the feel of the steering system for being too light, it seems that Lincoln is going after the clientele who were fans of the soft, cushy Town Car. One area that is really commendable for the Lincoln team is making the cabin so quiet.
Even with the carryover platform and the massive 22-inch wheel, there is very little wind noise that makes it inside the cabin, and the independent rear suspension delivers an ultra-smooth ride whether you’re driving along highway expansion joints or bumpy, cobblestone roads. If you’re looking to go off-roading, though, the new Navigator actually has less ground clearance than the 2014 and older model and the same holds true for approach, departure and breakover angles. At least if you get stuck, there is a pair of meaty tow hooks sticking out of the front fascia. Switching from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive is just a quick and easy button at the bottom of the center stack. So much for the days of manual transfer case shifters…
Getting the 2015 Navigator out on the open road is more enjoyable than its predecessor, but it’s still lacking the signature V-8 growl that all of its rivals have. Combining the EcoBoost’s low-rpm peak torque and the 4.10 rear gears that come standard on the Navigation L, and it results in acceleration that is much quicker than you’d expect from a 6,297 pound (2,856 kg) SUV. I wasn’t able to clock a real 0-60 time or drive it back-to-back with the Escalade, but using a seat-of-the-pants comparison, I’d say this is a little slower than the Cadillac.
Going toe-to-toe with the Escalade’s Magnetic Ride Control, the 2015 Lincoln Navigator adds a new Lincoln Drive Control – Continuously Controlled Damping (CCD) – which comes standard on models equipped with the Reserve package. CCD features three drive modes (normal, comfort and sport) that allow for the driver to choose how responsive the suspension and steering systems are, and you can really tell the difference between the comfort and sport mode especially when trying to turn this big hoss into a corner.
A key advantage that the 2015 Lincoln Navigator holds over the competition is its pricing.
Starting at $61,920, the new Navi’ is thousands cheaper than the Infiniti QX80 ($63,250), GMC Yukon Denali ($63,770), Mercedes GL-Class ($64,600) and $11,000 less than the new Cadillac Escalade ($72,970). Opting for the long-wheelbase model tacks on an extra $2,365, and out the door, this particular 2015 Lincoln Navigator L 4WD with Reserve Equipment Group rang in at a jaw-dropping $75,540. At this price, you would either have to really love Ford and/or Lincoln or own a limo service to choose this particular model over any of its much newer and more advanced competition.
Although the Ford Expedition handily outsells the Lincoln Navigator by a margin of four-to-one, the Navigator plays an important role for Ford as both the supply and demand for big luxury SUVs and crossovers continues to rise, and Lincoln isn’t about to give up its share. At their peak, the Navigator and Escalade were accounting for around 100,000 annual units combined, and as gas prices continue their free fall, expect these two models to play a huge role in the segment once again.
In the end, the 2015 Lincoln Navigator really isn’t that bad for a vehicle for what Lincoln had to work with – a heavily reworked, 8-year-old SUV riding on an 11-year-old platform. And who knows, it just might be the kind of sumptuous, wonderfully flawed and unapologetically massive vehicle that Lincoln needed to really get back into its groove. Would I choose a Navigator to drive over an Escalade? Probably not, but I’d sure flag one down for a two-hour car ride from the airport.