Louisville, Kentucky — Revising the Lincoln Navigator for 2015 should have been a straightforward task and, indeed, brand manager Carey White convinced us that it was. “Whether it’s a hip-hop executive in Manhattan or an Orange County family, they want power and beauty,” White said during our drive through the countryside, as farmers harvested tobacco leaves and hung them in sheds to dry. An additional stipulation about the Navigator came from owners in Texas, where the luxury SUV has achieved inordinate popularity. They told White, “Don’t not make it a truck!”
The beauty part was first addressed by removing last year’s macabre mask of chrome. Lincoln’s split-wing grille has been inserted in its place. With simple HID headlamps and a tidy fascia, the Navigator looks proper and elegant. Only the optional 22-inch wheels are pretentious; the standard 20-inchers would be fine. Although we don’t normally condone lower-body cladding, the strips now affixed to the door bottoms visually counteract the reality that this “still a truck” has as much as 8.4 inches of ground clearance.
Now to the power. We can imagine those same traditionalist owners -- White claims a 60 percent buyer loyalty rate -- saying, “What do you mean it’s a six-cylinder?” The 2015 model is only offered with a V-6, whether in the lesser (119.0-inch) Navigator or long-wheelbase (131.0-inch) Navigator L, or the two-wheel- or four-wheel-drive configuration, weighing between 5830 and 6297 pounds. Chief competitors Cadillac Escalade and Infiniti QX80 are fortified with large V-8s, yet, for the sake of fuel economy, Lincoln has exclusively committed to the twin-turbo DOHC 3.5-liter V-6, with output of 380 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque.
Will Lincoln regret it? We were surprised at how good the EcoBoost engine played its tune in our regular-length 4x4 version. It made a fine pairing with the new six-speed automatic. When we turned the corner in Bagdad, a crossroads at which a whiskery old fellow is a front-porch fixture at the corner store and filling station, the turbo V-6 whisked us away toward bourbon and bluegrass environs at a brisk rate. When we later merged onto I-64, the engine wound up impressively and delivered us into traffic. Moving left and further depressing the accelerator, we noted a ready downshift to fourth, and the Navigator momentarily zapped up to 90 mph. All this was effortless and without any whistling or wastegates: In fact, the powertrain wouldn’t be more refined if Arturo Toscanini had programmed into the operating system.
We found a couple of drawbacks, though. For one thing, the V-6 clamors and drones more than expected. Big American trucks like the 2015 Lincoln Navigator should sound virile, not vapid. And be ready for surprises when it’s time to refuel. The engine will run fine on regular, but 93-octane premium is recommended for greatest efficiency. Had we stopped at the Bagdad corner store’s pumps, we would have been pleased by what Lincoln claims as best-in-class fuel economy of 18 mpg combined in the 4x2 short-wheelbase model. (It drops to 17 mpg combined for the 4x4 and the 4x2 Navigator L, and 16 mpg combined for the L 4x4.)
The 2015 Lincoln Navigator has a revised, excellent instrument cluster, but switching through the 4.2-inch screen’s menus in order to find the odometer was a big nuisance. Using the same screen to select one of the variable suspension settings -- Normal, Sport, and Ridiculous … ahem, we mean Comfort -- is equally distracting. So just leave it at Sport, which satisfactorily quelled body roll. Electrically assisted power steering, new for 2015, supplied good feedback. The Navigator is selling at an annual rate of about 9000 units (the luxury SUV class does 50,000), so updates have been slow to come, which might explain why another useful feature, blind-spot monitoring, is finally added.
A few features and niceties remain missing, though. For example, the second-row seats fold manually instead of being power-operated. It may be true that the Reserve trim level, which stands above Select and tops out at $75,065 (including shipping and handling), includes plenty of wood and leather, including a wrapped dash. But there’s still pebbly plastic within sight, and the fit of that trim between A-pillars and door lowers in our test -- “still a truck” could have been more precise. Regular life with the 22-inch wheels is another question, after we found their rebounding barely suppressed on harsh impacts.
The Navigator came out in 1998, helping to create a furor about grotesquely oversized luxury SUVs, which to their detractors symbolized excessive consumption like nothing else automotive. In the intervening years, the Navigator has blended in, becoming accepted as an upstanding member of society. The latest improvements are good news for capability-minded traditionalists, Texans moving up from their pickups, and families who must ford flash floods on the way to Disneyland.
2015 Lincoln Navigator Specifications
On Sale:Late September
Engine:Twin-turbo, DOHC 24-valve, 3.5-liter V-6, 380 hp @ 5250 rpm, 460 lb-ft @ 2750 rpm
Layout:Four-door, 7- or 8-passenger, front-engine, rear- or four-wheel-drive SUV
EPA Mileage:16/22/18 mpg (city/highway/combined)
L x W x H:207.4/222.3 x 78.8 x 78.1/78.0 in
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