Pros: Stretched L version is roomy; towing is best in class; price is reasonable

Cons: Interior is outdated; lacks some high-tech features; falls behind most competitors in horsepower and torque

In the world of gargantuan luxury SUVs, few stand out as boldly as the 2012 Lincoln Navigator. Although some might argue that the Navigator is little more than a gussied-up Ford Expedition, there is actually more to the Navigator than just its chrome-clad good looks. Lincoln loads the eight-passenger Navigator with just about every luxury gizmo in the company's wide and varied arsenal, then tops it all off with two versions: big and bigger (bigger being the stretched Navigator L). It's true that there are newer and more fuel-efficient luxury SUVs to choose from-including Lincoln's own MKT-but few can match the Navigator's monstrous interior dimensions, and even fewer can match the Navigator's 9,000-pound tow rating.

But all is not perfect in the land of the giants. The Navigator is beginning to show its age, with a dated interior punctuated by an instrument cluster so full of cheap black plastic that it looks like it was pulled from a late 1970s Ford F-150. In the battle between Lincoln and Cadillac, the Escalade's interior wins hands down over the Navigator. The Escalade also trumps the Navigator in luxury amenities, in horsepower and, with its hybrid model, in fuel efficiency.

Comfort & Utility

The standard eight-passenger Navigator has more than enough room for passengers, with plenty of head and leg room in all three rows. However, if you plan to use the third-row seat regularly, the Navigator L is probably the best choice. For one thing, it provides much-needed cargo space behind said seat. When not in use, the Navigator's power-operated third-row seats disappear with a push of a button to fold flush into the floor. On the Escalade, the seats must be removed and stored to get a level load floor. Advantage: Navigator. As for comfort, we found the Navigator's seats a bit on the firm side, although they offer good support in the lower cushion and back. The front seats are 10-way power adjustable and include power lumbar support and memory settings for the driver's seat.

Among the Navigator's many available luxury features are heated and cooling front seats, heated second-row captain's chair seating (seven-passenger model), a THX sound system with voice-activated navigation and SYNC information and entertainment system, premium leather seating, rain-sensing wipers and a power-operated rear liftgate.

As is true of most full-size SUVs, accessing the Navigator's interior requires a rather large step up. This can prove difficult for small children and people with mobility issues, although the power-deployable running boards do help somewhat. In such cases, a car-based crossover like the MKT or the Audi Q7 might be a better choice. If you need the towing and power capabilities of the Navigator, however, no car-based crossover will suffice.

Technology

The highlight of the Navigator's technology is its voice-activated navigation and SYNC information and entertainment system. The SYNC voice-activated system lets you make calls on your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone and stream popular apps such as Pandora and Sticher.

The navigation system is one of Lincoln's older units, but it's easy to use and fairly accurate. When equipped with the subscription-based Sirius TravelLink feature, the navigation screen can also display weather, traffic conditions, sports scores, gas prices and movie times. A 10-GB digital jukebox allows you to store music on the system's hard drive, then retrieve it via the voice-activated SYNC system. Once you find your favorite tunes, they are pumped through a 14-speaker THX certified sound system that includes a 600-watt amp and a separate subwoofer.

Other features of note include the Reverse Sensing and Forward Sensing radar-based object detection systems, a rear-seat DVD-based entertainment system with dual headrest-mounted screens, a rear-view camera and power folding side mirrors. Lincoln's combination-style keypad door lock is also a useful feature for times when carrying the key fob is inconvenient or impossible.

Missing from this list but available on many of the Navigator's competitors are such features as adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled cup holders and adaptive swiveling front lighting.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Regardless of whether you choose the Navigator or the Navigator L, its power will come from a 5.4-liter V8 engine rated at 310 horsepower and 365 lb-ft of torque. This engine is flex-fuel capable, meaning it can run on regular gasoline or E85. A smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission is standard. There is no shortage of power, yet many of the Navigator's competitors such as the Cadillac Escalade, the Infiniti QX56 and the Lexus LX have significantly more, although none of them can match the Navigator's 9,000-pound tow rating. A Class IV trailer tow package is optional.

The Navigator can be ordered with rear- or four-wheel drive. Fuel economy for the rear-wheel-drive Navigator is rated at 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, while the four-wheel-drive model has a slightly lower 15/18 mpg rating.

Safety

Standard safety features include front and seat-mounted front side airbags and three-row side airbag curtains. The Navigator is also equipped with electronic traction control, ABS and roll stability control (RSC). The RSC helps prevent the vehicle from getting into a rollover situation by cutting power to the engine while simultaneously applying brakes to the wheels that need it. In the event that a rollover is unavoidable, rollover sensors activate the side curtain airbags. Also standard is Lincoln's trailer sway control, which works through the RSC to help maintain a stable trailering environment.

Driving Impressions

One might think that, because of its stiff, truck-based frame, the Navigator would logically drive like a big pickup truck-but this is not the case. A fully independent rear suspension allows the rear wheels to move up and down independently (as opposed to a solid axle, which links the two wheels together and allows events that occur at one wheel to affect the other). This setup, in combination with a set of monotube shocks and extra rubber bushings, isolates the Navigator's cabin from the harsh realities of the road. The setup also provides a surprisingly controllable vehicle that, while still prone to some sway due to its high center of gravity, never feels as if it's going to fall on its side when rounding sharp curves.

Steering effort is a bit heavy but very accurate, with no loose play in the wheel. The Navigator's brakes are solid and sure and the pedal feels firm, with very little travel before the brakes take hold. The Navigator's extensive use of laminated glass and acoustic soundproofing results in a cabin that is so quiet that one can hold a conversation with the rear passengers at highway speed without having to shout.

Other Cars to Consider

Cadillac Escalade - The Escalade has more luxury features, a more powerful engine and a more aesthetically pleasing interior. There's also a hybrid model. But the Escalade costs more than the Navigator, and its maximum tow rating is only 8,000 pounds, 1,000 less than the Lincoln.

Infiniti QX56 - The QX has a much more fluid look, with a more modern cabin, a more powerful engine and more up-to-date electronic options such as distance control cruise control and 360-degree monitors. But the Navigator can out-tow the QX , and the Navigator L offers more interior volume.

Lexus LX - The LX may hold its value better than the Navigator, but it can't tow nearly as much (7,000 vs. 9,000 pounds). The LX's interior is also showing its age and offers less volume than the Navigator. In addition, its third-row seats are archaic. Instead of folding flush into the floor, they flip up to the side, where they decrease cargo space and block the side windows.

AutoTrader Recommends

If you're looking at something as big as the Navigator, we are assuming you have big needs. Therefore, the logical choice is the extended L model, which gives you all the features of the standard Navigator but with added cargo space behind the third-row seat that yields 42 .6 cubic feet, a big improvement on the base Navigator's 18.1 cubic feet.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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