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2015 Lincoln Navigator: Real World Review

It isn’t completely new, but it’s about as close as possible. The 2015 Lincoln Navigator has been substantially updated in just about every way for the latest model year, including new exterior styling, a thoroughly revised interior and a totally new powerplant under the hood. There are even some enticing new features. What do we think of the latest Navigator? We spent a week behind the wheel of one to find out.

Luxury, Luxury Everywhere

Although we’ve tested a lot of luxury cars at Autotrader, we rarely get to spend time behind the wheel of one that offers luxury in the sheer volume of the Lincoln Navigator. Due to its enormous dimensions, the Navigator is full of expensive touches just about everywhere, from the seating surfaces to the dashboard to the gigantic 22-inch chrome alloy wheels.

In fact, every person who drove the Navigator commented on at least one of the SUV’s impressive array of luxury touches, including the steering-wheel leather ("incredibly supple," according to one editor), the ride ("this is one of the quietest SUVs I’ve ever ridden in," noted another) and the overall cabin quality ("comfortable seats and a stylish, streamlined center stack," said a third).

Of course, luxury-SUV buyers are accustomed to this level of equipment, but it’s good to know the latest Navigator delivers. That wasn’t always true of the outgoing model, which featured a few cabin materials that weren’t quite up to par with rivals such as the Cadillac Escalade and Infiniti QX80.

Styling Needs Work

Unfortunately, we weren’t as impressed with the Navigator’s appearance. Although styling is certainly a subjective matter, no one can deny that the Navigator’s look is getting tired, having merely been shaped, updated and revised since its original debut in 1998 but never completely reworked with a totally new look.

While this year’s facelift has enhanced the Navigator’s appeal compared to last year’s model, we’re still disappointed with the SUV’s overall aesthetic, especially when compared to the bold, muscular and aggressive design of its chief rival, Cadillac’s popular Escalade.

Excellent Engine

The Navigator’s biggest upgrade for 2015 is a new engine: Last year’s V8 is gone, replaced instead by a new turbocharged EcoBoost V6 that offers more power, more torque and better gas mileage. While it may initially seem a little questionable to put a V6 inside an SUV of this size, we’re happy to say a week behind the wheel convinced us otherwise. The new engine delivers everything the old V8 did and much more.

In fact, every one of Autotrader’s staffers who climbed into the Navigator’s cabin noticed the huge change under the hood, offering such comments as "amazing," "a big improvement" and "smooth." Still more praise went to the standard 6-speed automatic transmission, which was described as "smooth-shifting with well-timed upshifts."

What makes the new engine so great? According to our testers, the turbocharged V6’s additional power is immediately obvious, and responsiveness is dramatically improved compared to the outgoing engine. But make no mistake, the Navigator is still a big, hulking, heavy SUV. The new engine is better, but it won’t work miracles, which is why acceleration is still labored (especially when compared to the Escalade), and fuel economy is now only a notch or two above dismal.

Our Conclusion

After spending a week with the 2015 Lincoln Navigator, we came away impressed with just how far the SUV’s latest refresh has gone. But in the end, the Navigator has merely been refreshed, not redesigned. It still lags behind the all-new Escalade, which offers more power, more aggressive styling, a more modern interior and a wide range of additional features (such as keyless entry, which was notably missing from our $70,000 test car). We’d love to see what Lincoln could do with a clean sheet of paper. But for now, the Navigator seems confined to its role as the backup act for drivers who don’t want an Escalade.

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