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2018 Lincoln Navigator: First Drive Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Lincoln Navigator, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Lincoln Navigator Review

Back in 1997 when the first Lincoln Navigator appeared, it came across as not much more than a Ford Expedition attacked by a teenager with a rhinestone bedazzler. It was shiny and silly and, well, unserious. But it sold, and made serious bucks for Ford.

So, here it is 20 years later, and there’s an all-new, now aluminum-bodied 2018 Lincoln Navigator casting giant shadows at Lincoln dealers. It’s bigger than ever, it’s more powerful than ever, it has more gears than ever and now it’s decorated like the best steakhouse in Houston. By the way, that’s Vic & Anthony’s on Texas Avenue. Think wood and leather lined. Tasteful, but no linen tablecloths.

Big Changes

Functionally, there are three major changes in the 2018 Lincoln Navigator: Body construction, engine and transmission. Style wise, there’s a lot of redecoration and the establishment of a new top tier "Black Label" model.

First, following the examples set by Ford’s F-150 and Super Duty pickups and alongside its brother SUV, the Expedition, the new Navigator’s body is made mostly of aluminum. According to Lincoln, that switch from the previous Navigator’s steel to beer can construction saves about 200 pounds. That’s not a lot in the context of a 3-ton (or nearly 3-ton) behemoth, but it’s not nothing either. And Lincoln has used some of that mass reduction to make the Navigator slightly larger than it was before.

As before, the 2018 Navigator is offered in two different wheelbases and lengths. The regular (huge) Navigator rides on a 122.5-inch wheelbase (up 3.5 inches from 2017) and stretches its bulk out a total of 210 inches (2.6 inches lengthier than last year). The longer "L" (stupendously enormous) Navigator puts 131.6 inches between its front and rear axle lines (up 0.6 inch from 2017) and goes 221.9 inches total (actually down 0.4 inch). Visually, both look well-proportioned, and the easiest way to distinguish between the two is that the regular Navigator’s rear doors are cut up higher over the rear wheel arches. The L model’s doors are the same length as the regular SUVs, but don’t wrap around the wheel arches as fully. See the 2018 Lincoln Navigator models for sale near you

Both length Navigators are 3-row, 8-passenger SUVs with identical accommodations in every row. The L model enjoys numerous advantages: It’s easier to reach the third row, and there’s more room behind the third row for cargo. There’s only 20.9 cu ft. of space behind the third row in the regular version and 36.0 cu ft. in the L. After all, if you’re carrying eight people, it’s likely they’re lugging stuff along with them.

The seats in both have a power fold-down feature for the second and third row triggered by buttons at the rear of the vehicle. When both rows are folded, there’s a flat (if rather high) load surface.

Newly Familiar

While the body is new, the chassis underneath it is familiar. It’s still a full, steel ladder frame, and the suspension still consists of short and long A-arms in front and a multi-link rear suspension. The engineers have re-tuned the suspension for a much better ride, significantly sharper handling and the sort of quiet usually experienced only in the vacuum of outer space, but it’s been basically the same design since the 2003 model year.

Number two on the new Navigator hit list are improvements to the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 that powers it. Yes, this is the same engine sold in Ford trucks as the EcoBoost, but that name isn’t a Lincoln name. And thanks to some turbo tweaking, it’s rated at 450 horsepower in the Navigator as opposed to a maximum of 400 hp in the Expedition Platinum. In fact, Ford offers several states of tune depending on the vehicle in which it’s installed, and what the marketing department decides is the ideal number to juice sales.

The Navigator has used versions of the twin turbo V6 since the 2015 model year, but this next-generation version represents a thick 70-hp jump in output from then. Along with that comes a bump in rated torque output from the previous version’s peak 460 lb ft. at 2,750 rpm to 510 lb ft. at 3,000 rpm. But while power in itself is fantastic, what matters is what a vehicle does with it.

And that leads to the third element in the Navigator’s mechanical transmogrification: the new 10-speed automatic transmission. This is a version of the same 10-speed that’s used in trucks like the F-150 Raptor, and it’s a sweetheart of quiet, computer-guided composure. It practically takes an MRI to detect a shift, and with all those ratios available there’s always one discrete cog that guarantees virtually silent, low engine speeds.

The mix of abundant torque from the engine and the magical properties of the new transmission clearly elevates the Navigator’s overall performance to a new level. Previous generation Navigators have run from zero to 60 miles per hour in just over six seconds during testing. Even the heaviest, all-wheel drive, long wheelbase of this latest version is likely to do that deed in under six seconds. That’s not supercar territory, but this is a 3-ton box that propels itself to speed about as quickly as a Mustang GT did back when the 21st century was young.

The Navigator’s available all-wheel drive system isn’t built for true off-roading. After all, this is a luxury machine that in most versions wears 22-in wheels and low-profile tires. But the dual-range transfer case does mean that the dirt road from your spread in Montana will be passable in the winter.

American Variety

The Navigator is offered in four trim levels with names that seem appropriate for luxury liquor brands. At the base level there’s the "Premiere" which is the only version that rides on 20-in wheels and starts at $73,250 for a 2-wheel drive, short wheelbase version. The "Select" is the next step up with better trim inside and riding on 22s. Then there’s the "Reserve" for the sort of buyer who likes to think they live a life of restrained self-control. At the top is the "Black Label," which is indulgent like a single malt scotch that’s been aged in smoked oaken casks for 25 years. Go nuts with the options, and the Black Label is a six-figure Lincoln.

If you’re in for $73k, you may as well be in for $100k. There’s a significant difference in interior quality between the Black Label and lower trims. The hides covering the Black Label’s seats and door panels feel softer; almost velvety. And no part of the driver’s body will ever touch a surface that didn’t once cover something that could moo. The woodwork in all the Navigators is impressive, but the wood in the Black Label is nicer than your dining room table.

The funkiest element in the Navigator’s interior is the gear selector, which is cleverly disguised as trim running along the bottom of the dashboard. It’s vexing at first, but getting un-vexed isn’t difficult. The instrumentation is contained in two LED screens — one at the dash center and the other in front of the driver. Of course, these are configurable, but there’s so much to configure you may not get through all the various elements before the lease runs out.

Under hard acceleration, there’s a subdued and engaging snarl from the exhaust. The transmission shifts almost imperceptibly, and whatever sensation of thrust is damped by optional 30-way adjustable front seats that are transcendentally comfortable. Once the bruiser hits cruising speed, the exhaust snarl disappears and the whole vehicle is cloaked in silence. Wind noise is barely noticeable, tire noise is smothered under thick blankets of sound deadening material and the whole structure feels as impenetrable as the tax code.

There’s still a lot of gussied up Expedition in the Navigator’s character. But it’s a better-riding, better-driving, better-handling alternative to the Cadillac Escalade. And it may even pull a few buyers out of machines like the Mercedes-Benz GL Class, which doesn’t offer this level of over-the-top indulgence.

There’s something wholly American about the 2018 Lincoln Navigator. It’s bold, kind of goofy in its relentless friendliness and so big driving it’s like chasing horizons from the comfort of your living room.

Isn’t that the American dream?

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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