By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist Photo courtesy of CARICOS
How the mighty have fallen.
Lincoln’s Navigator pretty much invented the bling-bling SUV as a cultural archetype and automotive industry phenom that changed everything almost overnight.
Including Cadillac’s position as the country’s number one (in terms of total sales) luxury vehicle line. On the strength of Navigator sales alone, Lincoln — for a few salad years, back in the ’90s — eclipsed Cadillac.
Until Cadillac built a blingier — and (in some respects, such as power/performance) superior uber-SUV. Ever since, it’s been all about the Escalade — with the Navigator (and Lincoln) hardly even mentioned in the same breath.
Something radical needed to be done — because to be blunt, Lincoln hasn’t got much to lose.
Welcome to radical.
The new Navigator not only doesn’t come with a V8, it doesn’t even offer a V8 anymore. It is the only Leviathan Class SUV that’s packing less than eight cylinders under its hood.
But it’s also the only LC SUV that’s packing a twin-turbo V6.
It’s a relatively affordable package, too — as LC Class SUVs go. About $10k less to start than its wreath-and-crested rival, the 2015 Cadillac Escalade. And about $15-20k less when bought loaded.
Will it help? We’ll see!
WHAT IT IS
The Navigator is Lincoln’s super-sized, ultra-luxury SUV. It is based on the Ford Expedition — and shares the same basic powertrain — but (being a Lincoln) it is decked to the nines with every available amenity, including power auto-deploying running boards, 20-inch wheels/tires (22s available) configurable LCD gauge package, 14-speaker THX surround sound audio rig, first and second row captain’s chairs and Ford’s Sync voice command system.
Prices start at $61,480 for the regular wheelbase/rear-drive Navigator Select trim. You can upgrade to Reserve status and get tuxedo black/bright stainless trim on the outside and Ziricote wood trim inside, along with upgraded leather and 22-inch polished wheels.
This one lists for $69,975.
A light-duty all-wheel-drive system is available with either trim. Lincoln advertises this as “4WD” and it is technically accurate but be advised that the system does not have a two-speed transfer case and Low range gearing. Base price for the 4WD Select is $66,050; the Reserve stickers for $72,900.
Also available is an extended (even longer/bigger) L version. Sticker price is $64,640 for the RWD Select trim and $75,065 for the 4WD Reserve version.
The Nav’s primary rival — the Cadillac Escalade — also offers a light-duty/on-road-intended “4WD” system. But the Cadillac’s base price is $71,695 — while a top-of-the-line Platinum trim lists for $91,875.
Priciness being the prerogative of the reigning King.
Like its lesser-badged brother, the Ford Expedition, the Navigator loses its formerly standard 5.4 liter V8 and gains a twin-turbo 3.5 liter V6 that makes more horsepower (and much more torque, a deficiency of the retiring V8) and delivers slightly better gas mileage.
Much stronger than before — slightly less thirsty than before, too.
V6 LIncoln pulls more than V8 Cadillac (9,200 lbs. vs. 8,300).
A steal of a deal compared with the Escalade.
Easier to use manual knobs and switches (vs. Caddy’s microwave oven-style CUE swipe/tap interface).
A bit less “in your face.”
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Some less-than-Lincoln parts (e.g., LCD Instrument cluster looks identical to the one found in the Ford Fusion).
A bit less “in your face” than the unapologetic Escalade.
UNDER THE HOOD
A V6 in a super-sized SUV?
The first time you hear it, it’s like hearing you’ll be getting a Diet Coke with your Angus Triple Thickburger and fries. But, it’s not deprivation therapy — or a diminution in any respect.
Well, at least not compared with the V8 it replaces.
Which was a 5.4 liter V8 that made 310 hp, got the ’14 Navigator to 60 in a Corolla-esque 8.2 seconds and gave you 14 city, 20 highway (13 city, 18 highway with the optional 4WD). The new 3.5 liter V-6 makes 380 hp — a 70 hp gain — which cuts the truck’s max-effort zero to 60 run down to 6.6-6.7 seconds and gives you slightly better gas mileage, too: 16 city, 22 highway (15/20 with the optional 4WD/AWD).
Cue Charlie Sheen — winning!
The boosted (two turbos) V6 puts the Navigator back into contention. It’s not quite as quick as the Escalade — which still comes standard with a V8 (a very potent, 6.2 liter 420 hp V8) but notwithstanding the 40 hp disparity in favor of the Cadillac, the Lincoln’s acceleration is close enough now that a passenger could almost lean out the window and touch the Escalade as the two passed the finish line at the end of a 0-60 drag race.
And, check it out: The Lincoln pulls more.
It has a 9,000 lb. max trailer rating vs a fairly weak 8,300 lb. max rating for the Cadillac. The latter can’t be due to a horsepower (or torque) deficit. Both the Lincoln and the Ford offer the same — and very impressive — 460 ft.-lbs. (though the Lincoln’s comes online at just 2,750 RPM vs. 4,100 for the Cadillac).
Which focuses attention on the Escalade’s transmission. It’s a new-design eight-speed automatic. GM may be a little skeered about its long-haul prospects when subjected to heavy hauling duties. Or, it could be the Caddy’s frame. Maybe it’s not as heavy-duty as the Ford … er, Lincoln’s?
Regardless, the fact is the Nav can pull a heavier trailer, despite having less engine under its hood.
The twin turbo’d V6’s effective displacement is probably in the 6 liter ballpark — in terms of airflow — when the turbos are force-feeding it. This on-demand power thing is the chief reason for going with a turbo. Or two of them. It is why so many new vehicles — of all types — now come with turbocharged (and smaller displacement) engines. Not so much for the performance boost — but to maintain a certain level of performance on-demand along with acceptable gas mileage the rest of the time..
Ford — and so, Lincoln — is heavily invested in turbocharged engines. Even the F150 pick-up now offers a small — and twice-turbocharged — V6 that delivers V8 power/performance with the possibility of EPA numbers closer to those of a V6 than a V8.
A word more about gas mileage. The difference between the new twin-turbo V6 and the old V8 is not much — about 2 MPG overall. Why go to all the trouble? Because while the individual buyer of a $60k-up SUV probably is not going to sweat 2 MPG, it matters a lot in terms of fleet averages. For Ford to be able to continue selling a lunker like this it must reduce its exposure to “gas guzzler” fines, which are levied according to fleet averages. It is likely Cadillac will eventually succumb to the pressure, too.
V8s are on the endangered species list — even at this level.
Next item: The available “4WD” system does power all four wheels but functionally speaking it is closer kin to the all-wheel-drive (AWD) systems available in many cars and crossover SUVs.
AWD, of course, also sends power to all four wheels. So — what’s the difference between it and 4WD?
Well, for one, most 4WD systems normally route most of the engine’s output to the rear wheels — diverting some (in varying ratios) to the front wheels when the rear wheels break traction. With AWD, it’s (usually) the reverse. Also, most AWD systems do not have a two-speed transfer case and Low range gearing, while the typical truck-type 4WD system does have it.
Low range gearing makes it more feasible to claw through deep mud or heavy snow, on and off-road (assuming proper tires and adequate ground clearance).
The downside — functionally-speaking — is that this type of system is usually a disadvantage on dry, paved roads as it does not enhance handling grip during cornering (engaging 4WD on dry, paved roads may even risk damaging the system, if the axles bind) and it also adds — typically — several hundred pounds of deadweight (that would be the two-speed transfer case) that you’ll be lugging around everywhere you go — sucking lots of extra gas along the way.
AWD, in contrast, is lighter — no two-speed transfer case — so mileage is better and the vehicle feels less ponderous. It also handles better, because AWD is meant for on-road use — dry or wet pavement. There’s no worry about axles binding up (as with a truck-type 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case). And — assuming decent ground clearance (which the Navigator’s got — 8.1-8.4 inches of it) and decent tires for weather (which the Navigator doesn’t have — but you can remedy that) an AWD-equipped machine can tackle snow on paved roads with impressive tenacity.
The reality check is most SUV buyers (especially most buyers of blingie SUVs like the Navigator and the Escalade) are not rock-crawler types. They just want to not get stuck when it snows, and for them, AWD is the ticket.
But, “4WD” sounds tougher — which explains the labeling. Even though — historically speaking — when a system was labeled “4WD,” it had a two-speed transfer case and 4WD Low range gearing.
Neither the Navigator nor the Escalade have that.
If you need that, you’ll want to check out something like the Land Rover Range Rover (which is smaller but definitely has rock-crawler capability) or the Infiniti QX80 (formerly Q56) which is also huge (though not quite as huge as a Navigator L or Escalade ESV) and does offer a heavy-duty (and real-deal) 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case.
ON THE ROAD
Very few people who write a check for $60k and upwards appreciate being outrun by $18k economy cars. But the old Navigator was vulnerable on that account — and it was a huge liability. The Escalade may be on OPEC’s Christmas card list, but at least the thing moves out. Getting 15 MPG — and taking 8 (or more) seconds to get to 60, as the previous V8 Nav did… sucked.
Consider that problem fixed.
The turbo’d twice V6 behaves like a big V8 in every way but one — the sound. There is virtually none. Not even turbo whistle. Push the accelerator and the Nav accelerates; the more you press, the faster it goes. Almost silently. Lincoln has done some impressive sound containment here. It’s almost electric motor-like. Which is probably what people want who shop a vehicle like this.
Well, maybe — and maybe not.
There is a conflict — or at least, divergent philosophies. These bling-mobiles are about dominance rituals and part of that is an engine that feels — and sounds — dominating. The Escalade’s Corvette-sourced 420 hp V8 bellows like a Scottish berserker when called on. It feels and sounds like a V8.
A big V8.
On the other hand — and this may be the smart move for Lincoln — the Navigator’s as quiet, as calm-feeling, as a Pullman Sleeper car.
And that is luxurious.
Not just the engine, either. The whole thing — all 6,000-plus pounds — has a demeanor that’s strikingly different from that of the incandescently obstreperous Cadillac. That one’s still the go-to ride for rap moguls, NBA forwards — and people who want to emulate The Lifestyle.
The Nav is a counterpoint to that. It has the relaxed aura of the big guy who knows he’s big — and isn’t worried about having to prove it to anyone. You know those commercials about “the most interesting man in the world” The Navigator is that guy’s ride.
It is, however, a big beast. Seventeen feet long. A nearly 40 foot turning circle. The distance between the front and rear axle centerlines is about ten feet. A Toyota Corolla would almost fit in between.
And that’s the standard wheelbase model. The L is a true ship of the line. 222.3 inches, stem to stern. All that’s missing are the fore and aft turrets and the 18 inch guns.
Maybe next year.
Such hugeness comes with unavoidable liabilities, though. It is not a vehicle for the less-than-adept at parallel parking — and weaving it through tight traffic takes an expert’s sense of spatial relationships and timing. Same goes for the Escalade. Same goes for every vehicle in this class — any vehicle that’s this size. You will want to take an extended test drive that includes your driveway — and your garage — before you commit.
AT THE CURB
The ’15 Nav gets a new front clip with a split grille theme — bringing it in line with the “new” Lincoln look. This is the most obvious difference (other than what’s under the hood and what happens when you push on the gas pedal) last year vs. this year.
Interior real estate is as generous as it gets — short of an actual bus or RV. Including 43 inches of legroom in the first row and 39.1 inches in the second row.
However, the standard equipment second row captain’s chairs do not have forward and aft adjustment, which means if the front seat people slide their seats back, the second row people can’t compensate — make up the lost legroom — by sliding theirs back, too.
The also-standard auto-deploying running boards are helpful if you’re short but they actually make getting in and out a bit more awkward if you’re taller. The upside is you can program them to not deploy.
Lincoln still uses a keypad entry system — vs. the “sensing” system more common today (and used by Cadillac) that automatically unlocks the door as you approach or when you touch the door handle. The Lincoln’s system is a bit clunkier, but the upside is if you lose your keys — and remember your punch code — you’ll still be able to unlock/access your Navigator.
The lift gate is power actuated but — as is the case generally with such — opens reeeaaaallly slowly. For “safety.” Closing also happens slowly — and the button is located somewhat awkwardly on the left side interior panel, which forces the taller (like me) to crouch, push the button — and then retreat as the thing begins its slow-motion close. Taller/stronger/younger people would probably prefer a manual grab handle.
The main gauge cluster is LCD — and configurable. You can use steering wheel-mounted arrow buttons to change the display to show a tachometer, transmission oil temperature, current mileage/range and (when off-road) degrees of incline and decline. The sharp-eyed will notice the cluster’s similarity to the ones used in other Ford vehicles, including the Fusion. The Caddy’s LCD gauge cluster is larger and bolder-looking and also unique to that model.
Or at least, unique to Cadillacs.
The upside to this is that — probably — the Lincoln’s shared-in-common instrument cluster will cost you less to replace if it ever goes dark, post warranty. And it is absolutely certain you will have at least $10k more in your pocket (or not added to your six year loan) if you buy the Nav rather than the Escalade — which starts at $71,695 vs. $61,480 for the Nav.
Lincoln is working hard to re-establish itself in a low-key kind of way. Unlike Cadillac — which (to the accompaniment of Led Zeppelin soundtracks) cut loose from its old self like a snake shedding its skin — Lincoln is quietly making a comeback. There is a new Continental on deck and here’s this new Navigator, which is actually very appealing… once you notice it’s out there.
Lincoln hasn’t made much of it — and the car press hasn’t, either. The Escalade gets all the attention.
Which may be just what Lincoln wants.
Because there may be people out there who want everything the Escalade has except the attention it gets. And the rep it has.
Let’s face it. The Caddy is as polarizing as Rush Limbaugh — or Ed Shultz. You’re on one side — or the other. Love it — or despise it. The problem for those who love it is there are lots of people who despise it. This makes for uneasy leave-it-on-the-street parking and recurrent hassles on the road when outraged proles see you coming and close gaps to prevent you from passing or merging.
The Navigator does not carry this baggage, which makes for a more relaxed on-road (and parking on street) experience, in spite of its largeness (which as it turns out is larger than the Escalade; the regular wheelbase Nav is several inches longer overall than the regular wheelbase Escalade).
This more relaxed vibe carries through to the cabin, which has some retro Continental themes (dual breadbox dashpad) and physical knobs and buttons for many functions — vs. the Caddy’s almost 100 percent LCD touchscreen interface. The former looks “high tech” but provides much less (zero, actually) in the way of tactile feedback. It’s hard to know without looking what your finger is about to tap or swipe and even if you point and touch accurately, the system sometimes gives you too much — or too little — of such things as fan speed and radio volume.
In the Nav, you can adjust such things without looking — and by feel.
All the while gliding by, under the proverbial radar.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If something a bit lower profile is what you’re after, Lincoln may have just what you need.
And for less, too.