What if you’d like a new Navigator but maybe a bit less of one?
Something almost as big, but not quite.
With three rows (the third one usable) that can pull more than its own weight but without so much length?
And without such a big price?
Enter the Aviator.
What It Is
The Aviator is Lincoln’s new three-row, almost-full-sized luxury SUV.
It’s a three-quarters Navigator for about one-third less the cost.
Like the full-sized Navigator, it’s not a crossover SUV. It’s a real SUV with rear-wheel-drive (rather than front-wheel-drive) standard, along with a heavier-duty frame and suspension that enables it to tow as much as 6,700 lbs.—more than its curb weight and several thousand pounds more than the typical same-size crossover can handle.
It also comes standard with a twin-turbocharged V6, just like the Navigator does.
But unlike the Navigator, which comes with just the V6, the Aviator is available with something in addition to the V6. A plug-in hybrid system is optional that gives you 630 ft.-lbs. of torque and gets you to 60 in just over 5 seconds, while giving you the legs of a Prius.
The hybrid can give 400+ miles of range without a fill-up. And without having to charge up.
Prices start at $51,100 to start for the base trim with rear-drive, just shy of $25k less than the base price of the Navigator ($75,495).
With the hybrid option and Lincoln’s Black Label concierge services, which include pick-up and delivery when maintenance work is needed, VIP access to exclusive venues and other perks—the sticker tops out at $77,691.
One of the few things the Aviator hasn’t got that the Navigator does is a transfer case and 4WD Low range gearing.
A lighter-duty all-wheel-drive system is available optionally, and standard equipment in the Grand Touring and Black Label trims.
The Aviator name returns as an all-new model based on the same RWD platform as the also all-new 2020 Ford Explorer.
- Elegant rather than obstreperous.
- Nearly Navigator spaciousness without taking up as much space.
- Real SUV towing capability.
What’s Not So Good
- More powerful hybrid Grand Touring/Black Label Grand Touring trims weigh more than they can tow.
- About two inches less ground clearance than Navigator and no low-range gearing.
- Paper thin (to save weight) hood and body panels something not good about new vehicles generally.
Under The Hood
Unlike the Navigator, which comes with the same twin-turbo V6 regardless of trim, the Aviator is available with either a twin-turbo 3.0 liter V6 that makes 400 horsepower and 415 ft.-lbs. of torque or the same V6 paired with a plug-in hybrid system that bumps the total output up to 494 horsepower and 630 ft.-lbs. of torque.
That’s by far the most torque available in anything shy of a Kenworth.
It also bumps the Aviator’s range up to more than 400 miles on a tank, two-thirds as far as you can take a Prius, and twice as fast. It’s also twice as far as most electric cars can go before they have to stop.
You can plug the Aviator hybrid in, but you don’t have to. Eliminating range anxiety gives you flexibility. Plug in if you like, when you like, but skip it if you don’t feel like it. Electric vehicles force you to stop and wait if you run low on charge.
Have your torque and eat it, too!
Grand Touring/Black Label Grand Touring models with the V6/hybrid drivetrain come standard with AWD and oddly, a lower 5,600 lb. maximum towing rating, despite the Kenworth torque.
It probably is due to the additional 863 pounds of hybrid gear, the battery pack/electric motor. The curb weight bumps the thing up to 5,673 lbs., which is a third heavier than the non-hybrid, rear-wheel-drive Aviator (4,774 lbs.).
But while the hybrid may not tow as much, it definitely hauls.
Zero to 60 in 5.1 seconds and 17 city, 24 highway.
Both numbers are, for the record, better than the Navigator’s.
On The Road
The Aviator feels like it could fly. You almost expect the Sync infotainment system to call out minimums — V1, V2 — rotate! Even without the optional adaptive suspension that scans the road ahead for uneven pavement and adjusts for it ahead of time—you’ll feel as though there’s air rather than asphalt under the wheels.
It’s that good.
And that relaxing.
In Lincoln’s words, a sanctuary.
Non-fussy controls for all the luxuries include the optional massaging seats, which you can activate via a simple, accessible button on the door panels (separate controls for the driver and front seat passenger) rather than having to scroll through multiple tap/swipe menus.
Likewise, you can engage the transmission by using pleasantly retro and refreshingly tactile individual push-buttons: one for Park, another for Reverse, and one more for Drive—just like Lincolns in the ’60s. A single rotary/push button controls the various drive modes, including Excite (basically, sport mode) Normal and Conserve.
No learning curve to fly this ride.
The hybrid version is electric car silent when in EV mode. Two EV modes, Pure and Preserve, can be driven this way for about 18 miles, depending on the state of the battery pack’s charge and how you drive. Or it can be muscle car ferocious as your right foot wills. The 630 ft. lbs. of torque on tap negates 5,000-plus lbs. of Aviator in the manner of a UFO’s anti-gravity drive. That much leverage makes the Aviator feel light as a waffle even though it weighs more than two tons.
This three-row, almost full-sized SUV is faster than my half-its-size Trans-Am, which has an engine more than twice the size. My Trans-Am also burns up at least a gallon of gas every 18 miles and does not have massaging seats
The Aviator’s rear-drive layout also gives it balance that other nose-heavy/tail-light FWD-based crossovers can’t match without loading their cargo area full of sandbags. Better balance than the Navigator, because the Aviator sits about two inches less ground clearance and doesn’t have 4WD low range gearing.
Lincoln does not offer a truck-type 4WD system with the Aviator; the optional all-wheel-drive system does have a Slippery and Deep mode that adjusts the shift characteristics of the ten-speed automatic, as well as the traction/stability control system (to allow a bit more slip — so that you don’t get stuck) but this is an on-road SUV.
Being lower to the ground enhances stability and reduces wind/road noise as well as aerodynamic drag. And the AWD system, unlike most part-time 4WD systems, is designed to be used on-road, when it isn’t snowing or wet. In other words, it’s a handling advantage as well as a traction advantage.
This three-row, almost-full-size SUV corners better than my Trans-Am. I have a video of this, but don’t dare publish it. Take my word for it, though. You can do things in this thing that, summoning Rutger Hauer’s voice from the movie Blade Runner, “you people wouldn’t believe.”
There is also a parking advantage vs. the Navigator (my Trans-Am wins this one).
The Aviator is big, 199.3 inches long overall, but not as big as the Navigator, which is 210 inches long overall. That extra margin of wiggle room may seem small on paper but can make all the difference when you’re trying to make a tight spot work. It also means you will probably be able to walk behind the Aviator when it’s parked in your garage, whereas if you have a Navigator, you may have to open the garage door to get behind it.
A tighter-than-Navigator turning circle helps with U turns, too.
Overall, it is much more pleasant to drive and not just because of its proportions.
All the latest driver “assist” features are here, but they’re in the background and mostly mind their own business. The Aviator will automatically apply the brakes for you if you’re unconscious behind the wheel and about to hit something. Unlike so many other such systems, it won’t do so if it thinks you might hit something that’s 20 yards ahead of you.
The Lane Centering system doesn’t jerk the wheel in the direction you don’t want to go.
Even the loathsome ASS, the automated stop/start system which almost all new vehicles have as standard equipment, can be permanently turned off.
Scroll through the settings to “driver assists” and de-select the ASS. The engine will no longer automatically cut off every time the Aviator stops moving, which gets very annoying.
In many new cars, you have to turn the auto-stop system off every time you go for a drive if you don’t want the engine to stop at every red light.
And then there are those massaging seats! They almost make you want to stop. Every electric car should have them to make the wait less annoying. Of course, they use electricity, which is a problem when you run out of charge.
No heat, either, which is created by electricity. If you haven’t got any, it’s going to get cold.
Enjoy the wait.
At The Curb
Like all the latest Lincolns, the Aviator has a cool, confident appearance. As opposed to the John Gotti appearance, some others have—a welcome return to a past when luxury was synonymous with class rather than flash.
It’s also lower and sleeker than the Navigator; the length to width proportions are eye-catching. It doesn’t look like a hulking SUV, but it also doesn’t look like a looks-like-everything-else crossover, either.
Lincoln says the Aviator is mid-sized, and that’s technically true, but it’s very close to being full-sized where it matters.
Three rows and it has as much room in the first two as in the full-sized Navigator. More front-seat legroom too with actually 43 inches vs. 41.8 than in its bigger brother. This SUV also has an easier-to-access third row, because of the Aviator’s lower step-in height.
The Navigator does have more cargo room with its third row folded (103.3 cubic feet vs. 77.7), but with the third row in use, it’s almost a dead heat: 18.3 cubic feet vs. 19.3 cubic feet.
Available Aviator amenities include four-zone climate control, an Elements Package with heated windshield wipers, and an exceptional 28 speaker Revel ultra-premium audio system. You can also get a min-console for the second row, along with power-folding captain’s chairs.
Standard amenities include three-zone climate control, a very good 10-speaker audio rig, and a couple of uniquely Lincoln features, including a door-mounted keypad entry system, which Lincoln has been offering since the ’80s and which makes it almost impossible to lock yourself out of your Lincoln. Just tap you code — and the doors unlock.
And from the inside, you unlock the doors by lightly touching a button. No handles to handle.
Or, use your smartphone to get in and drive without touching anything.
The one thing that’s very not-retro about the Aviator (and everything else that’s new) is the wafer-thin metal used for the hood and body panels and all the plastic front and rear.
It’s an irony of our era that new vehicles are very safe and, at the same time, quite fragile. It is easy to incur massive damage, not to the people inside but the metal (and plastic) outside.
A 1963 Continental that tapped the car ahead might have needed to have its bumper pulled out and polished. Do the same in a new vehicle, not just the Aviator, and you might need a new front end.
The crashworthiness is built into the structure—the parts you can’t see. The parts you can see (fenders, hood, those plastic front, and rear clips) are designed to offer no structural resistance at all. They are purely cosmetic and made to be as light as possible, to make up for the weight of the structural parts necessary to make the vehicle crashworthy while also keeping it fuel efficient — to comply with the conflicting requirements of federal mandatory MPG minimums (also the reason for ASS, which no one buying vehicles asked for).
The government’s MPG mandates “save you money” on fuel. But it will cost you a fortune when you have a fender-bender. The calculation insurance companies make when they issue policies might cost you more too. What it will cost to fix — or replace — is reflected in what you pay, even if you never have to get it fixed.
The Bottom Line
The only mistake Lincoln may have made here is making the Aviator more appealing in many ways and much less expensive than its top-of-the-line SUV.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos
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The Eric Peters Car Review is sponsored by the NMA Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation. The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions.