Lincoln Aviator — First-class luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Lincoln began remaking its lineup several years ago with the remarkable Continental sedan. Then came the big three-row Navigator SUV continuing the transformation with an award-winning vehicle worthy of its luxury designation. Next up are the company's three crossover sport utilities with new names and new luxury personas. Thankfully the confusing MK designation is gone. Now we have — in the order of size — the Corsair, Nautilus, and three-row Aviator.

The Aviator is based on the all-new Ford Explorer, the Nautilus on the mid-sized Ford Edge and the Corsair on the compact Ford Escape. With these three vehicles badge engineering is a thing of the past. All three Lincoln crossovers are convincingly upscale compared to their Ford counterparts thanks to unique sheetmetal, upgraded interior materials, sophisticated chassis hardware, and more lively engines.

We drove the top-of-the-line Aviator Grand Touring Black Label, a plug-in hybrid, which is the most expensive coming with a base price of $88,895 and an as-tested bottom line of $90,645. While we think that Lincoln has put an extraordinarily premium price on the top-rung Aviator, it can be purchased for considerably less money. The base Aviator starts at $52,195 and moves through the trim levels — Reserve ($57,285), Grand Touring ($69,895), Black Label ($78,790) and Grand Touring Black Label.

The essence of the Aviator is its twin-turbocharged V-6 engine making 400 horsepower — one of the most powerful standard engines in the mid-sized luxury segment — mated to a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic transmission.

It delivers a confident feeling whether slipping down an interstate highway or merging and passing at any speed. At the same time, the Aviator properly equipped can tow up to 6,700 pounds. EPA gas mileage is measured at 17 mpg in city driving, 24 highway and 20 combined with all-wheel drive, about average for the segment. Mileage goes up slightly in rear-wheel drive — 18/26/21.

But there's more — the top trim Grand Touring gets an astounding 494 horsepower thanks to a 100-horsepower electric motor in conjunction with the turbocharged V-6 and a rather stout 630 pound-feet of torque. Lincoln says the plug-in hybrid setup will allow about 18 miles of pure electric driving without using the gas engine.

We drove the hybrid version and discovered it could move from 0-to-60 in about 5 seconds. And it has been measured at 13.6 seconds at 103 mph in the quarter mile. That's only slightly better than the standard gas engine Aviator, probably because the hybrid weighs 648 more pounds.

The Aviator hybrid has a 56 MPGe (gas and electric) in combined city-highway and a combined 23 mpg in gas only. The question prospective customers must ask — is the increased purchase price, which can stretch to $10,000 in Black Label guise, worth the difference for a little extra performance and only a negligible increase in gas mileage?

The Aviator offers seating for six or seven, depending on if buyers opt for second-row captain’s chairs. Up front, Lincoln’s Perfect Position 30-way power-adjustable and massaging seats are lifted from the Navigator. Horizontal lines dominate throughout the cabin but particularly on the dash, which spans from door to door, replete with air vents.

Seats are upholstered with supple leathers. Machined and brushed aluminum appliqués add an upscale accent. Design inspiration comes from Lincoln’s Black Label theme and color schemes — like Chalet, Destination and Flight — with colors like cashmere, luggage tan or mahogany red with khaya wood surfaces and quilted leather seating.

State-of-the-art technology and infotainment include the high-end Revel audio and speaker system with 28 speakers. A 12.3-inch touchscreen is standard. Other tech includes air glide suspension that actually lowers the height of the vehicle as the driver approaches making it easier to get in or load gear. An owner’s smartphone can act as a key, unlocking it, opening the rear liftgate, or starting the engine. There’s Road Preview, which uses a camera to spot potholes or uneven surfaces and immediately adjust the suspension for the impact.

The mid-level Reserve trim at $57,285 seems to be the sweet spot in the lineup, providing all the luxury most buyers need and want. Standard equipment on the Reserve trim includes four-zone climate control, a 360-degree camera system, and a 14-speaker sound system. Rear-wheel drive is standard. All-wheel drive is available for an extra $2,510.

Lincoln offers an excellent warranty with a four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, a six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty, and an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on the electric motor and battery pack in the hybrid.

It is apparent Lincoln has spent a tremendous amount of time, effort and money to build the new Aviator. With the luxury, technology and attention to detail, we have no trouble recommending it over German and Japanese competition.

Base price: $78,790; as driven, $90,645
Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo V-6, electric motor
Horsepower: 494 total
Torque: 630 foot-pounds
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2/2
Wheelbase: 119.1 inches
Length: 199.3 inches
Curb weight: 5,843 pounds
Turning circle: NA
Towing capacity: 5,600 pounds
Cargo capacityL 18.3 cubic feet
Fue capacity: 18 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 19/27/22 (56 MPGe)
0-60: 5.0 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW X7, Audi Q7, XC90 T6

The Good
• Powerful standard engine
• Upscale design
• Many advanced features

The Bad
• Pricey in upper trim levels

The Ugly
• Very little fuel savings with hybrid