- The 2020 Lincoln Aviator is Lincoln’s three-row SUV, which sits below the larger Navigator and starts at $51,100.
- In the Grand Touring trim, it’s a plug-in hybrid that makes almost 500 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque.
- My loaner came out to a total of $83,245, and combined bullish power with the embodiment of American luxury.
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American automotive luxury in its heyday was never about blistering lap times or acceleration that would tear your face off. That was — and still is — reserved for the Germans.
Rather, it has always been defined as opulence of the highest order: scrumptious leathers, pillowy ride quality, cloud-like comfort. True, today’s American-luxury landscape has shifted away from the languid, finned sedans of the 1950s. The market is more dominated by hulking SUVs.
But the idea of a road-going land yacht hasn’t diminished in the slightest. Currently, not one American automaker is doing this better than Lincoln. If the $80,000 Navigator is Lincoln’s flagship — an SUV that’s massive, powerful, a force of the road — then the lineage to its smaller sibling, the $51,000 Aviator, is clear.
Options trading The 2020 Lincoln Aviator: Conservative styling, no alienation
The Aviator is now in its second generation. The first generation was short lived, produced only from 2002 to 2005, before Lincoln brought the nameplate back for 2020. Both are three-row SUVs, which makes sense given Lincoln’s modern, SUV-dominated lineup.
The Aviator is a step down in size and price from the Navigator, a step up in size and price from the $41,000, two-row Lincoln Nautilus, and classified as a midsize luxury SUV.
The Aviator loaner that Lincoln dropped off for me was painted in a shade of Magnetic Gray Metallic and had Ebony-colored leather seats. It was in the Grand Touring AWD trim, which sits in between the $56,000 Reserve Aviator trim and the top-tier, $88,000 Black Label Grand Touring trim. But after thousands in optional features, this particular Aviator was alarmingly close to the latter in price.
The base price of the Aviator Grand Touring AWD comes to $68,800, but Lincoln included a $14,950 package called the “Equipment Group 302A,” which consisted of the Luxury Package, a trailer tow package, the Dynamic Handling Package, and 21-inch premium painted aluminum wheels. After that, the total MSRP came out to $83,245.
The Aviator wears the same studded grille as the rest of Lincoln’s models — a relief from the hated waterfall grille that dominated Lincoln’s corporate fascia in the 2000s. The rest of its styling, though handsome, is also remarkably inoffensive and actually quite conservative.
This isn’t a bad thing, nor is it an uncommon one, as the midsize SUV market is highly lucrative right now and any sort of polarizing design would run the risk of alienating buyers. Hardly anyone would call the Aviator an eyesore, and that’s half of the battle when SUVs are as popular as they are.
But for me, personally? I would have liked a little more chutzpah in the styling. I spent 11 days with the car, and hours and upon hours photographing it and editing those photos. And without a picture of it sitting in front of me, I can’t actually remember what the Aviator looks like.
Options trading Details and safety ratings: A hulking presence with surprising speed
Despite the Aviator’s demure looks, you have to laugh when you read the spec sheet. Looking at it parked on the street, you wouldn’t assume it’s a battering ram on four wheels. But it is.
If you get the Aviator in either of the Grand Touring trims, you’ll also have a plug-in hybrid powertrain: An electric motor, on its own making a claimed 75 kilowatts, paired with a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6. Altogether, Lincoln claims they produce an output of 494 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque (!).
The standard twin-turbocharged V6 on all of the other Aviator trims offers considerably less: a claimed 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. Both engine options are hooked up to a 10-speed automatic transmission.
The Aviator’s plug-in hybrid system allows you to charge it with a wall outlet, or you can put it into Preserve EV mode, which charges the battery as you drive. Car and Driver reported in August 2019 that the plug-in hybrid Aviator can achieve an all-electric driving range of about 18 miles. The car’s overall EPA-estimated driving range is 460 miles.
The Aviator is no pixie, either. It’s big — big to fit on large American highways, sweeping American avenues, and grand American boulevards. Overall length comes to 199.3 inches (16.6 feet), width comes to 79.6 inches (6.6 feet), and height is 69.6 inches (5.8 feet). In Grand Touring AWD trim, it weighs 5,673 pounds — roughly two Honda Civics.
Cargo space behind the third row comes to 18.3 cubic feet and 41.8 cubic feet behind the second row. Comparatively, the Buick Enclave, another three-row SUV, has 23.6 cubic feet behind the third row and 58 cubic feet behind the second row.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the Aviator an overall five-star rating, the highest it offers. The only category where the Aviator earned four stars was the rollover risk, which NHTSA found to be 15%.
Options trading What stands out: Insulation from the outside world, combining grace with monstrous power
The first thing you notice after climbing into the Aviator and shutting the door is how quiet it is inside. Think old, dusty-library quiet.
The doors close with a rich but muffled thump and then — nothing. You don’t hear noise from the outside. Even when you’re driving, you barely hear the engine or the road or the wind washing over the body. No outside disturbances, just you in your comfortable leather seat and the road ahead. All of the windows, I noticed, were double-pane. This was sound deadening an executive in a private office would be jealous of.
Once moving, it was difficult not to think of the Aviator as a land yacht. But unlike boats, which tend to wobble on turbulent waters, it was always solidly planted and confident, even in the corners. Of course there was body roll, but it felt controlled — the natural roiling of mass of something so large.
Imperfections in the road virtually disappear when you’re in an Aviator. The optional Adaptive Suspension system, which my loaner came with, uses 12 different sensors to monitor its own motion, body movement, steering, acceleration, and braking. Lincoln says the sensors can read the road 500 times per second and will adjust the settings up to 100 times per second.
If you were about to drive into a pothole, for example, the sensor would pick up on it and stiffen up the shock absorber to cut down on the impact. The wheels respond independently of each other, too.
Lincoln did quite a job with noise, vibration, and harshness improvements here. Virtually everything from the outside is filtered out. And why shouldn’t it be? Who would want to be reminded of the woes of crumbling American infrastructure while sitting in a Lincoln?
I know I started this review by saying that American luxury doesn’t concern itself with lap times. And I still stand by that. Nobody should be tracking an Aviator. But that doesn’t mean the thing can’t move.
Mash the throttle down and suddenly you’re speeding for the horizon, the sheer force of almost cartoonish acceleration mingling with your own dumbstruck disbelief. With the Aviator’s substantial girth, you wouldn’t think it can move the way it will, drop down the gears as rapidly as it can, send you roaring ahead like it does.
But too soon you’ll learn your right foot is the key to flipping the switch between calm and docile to bullish, heavyweight power. Merging, passing, making an emergency maneuver — it really doesn’t matter what you’re trying to do. The fury will always be at your beck and call. And when you don’t need it anymore, it retreats back within itself until it’s summoned again.
Two personalities rule this Lincoln. It performs both of them equally well.
The first is one that will deliver up a dreamy first-class commuter experience. You’ll have your family sleeping soundly in the throne-like leather seats as you drive. You’ll never be jostled by a bumpy road again.
The second will fire the coiled and flexed muscles lurking just beneath the conservative skin. You’ll be in command of a knockout punch that’ll solve any problem that demands torque and horsepower.
Options trading What falls short: Big car, light steering
I have yet to find an electronically assisted power steering system that I actually like. The Aviator’s did not impress me.
Almost all modern cars use assisted steering — or power steering — a term here that means that the car has a system that cuts down on the effort required to turn the steering wheel, thus making it easier to steer.
There are three kinds of power steering: hydraulically assisted, electro-hydraulic, or electronically assisted. Electronically assisted power steering systems use an electric motor to help with the steering, rather than a hydraulic system. It’s more computerized and therefore doesn’t feel as analog, progressive, or acute as a hydraulic system.
It’s up to the automaker to calibrate the steering feel of an electronically assisted system. Most of them, like Lincoln, calibrate low-speed steering feel with far too little resistance to feel natural — they wind up feeling very artificial.
At higher speeds, the Lincoln’s steering thankfully felt fine; it tightened up nicely and did a decent job of communicating the road beneath the tires to my fingers. But at lower speeds, like in parking lots or in stop-and-go traffic, it was much too light.
Several times, I, misjudging the resistance of the wheel, jerked it too hard in one direction, overshot how much steering input was needed, and had to correct it.
Lincoln also included a center console for the middle row. This was filled with useful things, such as extra cup holders and cubbies, but it made climbing into the third row and stretching out your legs there difficult.
If I were to option the Aviator for myself, I’d skip on the console.
Options trading How the Aviator compares to competitors: Give it time to become a household name
The Lincoln Aviator is a luxury SUV, which means there is no shortage of competition.
Within the pool are the Acura MDX, Volvo XC90, Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLE, BMW X7, and Buick Enclave. But the Aviator’s interior attention to detail and quality, power, and hybrid capabilities make it tough to pass up. It’s certainly more luxury-oriented than sport-oriented.
The inside is certainly plusher than the Audi, BMW, Buick, Acura, and Volvo. And although it doesn’t make as much power as the upcoming Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S, nearly 500 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque is still not something to turn up your nose at.
But Mercedes-Benz’s influence on the luxury SUV market is undeniable. The Aviator only went on sale starting last summer and sold 6,424 examples in the last quarter of 2019. Mercedes was selling that many GLEs almost every month during the same time period.
Despite its excellent hardware, the Aviator’s still a relatively new player in the game. It still needs time to become a household name.
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Options trading Our impressions: Just as great to ride in as it is to drive
I sat in all six seats my Aviator loaner had to offer. Each one was comfortable, supportive, and offered my short frame good legroom, including in the third row. It only has two seats back there, but they aren’t the hard, jumper-seats you sometimes find thrown into a car’s third row as an afterthought and then forgotten about. They’re certainly not as plush as the middle-row seats, however.
All the same, I could tell that despite the Aviator being a three-row SUV, it’s not really designed for passengers to sit back there regularly. With the second-row center console taking up the aisle, the only way to access the third row was to climb past the folded-down second-row seat. The Aviator’s massive rear wheel arch, built to house the similarly giant 21-inch wheels, proved to be another obstacle to clamber over.
The best seats by far are the front and middle-row seats. Those are the ones that get priority. The captain’s chair middle-row seats reclined, slid back and forth on rails, had armrests, and offered enough legroom fit for a king. Middle-row passengers also get their own infotainment and climate controls.
With the third row folded down, the massive trunk swallowed up everything we brought on our week-and-a-half trip (our laundry hamper, too, because there was a free laundry machine to use where we were staying and we are cheap and lazy).
And rearward visibility was good — no unnaturally shaped D-pillars creating blind spots here.
I’ve already gone on at length about how great the car drives, so my final thought here will be one of relief — relief that Lincoln finally had the sense to switch its lineup from tacky and confusing alphanumeric names — MKZ, MKX, MKT, MKC — to regular, identifiable names.
Ones that sound good, too. Aviator. Navigator. Continental. Nautilus. Corsair. These, undoubtedly, will make it easier for the public (and me) to tell them apart.
Recognition is important. Committing to one singular idea — in this case, unquestionable luxury and quality — is key. Pair those with a car that has great hardware and is wonderful to drive? That, my friends, is how you build a brand.
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