Not that long ago, Lincoln was a car for your grandparents and their parents. That, or a high end taxi in New York City or Washington DC. The Navigator certainly helped shake that image, but it wasn't until the new Continental and current Navigator were released that anyone really took them seriously. Ask just about anyone who has driven the new Navigator - particularly a Black Label - and they'll tell you it's by far and away the best SUV in class and the sales figures definitely back them up. The interior quality is light years ahead of where Lincoln was previously and while the drivetrains aren't really sporty, they feel like modern takes on the big luxury cruisers Lincoln made in the heyday of Americana.
The new Aviator boasts the same level of interior detail, and as in every other model with the trim level, the Black Label is simply sublime. The two tone leather is supple and the driver's seat is just about the most comfortable I've ever been in. The seats in the standard Reserve and Grand Touring models are quite good but if you have the money I'd say the step up in interior and the Black Label concierge program make it more than worth the extra cash. I'm not a proper audiophile, but to my ears the Revel 14 Speaker system in the Reserve model I drove produced a great sound. The infotainment system is operated almost entirely by touch, which is a love it or hate it situation. Personally I prefer having a redundant controller in the center console, but that's just me. To Lincoln's credit, though, there are physical buttons and knobs for controlling the audio, and frankly that's a considerable amount of what one does with the infotainment system.
The power plant in the Reserve and Black Label models is a twin turbocharged V6 producing 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque according to Lincoln and frankly that's more than enough to motivate the Aviator. Again, I wouldn't call it sporty by any possible measure, but the power is delivered smoothly and provides more than enough acceleration to get moving when entering a freeway and has enough accessible torque to make overtaking a breeze.
The Grand Touring and Black Label Grand Touring, though, don't have to make due with such paltry figures. The Grand Touring models pair a battery powered electric motor to the twin turbo V6 for a massive (claimed) 494 horsepower and 630 lb-ft of torque. Again, the Aviator is no sports car but with that kind of power and torque there's quite a punch when you put your foot down. Normally I criticize hybrid SUVs for being pathetic attempts at being more "with the times" but the Aviator does have a full electric mode good for 21 miles and in the standard mode the extra power just makes the driving experience even better. For those interested, the EPA rates the combined economy of the Aviator at 56 MPG-E.
The transmission is controlled by "piano key" buttons underneath the air vents in the center console. Perhaps they're a bit gimmicky, but they feel good to the touch and hearken back to the push button transmissions of the 50s and early 60s. During my drives in both the Grand Touring and Reserve models I found the transmissions to be smooth shifting and capable of allowing a very comfortable power delivery even under acceleration. My only criticism is that it's a bit ridiculous to have paddle shifters on a luxury SUV, but I guess one could try to make the argument that they could be used to hold the Aviator in a low gear to attempt to engine break if it was towing a trailer downhill.
Now the more astute reader may have noticed that I called the Aviator a mistake in the title of this article. This doesn't seem noteworthy except that I've had nothing but praise for the SUV all the way through. So why then would I say it was a mistake? Simple - Lincoln, in my opinion, shot themselves in the foot with the Aviator. It's too good for their own good.
Let me explain - the Aviator is meant to be a scaled down Navigator, much like Porsche Macan is meant to be a smaller Cayenne and the other big three German brands have their SUV ranges that step up in price and size per model. The problem with the Aviator being a scaled down Navigator is that it's just as good as the Navigator for a solid $20,000 less than the Navigator. Both are three row SUVs, both are more school run machines than true off-roaders, and both use the same twin turbo V6. Being the smaller of the two, the Aviator also gets better fuel economy than the Navigator. Another upside to the Aviator is that in the cities and suburbs where Lincoln SUVs live, a smaller vehicle is much easier to park and maneuver. Frankly, unless you're running a car service, have some need to fit grown adults into your third row regularly, or are the one person in the world that is considering a Lincoln SUV and has a definite need for the extra ground clearance, there's simply no reason to purchase the Navigator. The Black Label Aviator starts at just about $2000 more than a Standard trim Navigator, and with a few options the two will quickly close that gap in price. With the Black Label Aviator, though, you'd be getting a top of the line model with all the perks of Lincoln's Black Label program whereas with the Navigator you'd get the bottom of the barrel model.
In summary, the new Aviator is a brilliant SUV. So brilliant in fact, that it outshines and, as near as makes no difference, invalidates its big brother. The only thing I can say now is that if you're considering one of the German SUVs in the $70-80,000 range, you need to drive the Aviator for yourself.