- Photos: Kurt Bradley

The Lincoln Aviator Is A Nice Dose Of Understated Luxury

No one knows Lincoln makes something other than the Navigator. This should get more attention.

2d ago

As the luxury SUV market gets dominated by the big German marques, Lincoln is a manufacturer you probably forgot about. The upscale cousin in the Ford family, Lincoln has reinvented its lineup, releasing a stack of all-new SUVs and crossovers. To give its buyers a nice SUV option, without having to buy the massive Navigator, Lincoln has the Aviator.

A three-row SUV that's packing some decent power, a full slate of luxury options, and clean looks, the Lincoln Aviator takes aim at a packed field of competitors. Over the past two years, I have had my fair share of luxury SUVs to review, including the Genesis GV80 (which I said might be the best luxury SUV under $100,000), the all-new Acura MDX, and the BMW X5. How would the American offering hold up?

The Key Figures

Lincoln has two powertrain options for the Aviator, with the standard engine being a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 that produces 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque, and an optional hybrid variant of that V6 that packs 494 horsepower and a whopping 630 lb-ft of torque. These figures are at the top of the Lincoln's class, pushing into territory against the performance trim levels of its rivals.

Rear-wheel-drive is the default, and all-wheel-drive is an upgrade for this three-row SUV that boasts a towing capacity of 6,700 pounds with the standard engine and 5,600 pounds with the hybrid option. Curb weight for the Lincoln Aviator starts at just under 4,800 pounds in rear-drive trim, bumps up nearly 100 pounds when adding all-wheel-drive, and peaks at 5,673 pounds in hybrid form.

Pricing for the Lincoln Aviator starts at $51,465 in its base trim, $57,355 for the Reserve trim level, and $68,360 for the Grand Touring (hybrid) model. Spend $79,350 for Lincoln's Black Label that adds a stack of features but also includes unique design themes inside and out while providing its owners with exclusive concierge services and experiences. The Lincoln Aviator I tested is a Reserve AWD model, painted Pristine White, with the standard twin-turbo V6, the $11,750 optional luxury package, convenience package, and dynamic handling package to hit a total MSRP of $76,640.

A Nice Family Hauler

Lincoln may build the Aviator on the same platform as the Ford Explorer, but this luxury SUV is nice to use as the daily family car. Power is plentiful under the Aviator's hood, with anything more than a light throttle application happily shoving the big SUV toward its destination. I may have only tested the standard engine, missing out on the extra 200 lb-ft of hybrid torque, but the Aviator's output is stout where it matters. With a nice rumble from the exhaust, the Aviator shifts smoothly as you accelerate ahead. A set of drive modes are set up with perfectly different settings, to accommodate any driving mood or fuel economy desired. With EPA estimates of 17 / 24 / 20 (city / highway / combined), the punchy Aviator isn't too thirsty.

Feeling a bit more bulky than its competition, you won't mistake the Aviator for a performance SUV, but it's composed on the street. Thanks to the optional dynamic handling package, the Aviator employs an adaptive suspension with Lincoln's Road Preview system to scan ahead and adjust the air suspension before you hit bumps along your route. As part of this optional package, Lincoln also fits an adaptive steering system that makes maneuvering the three-row Aviator simple. Optional 22-inch wheels and low profile tires slightly compromise ride quality, but the Aviator's tech-heavy suspension copes nicely with rougher city streets, and the cornering grip is surprisingly compliant and confident.

Prepared for bigger American drivers, Lincoln provides some big buckets for its driver and passengers. Many three-row SUVs aren't making great use of that back segment of seats unless the youngest of kids are stuffed back there, but Lincoln gave the Aviator's third row decent space. I still only suggest tossing the grade-school kids back there, but if you had to rush a few coworkers to the airport, they wouldn't complain too much. If more storage space is required, Lincoln gives the Aviator one-touch power folding third-row seats.

Nicer Treatments Than Expected

Lincoln has done a great job of upgrading its lineup to be more attractive against German competitors. It's not on the level of Mercedes or BMW just yet, but the American manufacturer has given this SUV a nice cabin to spend time in. The balance of cool gray leather, piano black trim, and brushed aluminum panels gives the Aviator a sportier look inside, and it definitely feels more expensive.

As part of the reserve trim level, Lincoln gives this Aviator softer leather that is treated to nicer perforations. With the Reserve model, and its Elements Plus Package, Lincoln gives the Aviator's cabin heated and ventilated front and second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated VisioBlade windscreen wipers (which conceal the washer jets into the wipers). A Revel Ultima 28-speaker audio system thumps nicely while sporting some cool metallic speaker grilles.

My tester opted for the Luxury Package that fits 30-way (seriously THIRTY) front seats, and I spent a fair bit of time playing with all the seat adjustments to get every joint perfectly positioned to drive the Aviator, and think this option is a no-brainer for $3000. The massage modes provide another level of comfort for the front two occupants too.

The Good And Not Great Things

Lincoln went for subtle, clean exterior looks for the Aviator, and I dig its appearance that's classy without trying too hard. Devoid of complicated creases and aggressive flares along its flanks, the Aviator is composed nicely. The mesh grille looks cool with its grooves and centrally-placed Lincoln badge, and the front fascia is composed with effectively placed LED strips for all the lighting components. The tail-end of the Aviator is a little bit plain, but at least it isn't too complicated. Black 22-inch wheels give this big SUV a cool stance too.

Instead of making the middle row a cramped space for three, the Aviator I tested had the optional center console in the place of a tiny middle seat, giving those passengers better storage solutions and proper cupholders. The Aviator's cabin is intuitively designed, and I appreciate the use of physical buttons throughout the control panels. When you adjust certain controls on the steering wheel, the Aviator will illuminate the corresponding button, which is a neat trick. The audio and menu joysticks mounted on each side of the steering wheel weren't the nicest to control though.

Not as nice as the cabin of the Genesis GV80 I reviewed last year, the Aviator has a subtle old-money feel versus its Acura MDX, Mercedes GLE, or BMW X5 competition. Lincoln has made positive strides, but it's not on the same playing field just yet.

I wish the instrument cluster and infotainment system used higher-resolution displays, to keep up with its rivals. Same goes for the Aviator's switchgear, which looks a little dated and borrowed from the Ford parts bin.

An Overlooked Luxury SUV Option

Lincoln may not get as much attention as it deserves, but the Aviator is a nice American alternative for drivers who don't want to shop for imported models. With a clean styling package, a big list of luxury features usually spotted inside flagship models, and plenty of power under its hood, the Lincoln Aviator is a solid SUV. The challenge for the Aviator is that its price point puts it in a tough spot against its rivals.

More expensive than most middle levels of appointments and features offered by Acura, Genesis, Mercedes, or BMW, the Lincoln option doesn't offer as much value or brand recognition. Part of what I liked about the Genesis GV80 I reviewed was that it looked the part as a big luxury SUV, but what made it stand out was how much it offered at a better price. If Lincoln sold the Aviator for about $10,000 less, it would get a better recommendation from me.

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Comments (11)

  • I like that interior. Clean and minimalist. Not cluttered at all. I could relax in there.

      2 days ago
  • I actually quite like it!

      2 days ago
  • Nice. Looks like they've lifted some Range Rover styling cues.

      2 days ago
    • Mind you, no V8 option on the 2022 Aviator or Navigator! I guess I'll be sticking with Chevy next time I hire an SUV in the US.

        2 days ago
  • Can the Lincoln Aviator fly you to the dealership? @tribe

      2 days ago
  • It’s a gussied up explorer with the same mechanical issues.

      1 day ago