First Drive

2015 Lincoln Navigator First Drive

EcoBoost Authority Does What It Can To Mask An Aging Package

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  • Engine
    Twin-Turbo 3.5L V6
  • Power
    380 HP / 460 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    6-Speed Auto
  • Drivetrain
    Four-Wheel Drive
  • Curb Weight
    6,069 LBS
  • Towing
    8,600 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    128.2 CU-FT (max)
  • MPG
    15 City / 20 HWY
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
  • Smart Buy Savings
    $2,167.00 - $3,340.00
Typically, when I approach a new vehicle launch, it's with a degree of optimism. Nowadays, we just expect that every new vehicle will pose a legitimate challenge to segment leaders. Mid-cycle refreshes, meanwhile, have taken on a greater degree of importance, as customers' preferences for the freshest vehicles remains strong and automakers rush to keep the latest tech in their offerings.

Conversely, I admit to not being terribly optimistic hopping into the 2015 Lincoln Navigator. I was the first person from Autoblog to see the new model in the metal, way back in January ahead of its Chicago Auto Show debut, and my initial reaction was far from positive. But, as I'd been the one that initially tested the new Cadillac Escalade and had just finished a week in the long-wheelbase version of General Motors' most premium SUV, I was a natural candidate to head down to Louisville, KY – home of Navigator production – to sample the brand's latest.

Lincoln's attempt at freshening the old Navigator's bling-bling face is pretty typical of today's more thorough mid-cycle refreshes, with dramatically new front and rear clips. The addition of standard 20-inch wheels or optional 22s – in place of standard 18s and optional 20s – goes a long way towards modernizing the Navigator's staid exterior. The cabin, meanwhile, is home to finer leather, which covers most of the dash as well as the steering wheel and seats. Warm Ziricote wood would prove to be a particular highlight on the top-flight Reserve model that I drove (the only trim available for us to test).

None of this is enough, though. To my eyes, those larger wheels can't hide the inelegant application of the angular and severe split-wing grille, which looks much better in the smoother, more organic applications of the MKZ sedan and MKC crossover. The taillights appear to borrow too heavily from the Dodge Durango, and as a fellow media member pointed out, the individually identifiable LEDs of the vehicle-spanning taillights already look aged on such a premium vehicle – the Navigator would have benefited from a more sophisticated light tube treatment, as seen on the MKC.
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Simply put, if sheer interior volume is Priority One, you'd best visit your local Lincoln dealer.

The cheap plastics on the doors and center stack, meanwhile, overshadow the cabin additions. Functionally, however, the interior has its pluses. The leather-and-wood steering wheel is a truly pleasurable item to work, although I couldn't help but think that a thinner rim would feel more appropriate for such a large vehicle. The seats remain wide and comfortable, with a reasonable level of support for a full-sizer, although it would be nice if Lincoln offered something beyond the 10-way adjustability of its power front-row seats.

Quibbles aside, there's no getting over the fact that this cabin is huge. While the Navigator's prime rival, the Cadillac Escalade, gets by with, at most, 122.4 cubic feet of interior volume in its ESV model, the Navigator offers up a whopping 159.5 cubes. It's a similar story in terms of storage, with the Escalade ESV offering a max of 120.9 cubic feet to the Lincoln's 128.2. That interior volume is fairly easy to access, too, thanks to the standard power-folding third row and the totally flat load floor. The third row is more accommodating than most rivals, thanks to the vehicle's independent rear suspension. Simply put, if sheer interior volume is Priority One, you'd best visit your local Lincoln dealer.

Changes under the Navigator's skin have been pulled off with considerably more success than its aesthetic adjustments. By now, you've heard that the 2015 Navi boasts the most powerful version of Ford's corporate 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 ever sold, with 380 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Believe it or not, this was all done through software tweaks, according to Lincoln reps. Unlike other applications, however, the new calibration requires premium fuel to reach those power figures.

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Ford's EcoBoost line has earned a reputation for its lusty, fluid power, and the biggest Lincoln unsurprisingly furthers that legacy.

The big six is mated to a six-speed automatic, and in the case of our tester, an optional four-wheel-drive system. Electric power-assisted steering has also been fitted (it's numb, wooden and utterly unsurprising), replacing the old hydraulic setup, while continuously controlled dampers adorn all four corners of its fully independent suspension. The end result of these pairings is a highway fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon, a city rating of 15 mpg, and believe it or not, 50/50 weight distribution.

Truth be told, the area I was least worried about in the 2015 Navigator was its powertrain. I've sampled the 3.5 EcoBoost/6AT combo in everything from the Ford F-150, Explorer Sport and Taurus SHO to the Lincoln MKT and MKS, and it's never disappointed me in terms of power and refinement. I expected to be similarly impressed by the engine now that it's developing some extra grunt.

Throttle tip-in is almost too sharp from a standstill, and can lead to the big Lincoln leaping forward in an undignified way. It does become easier to modulate at speed, though. With so much torque available, the Navigator's ability to press its occupants back in their leather-lined chairs will no doubt appeal to customers, especially those who have never experienced the power of a modern turbocharged engine. Peak twist arrives at 2,750 rpm, although the torque curve itself is very linear, with little-to-no turbo lag and plenty of accessible grunt. Ford's EcoBoost line has earned a reputation for its lusty, fluid power, and the biggest Lincoln unsurprisingly furthers that legacy.

2015 Lincoln Navigator

Dip into the throttle, and you're going to get way more engine noise than is acceptable in this sort of luxury application.

Typically, I'd keep track of fuel economy while testing a new vehicle like the Navigator, especially since these EcoBoost engines often have trouble meeting their EPA estimates. That simply wasn't practical flogging it on the roads that wound and twisted through the hills outside of Louisville. Look for more detailed economy figures when we get our first crack under more 'every day' circumstances in the coming months.

Customers coming from a V8 SUV – including the 5.4-liter of the outgoing model – will appreciate the ample torque and responsiveness of the Navigator's mill, but they probably won't enjoy its acoustics. Ford's corporate 3.5-liter EcoBoost has never had a particularly sexy tone, and that's still the case here. But more troubling is how noticeable that dull, noisy engine note actually is. Dip into the throttle, and you're going to get way more engine noise than is acceptable in this sort of luxury application. If you drive an Escalade or Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, the sound becomes intrusive when you're really attacking the throttle, which is understandable. The Navigator, though, makes unpleasant sounds under normal inputs.

Much as the Navigator's accelerative performance was a known quantity, the work of its accompanying six-speed automatic could be easily predicted. The quick-shifting gearbox offers smooth, well-timed upshifts while a suitable nudge of the gas pedal will tell the computer to drop the necessary amount of cogs. New for the Navigator's gearbox is Ford's SelectShift manual mode, which should be a boon for owners who are looking to tow. The system is only operable through a rocker button mounted on the gear lever, and it doesn't add much worth mentioning to the overall driving experience if you're not dragging something behind you.

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The Navigator doesn't so much respond to bumps as completely ignore them.

Speaking of dragging something behind you, regularly doing so is probably the single best argument for buying a body-on-frame SUV over a similarly sized unibody crossover. In this case, max tow capacity is a class-leading 9,000 pounds (standard length, 4x2), or 8,600 lbs with four-wheel drive. Step up to the longer L model and towing capacity dips to 8,500 pounds with two-wheel drive or 8,300 with 4WD.

While the 2015 Cadillac Escalade still makes use of a solid rear axle, the Navigator retains its more sophisticated independent rear suspension. Keen to trump crosstown rivals, the Lincoln PR folk pointed this factoid out approximately 347 times during my day with the vehicle. Aside from one-upping the folks from Caddy, though, their ballyhooing did carry through to the on-road experience. The Navigator's ride is smooth, lacking in any of the unpleasant (but rare) secondary motions of the truck-based rivals from GM.

Not everyone will find the tradeoff worth it, however. The Navigator doesn't so much respond to bumps as completely ignore them, to the point that it can become very difficult knowing what the road conditions are actually like. This tendency to isolate the driver isn't something I find desirable, but I'm sure there's a substantial subset of traditional luxury buyers in the category who will appreciate this approach. It's important to note that my tester was fitted with the optional 22-inch wheels and 285/45 Pirelli tires, meaning that the lesser 20-inch-equipped Navigators should deliver an even suppler ride.

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Even with fully independent suspension acted upon by continuously controlled dampers the Navigator delivers imprecise handling.

Even with the bigger rolling stock, there isn't a great deal of noise from the road. Tire roar is muted nicely, although impact noises are delivered with a bit too much clarity. Wind noise, thanks in large part to the Navigator's side wing mirrors, was a minor annoyance, as well, although both wind and road noise can be easily drowned out by with the excellent THX stereo. Overall, though, the brand could still stand to learn from Cadillac, which has employed Active Noise Cancelling technology to great effect in the new Escalade.

At a staggering 6,069 pounds, 207.4 inches long and 78.8 inches wide (without the mirrors), the Navigator is an understandably cumbersome vehicle. Even with fully independent suspension acted upon by continuously controlled dampers – they offer three different suspension settings and can monitor the road 46 times in just two milliseconds – the Navigator delivers imprecise handling.

And I'm going to leave my handling notes at that. "Big and imprecise" is about all I can say about the Navigator that will translate into conditions the majority of its owners will use it in – cities, suburbs and highways. Frankly, as I wound through the excellent back roads on my route, I was a bit baffled as to why Lincoln picked such a challenging drive. Yes, it's unruly on twisting, winding roads, but to a lesser extent, so is one of the best-handling large SUVs, the Range Rover. Boring you with descriptions of its body roll, lack of feedback or ability to make someone motion sick won't do anyone any favors.

2015 Lincoln Navigator

Parking our tester in your driveway would require $73,395, including destination and an extra $495 for the Ruby Red Metallic paint.

Prices for the 2015 Navigator start at $61,480, with four-wheel-drive demanding a $3,575 premium and the extra 14.9 inches accompanying the "L" badge adding $2,165 to the MSRP. The Reserve Package, which adds Ziricote wood trim, 22-inch wheels, continuously controlled dampers, hill descent control (4x4 only) and upgraded leather seats and trim adds $6,850 on the four-wheel-drive Navi and $7,500 on the two-wheel-drive model. Additional standalone options include dark-finish 20-inch aluminum wheels ($495) or 22-inch wheels ($2,500 or $1,850 for the 2WD and 4WD, respectively), and a power moonroof ($695). Each vehicle is subject to a $995 destination charge. Parking this tester – a short-wheelbase, four-wheel-drive Navigator Reserve – in your driveway would require $73,395, including destination and an extra $495 for the Ruby Red Metallic paint.

Yes, that's basically a fully loaded vehicle, and it's only slightly pricier than the $72,690, rear-drive, short-wheelbase base Escalade. In fact, it's over $10,000 less than the starting price of the Range Rover, and it's $16,000 less than a base Mercedes GL550. However, it's worth noting that the excellent GL350 Bluetec starts at a competitive $63,600 and the Infiniti QX80 rolls up at $62,700 plus delivery. Overall, the Navigator fares quite well as a cubic-foot-by-the-pound value play, but that's something of a strange position to hold in such a costly, image-conscious segment.

On the one hand, Lincoln needs to be commended with pulling off a MacGyverian feat, doing so much with so little. Developing the aged 2014 Navigator into the 2015 could not have been easy, and the fact that it's as competent as it is a testament to their dedication. There are moments where the Navigator shines through, particularly with the application of Ford's 3.5-liter EcoBoost. But a solid, powerful powertrain is just one part of a larger formula. Until Lincoln can figure out what to do next, the Navigator will continue to be an also-ran in the world of luxury SUVs.

Lincoln Navigator Information

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