The 2021 Lincoln Aviator is the right vehicle at the right time. It’s a distinctly American take on the three-row luxury crossover segment, boasting big power and a splash of green on the side. It draws you in with its long, sleek exterior, then leaves mouths agape at the beautiful and characterful interior. Its rear-drive architecture developed in concert with the Ford Explorer gives rise to two stout powertrains. A 400-horsepower turbo V6 is standard, but the PHEV is the real barn burner with a silly 494 horses and 630 pound-feet of torque on tap. It’s a downright splendid combination of American luxury and muscle.
Despite all that power, though, don’t come in expecting a stiff, handling-focused crossover like you’ll get from German luxury brands. The power and adaptive suspension is there to make the driving experience effortless, not to set fast lap times. Lincoln isn’t trying to best AMG or M at their own game, opting instead to put its own stake in the ground as peak American luxury. The option to get a plug-in hybrid should make it ideal for eco-conscious luxury buyers who might scoff at a Navigator, too. If you’re looking for a luxurious family vehicle that prioritizes serenity and comfort above all else, take a hard look at the Aviator.
What's new for 2021?
Not much has changed in the Aviator’s second year besides some packaging and color shuffling. New exterior colors include Asher Gray and Ocean Drive Blue. Flight Blue is no longer a Black Label exclusive, either — you can spec it on Reserve and up for 2021.
In packaging news, the panoramic sunroof is made standard on the Reserve trim; soft-close doors are standard on Black Label, and a “high-efficiency” cabin filter is standard on all trims.
What are the interior and in-car technology like?
No other company's interiors look anything like the mid-century-inspired palace of cool you get in the Aviator. All versions are available with distinctive color schemes shown below, but the Black Label trim level stands out the most with its three available "themes" of "Chalet," "Flight" and "Destination" that get special colors and trim types. The quality of some plastics and the fit-and-finish aren't up to Mercedes or BMW levels, but everything looks so special that it covers whatever deficit exists. Most competitors just seem drab and generic by comparison.
In terms of technology, every 2021 Aviator comes standard with a 10-inch touchscreen mounted so high on the dash and close to the driver that it actually looks larger. It runs the Lincoln-skinned version of Ford's Sync 3 interface, which is generally user friendly, though it doesn't look as cool and sophisticated as the all-digital gauge cluster (or the interfaces of rivals) — minimalism is the theme here. Also standard is 4G in-car WiFi, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio and two USB ports. The Reserve trim adds a 14-speaker Revel sound system and integrated navigation, plus a 360-degree parking camera. The Black Label adds rear USB ports and a 28-speaker Revel Ultima audio system.
How big is it?
The Aviator is one of the biggest three-row luxury crossovers. Only the BMW X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS are appreciably bigger outside, but they also cost much more. It's a similar situation inside. An average-sized adult can fit quite comfortably in its third row, which can't be said of an Acura MDX or Audi Q7. Legroom could be better, but there's abundant headroom. There's also a generous amount of cargo space behind that third row, with 18.3 total cubic feet when you remove a floor panel, revealing plenty of room for multiple roll-aboard suitcases. That’s significantly more than its competitors. It has basically the same amount of space behind its second row (41.8 cu-ft) as the Volvo XC90, which is one of the few direct rivals that challenges the Aviator's space advantages.
If you're looking to compare the Aviator versus the larger Lincoln Navigator, the differences aren't as vast as you'd imagine. There's definitely far more room in the Navigator's third row, and the boxy truck-based SUV offers considerably more maximum cargo space. Though the area behind the third row isn't that different (a mere 2 cubic-feet) and is lower to the ground. If you have more modest passenger- and cargo-expectations, going with the less expensive, more powerful and more efficient Aviator could be a good idea. You certainly don't lose anything on the style and luxury front.
What are the performance and fuel economy figures?
The 2021 Lincoln Aviator comes standard with a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that produces 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. That's a massive amount, especially for a standard engine. By comparison, the most powerful gas-only version of the Volvo XC90 produces 316 horsepower. The Cadillac XT6 only goes up to 310 hp; the Audi Q7 to 335 (though an SQ7 makes 500 horsepower), and the upcoming Acura MDX Type S to 354.
The Aviator comes standard with a 10-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive is optional. Fuel economy estimates with RWD are 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. They go down to 17/24/20 with AWD.
The Aviator Grand Touring is a plug-in hybrid that produces 494 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque. That's borderline absurd. The hybrid version of XC90 aren't remotely in the same city, let alone ballpark. Its electric range is estimated to be 21 miles — we managed 19.2 miles on a full charge in a range test, but your use case could very well return slightly different numbers. When operating as a normal hybrid, it achieves 23 mpg combined. The EPA's mpg-equivalent number given to plug-in hybrids is 56 MPG-e. That's virtually the same MPG-e number as the Volvo XC90 T8, which has only an 18-mile all-electric range but is more efficient once that's depleted with a 27 mpg combined rating.
What's it like to drive?
Think calm, composed, competent and sneaky quick. Despite its eye-popping power figures and strong punch off the line, the Aviator bucks the luxury trend by not accompanying all that power with a rigid suspension and track-going pretenses. It's not a sport model. Instead, the available adaptive suspension provides a comfortable and composed ride that effortlessly soaks up road imperfections even with the gigantic available 22-inch wheels. You do feel bumps more in the heavier Grand Touring model, but handling continues to impress by providing sufficient control and engagement without drifting into the sport-tuned realm that Cadillac attempts to inhabit.
Lincoln says over and over again that it was tried to achieve an "effortless" driving experience with the Aviator. It succeeded, and the result is an SUV for the great many buyers who'd like abundant power from their luxury vehicle but couldn't care less if it can ace Germany's famed Nurburgring.
Some choices to consider, however. Although the standard suspension constantly adapts to current road and driving conditions, the optional Dynamic Handling package steps things up with an adaptive air suspension that lowers for improved aerodynamics, raises for clearance and constantly adapts itself using road conditions as well as preview data received from a forward-facing camera. We'd recommend trying an Aviator with and without Dynamic Handling. We'd also recommend the Grand Touring only if its power advantage is as important to you as its greater efficiency, and if your commute is such that you'll fully utilize its all-electric range.
What more can I read about the Lincoln Aviator?
Our first drive review of the Aviator, including more in-depth information about its engineering, design and driving impressions.
We reviewed the plug-in hybrid Grand Touring separately, also highlighting its driving experience and engineering.
Our in-depth review of the Lincoln Aviator Black Label's interior where we cover it from front-to-back.
Our review of the Lincoln version of Sync 3.
What features are available and what's the price?
Pricing for the 2021 Lincoln Aviator starts at $52,195, including the $1,095 destination charge. That’s actually $645 less than last year. For that, you get a comprehensive amount of standard features, including 19-inch wheels, a power liftgate, proximity entry and push-button start, various accident avoidance technologies (see safety section), automatic LED headlights and wipers, auto-dimming mirrors (interior and driver-side), three-zone automatic climate control, heated eight-way power front seats, simulated leather upholstery, driver memory settings, a 35/30/35-split second-row bench, a power-folding third-row seat, a 10-inch touchscreen, two USB ports, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, in-car WiFi, satellite radio and a 10-speaker sound system.
The Aviator Reserve trim starts at $58,205, including destination, and adds 20-inch wheels, LED fog lamps, a hands-free liftgate, power-folding mirrors, a 360-degree parking camera, four-zone climate control with Lincoln’s “auto air refresh” and “active air monitoring system,” a power-adjustable steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, standard second-row captain's chairs (the bench is a no-cost option), integrated navigation, HD radio, rear audio controls and a 14-speaker sound system.
The Aviator Black Label starts at $79,960, including destination, and is only available with all-wheel drive. It boasts unique color options and interior trim combinations, plus 22-inch wheels, adaptive LED headlights, illuminated Lincoln logo, soft-close doors, upgraded leather, Lincoln's 30-way "Perfect Position" front seats (they heat, ventilate and massage among other tricks), a heated steering wheel, two rear USB ports, heated/ventilated rear seats, wireless smartphone charging, and a 28-speaker Revel Ultima sound system.
Apart from the Black Label's unique design elements, most of its extras are available on the Reserve as options.
The Aviator Grand Touring plug-in hybrid starts at $70,165, including destination, and is equipped similarly to the Reserve, plus 21-inch wheels and standard all-wheel drive. Its Black Label version ($89,600) is also comparable, but has 21-inch wheels. Note that all Aviator Grand Touring PHEVs are eligible for a $6,534 tax credit from the federal government
What are its safety equipment and crash ratings?
Besides the usual airbags and stability aids, the 2021 Aviator comes standard with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, lane-keeping assist and auto high-beams. A 911 Assist system with automatic crash notification is also included as part of the standard Sync 3 infotainment system. The optional Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus package adds reverse automatic braking, evasive steering assist for the forward-collision mitigation system, a 360-degree parking camera with front camera washer, front parking sensors, an automatic parking system, and adaptive cruise control with lane-centering steering assist and stop-and-go functionality.
In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Aviator received the best-possible rating of "Good" in all crash tests and earned a Top Safety Pick award. Both the standard forward accident prevention system and the Co-Pilot360 Plus items received the best possible scores as well. Its standard headlights received a third-best/second-worst "Marginal" score, but its optional headlights got a "Good." It also received a five-star overall crash test rating in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing.