Lincoln reaches for new heights in luxury SUV performance
By Jim Bray
Ford's upscale division has kind of been missing in action for a while, but with its new, aviation-inspired naming regimen it's aiming to come back with a vengeance. And judging by the first two new models I've driven, they've done a pretty nice job of it.
The Aviator, which is based on Ford's popular Explorer SUV that's also offering a brand-new generation this year, is a "mid-size" model with three rows of seats (in this case, the third row raises and folds via power, too, a nice touch). It rides on a new, rear drive platform but all-wheel drive is standard in Canadian trim and, according to Lincoln "gives you the propulsion-like feel of rear-wheel drive, and the confident grip of standard all-wheel drive."
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Can't argue that. As much as I love rear wheel drive, there's something to be said for all-wheel drive when the roads get to be a tad more challenging than standard summer driving. Heck, full-time awd can even tighten up a vehicle's handling on dry roads, as evidenced by awd sport wagons such as those by Audi and Subaru, vehicles that stick to the road like, well, like the dickens.
Naturally, a vehicle the size of the Aviator isn't going to handle like a Porsche 911, but judging from my week in the Lincoln Canada's sample Aviator Reserve it does a pretty decent job of its duties. And if the base model's apex-carving (which includes an adaptive suspension) isn't good enough for you, you can opt for the optional Air Glide Suspension, which Lincoln says "replaces traditional hard coil springs with air bladders that can be inflated and deflated to help soften your ride-creating the sensation of riding on air." This system can also make the Aviator "kneel-down to greet you as you approach and to raise and lower based on specific drive modes", Lincoln says. That's mighty subservient of it!
It's also hardly unique in this type of vehicle, but that doesn't mean it isn't welcome. I'm not sure it's really necessary – I thought the "base" suspension was just fine, but it's there if you want it.
Motivating the Aviator is a pair of engine choices. Lincoln's sample had the "more pedestrian" unit, a twin-turbo three litre V6 the company says inflicts 400-horsepower and 415 lb.-ft. of torque onto the road. And it's plenty. On the other hand, the Aviator Grand Touring model marries a twin turbo three litre V6 with an electric powertrain "to deliver luxurious performance that gives drivers greater confidence for long distance journeys."
This particular setup cranks out "more than" 450 horsepower and "more than" 600 lb.-ft. of torque. Lincoln says this powertrain can be charged at home or via other charging stations, offering all-electric mode that could save you some fuel dough over the long haul.
Both engines get their power to the wheels through a 10-speed automatic transmission that works well (and I love the selector buttons' mounting on the centre stack) but has a couple of gears more than necessary other than to save fuel. This means if you want to control it manually via the paddles and you're about to pull out and pass someone, you have to switch down extra gears to get it into the sweet spot you need for the maneuver. Not a huge deal, but I prefer six to eight speeds these days if you can't have a manual (and you can't, here, for obvious reasons).
As with the Corsair, the Aviator offers driving modes consisting of Normal, Conserve, Excite, Slippery and Deep Conditions. I might argue about how exciting "Excite" is, but it's the best mode if you enjoy driving more than steering and it works quite well. And as with other Ford products I've driven, including the Corsair, the "Slippery" and "Deep Conditions" modes work very well when conditions deteriorate.
The vehicle is solid, attractive and comfortable, and luxury touches are all over the place. I'm not sure if Lincoln has really upped the technology ante with really meaty stuff here, but there's a lot of interesting stuff you may or may not care about.
For example, you can use your "compatible" smartphone as a key, letting you lock and unlock the doors, open the tailgate and even start and drive the vehicle – all without a traditional key. I think this is nice, but would rather leave a key fob in my pocket than mess with my cell phone while approaching the vehicle. On the other hand, if you have a habit of losing your keys, this could be a lifesaver.
The "Phone As A Key" app also lets you recall your seat and side mirror preferences and steering column positions, as well as comfort and audio system settings. Nifty, but seat memory buttons (which the Aviator also has) could do the same job without you needing your phone in your hand.
There's plenty of stuff like that, including cool sounds and lighting effects to make you feel welcome, and a lot of the stuff is customizable.
There's a lot to like in the Aviator but as far as its interior is concerned, I have to admit I preferred the Corsair. Not that it's a big deal, but I wish Lincoln had merely replicated its interior in the Aviator – just for little things like the positioning the start/stop button (here it's atop a dashboard section where I found it a tad harder to reach than the more conventionally-mounted Corsair's). None of this stuff would be a deal breaker were I shopping in this niche, however.
One thing I love about Fords and Lincolns is their ease of use. No silly mouse or trackpads or knobs are necessary here because the vehicles use Ford/Lincoln's Sync 3 touch screen interface and, while a tad slow these days, it's simple to figure out and to use and it works well. I think it's one of the best systems on the market today, or at least of the ones I've driven.
It's been a while since I drove the old MKT, which was a nice enough vehicle as long as you blindfolded yourself until you got inside it, but this new Aviator does seem like a major upgrade, and it was about time for it.
Its as-tested price of 85 big ones seems quite competitive as well. For example, an Audi Q7, quite loaded, tips the scales at $88,700 while BMW's X5, mostly loaded and with the third row added, totals $96,135 on their Canadian website.
One might argue apples-versus-oranges in these comparisons, but they're fairly close depending upon what equipment and options are offered by each manufacturer. I think it's good that Lincoln is undercutting these other guys because, as mentioned, they've become kind of an also-ran marque in recent years and offering better value may just be a good way to get Lincoln's prodigal sons – or potential sales acquisitions – to give them a serious look.
And if the do, they'll find a very nice vehicle.
Copyright 2020 Jim Bray