Lincoln Navigator a comfortable people hauler – and Explorer hybrid gets the job done
By Jim Bray
It's comfortable, offers all of the electronic features we've come to know and perhaps to love (or not), and it's big enough to cut a major swath through traffic as you pilot it around town. But is the Lincoln Navigator any good?
I suppose that depends on the eye of the beholder. After spending a week or so with the 2021 Lincoln Navigator, I came away impressed with its capabilities but also grateful that I have bus driving experience in my past so I was much more comfortable behind the wheel than I might have been otherwise.
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Yep, it's that big! So big that my wife refused to get behind the wheel (the baby!). And that's too bad because I think she would've enjoyed the experience once she got used to being at the helm of a road-based aircraft carrier.
Huge or not, the Navigator is all Lincoln – by which I mean luxurious as all get out, with three rows of leather-trimmed seats and about as much comfort and convenience as one could expect from today's auto marketplace.
Which means that, besides plenty of leather, you get stuff like wood trim and metal accents and power-operated second and third row seatback folding. It also means you get a twin-turbocharged V-6 that Lincoln says makes 450 horsepower and 510 lb.-ft. or torque, with a rated towing capacity of up to 8700 pounds.
That power and torque combo is plenty to move this behemoth along with alacrity, and to add to its flexibility Lincoln offers six driving modes, from eco (which they call "conserve") to "sport" (which they call "Excite" in – to rip off the Simpsons – the most blatant case of false advertising since "The Neverending Story"). There are also settings called "Slippery, Deep Conditions, Normal and 4x4". Each mode tunes the Navigator's drive train, including its shift points, the adaptive suspension, drive lines, information displays etc. You make your choices via a knob on the centre console.
Speaking of knobs – or levers, for that matter, Lincoln continues its recent habit of eschewing such things when it comes to selecting the transmission gear, in favour of a series of buttons on the centre stack. It works well and I kind of like it – and I'm sure you'd get used to it if it were your vehicle – but I kept forgetting about it because Lincoln has mounted them quite subtly and you can easily miss them.
Can't blame Lincoln for what's actually quite a nifty idea; it was more "old fart syndrome" on my case in which this old dog was expected to notice the new trick for selecting gears. Oh well. As I said, I daresay it wouldn't take long to get used to this if I owned the vehicle, so this isn't really a criticism at all, just a notification that Lincoln in this case marches to its own drum and that isn't a bad thing at all.
The generous power and torque gets to all four wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission that shifts better than I expected. I've complained about such high-numbered trannies in the past because when you need power, they have to downshift through many more gears than, say, six speed trannies, but the Navigator was actually pretty good here. Of course, the power and torque don't hurt and this big beastie (especially in sport, er, Excite mode) tends to just ooze itself ahead when you step on the gas pedal.
Part of that alacrity comes, undoubtedly, from the Navigator's all-aluminum-alloy body, which offers reduced weight compared with steel.
The suspension's pretty good, too, all things considered. You don't get a lot of stiffness, even in "Excite" mode – Lincolns traditionally offering more "wallow" than "wow" in this regard, but even here it was less wallow than I expected. The Navigator is certainly not an apex carver, but it is surprisingly spry for such a large and luxury-focused vehicle.
As with some of the competition, the Navigator has illuminated running boards that fire a Lincoln logo onto the ground when the running boards deploy as you approach them. And I loved that the running boards are there in the first place, because they were a huge help at getting me inside the Navigator. That's because my legs are so short, they barely reach the ground at the best of times, and I have big issues getting into and out of vehicles such as this.
The interior is very nice and I loved the front seats, which reminded me of the ones found in the last generation Lincoln Continental. They offer plenty of adjustments via controls mounted on the doors (much like Mercedes-Benz does it) and I had no issues with my left cheek objecting to the seats like it does in some Ford products.
The centre console is generously wide and features a nice flat area on top (unsullied, as mentioned above, by any gear selector system) and an open tray below. Access to the third row is pretty good, with the second-row seats (Lincoln's sample had captains chairs there) sliding ahead and tilting a bit to let you scramble behind them to the steerage compartment. It isn't quite as accessible and roomy as the third row in, say, the Kia Telluride, but it's close.
I loved the panoramic sunroof, which opens up the big bus to outside light very well. This is hardly unique, of course, but it really makes the Navigator more pleasant to be in, not like being shut up inside a giant can (though of course if you want that feeling you can close the blind on the roof and close yourself in that way).
A big vehicle such as this can be a challenge to park, but Lincoln has wisely included Ford's park assist feature to help get you into the parking space without damaging itself or others.
The audio system of Lincoln's sample was the upgraded Revel one, which offers 20 speakers and sounds very good indeed. I was surprised to not see the Bang and Olufsen system you can get in other Ford products such as the Mach E – because it rocks even better – but what can you do? Maybe they'll offer that for 2022. In the meantime, it's safe to revel in the Revel system because it's hardly a slouch.
You also get stuff like adaptive LED headlights and, with a subscription to Lincoln Connect, you can have an app turn your cell phone into the vehicle's key, using Bluetooth.
The 2021 Lincoln Navigator starts at $97,000 Canadian dollars and that's equipped pretty well. Yet there are still a few options and packages you can get that'll take the price well over a hundred grand.
If the Navigator is too big for you, and perhaps a tad too thirsty, you could always check out the smaller Aviator or, if that's too dear for you, the Ford SUV upon which it's based: the Explorer.
In this case, I'm referring to the Ford Explorer hybrid, which Ford was kind enough to lend me for a week on a trip to Ottawa. It builds on all the goodness I found in the new, rear wheel drive-based Explorer and adds the hybrid touch to, with luck, save you some pain at the pump.
Though even the Explorer is a larger vehicle than I like, I found it to be a fine example. I particularly like, and still like, its rear-wheel-drive demeanour, which not only makes it more interesting and potentially more fun to drive it also apparently enhances its towing capability.
The hybrid I drove in Ottawa wore the Limited trim, a model that (with the hybrid stuff) starts at $53,029 Canadian, as opposed to the non-hybrid Limited's entry level price of $47,929. So that's about five grand for the gas savings and, yes, extra torque and a few other goodies you get from a hybrid.
One of the extras is an extra litre of engine capacity: the hybrid boasts a 3.3 litre power plant as opposed to the 2.3 litre one in the "environment-raping" version. In my previous Explorer review I was quite pleased with the oomph of the 2.3 litre turbo four, but this one was even more interesting – though I did find the engine a tad buzzy at times and the 10-speed automatic transmission tended to be a bit jerky at takeoff sometimes. It wasn't a big deal and I probably wouldn't have noticed it if not for my previous time in the other Explorer.
Ford claims the hybrid ups the gas-saving ante quite a bit over the regular, four-cylinder and six-cylinder versions (a three-litre twin-turbo V6 is also available). They claim the different versions will bring back mileages of 11.7 city/ 8.6 hwy/ 10.3 combined (L/100 km) for the turbo four, 13.4 city/ 9.8 hwy/ 11.8 combined for the V6 and 10.1 city/ 9.0 hwy/ 9.6 combined for the hybrid. I averaged pretty well exactly 11 combined in my week of heavy-footed driving.
Is that worth the extra money? I guess it depends on how much you drive, how you drive (lead, or feather footed?) and how long you plan to keep the vehicle.
There are driving modes for various conditions from Tsunami to Avalanche (or something like that) and the Sport mode is pretty good. The paddles for shifting also work quite well.
One improvement of this generation of Explorer (hybrid or not) is that it now comes with a left foot rest for the driver, which makes steering the vehicle a lot more comfortable, and the new seat didn't cut my left cheek the way some other Ford seats do. This latter point may be more of a "Jim's Weird Bum" issue than a Ford one, however.
I also couldn't get the driver's seat to a perfect position for my rather short legs but this is a common complaint I have with vehicles, especially larger ones.
The hybrid came with Ford's Bang and Olufsen audio system, which is extremely good.
The suspension is independent all around (struts up front and a multi-link rear) and the brakes are four-wheel discs with the usual aides.
One thing I found disconcerting was the navigation system, which sent us on a wild goose chase when we crossed from Ottawa to the People's Republic of Quebec, but that may have been because the system was reading out the maps in French and the only French words I remember from living there half a century ago involved bodily functions and profanity that for some reason didn't show up on the display.
Ford's sample also came with Captain's chairs for the second row, which is nice for the people who sit there but which also cuts the potential passenger tally from eight to seven. This isn't just an Explorer thing, of course, nor a Ford-specific thing.
All in all, the Ford Explorer hybrid is a good vehicle if you're into SUV's of this size. The rear wheel mien is a lovely improvement over the previous generation, the hybrid can probably save you some gas over your ownership of the vehicle (or not – depends how you drive), and it's an all around pleasant vehicle to be in.
Copyright 2021 Jim Bray