The formula for an American luxury vehicle has always been simple: huge size, tons of features and a soft-sprung ride that makes no attempt to be sporty. After Cadillac's debacle attempting to out-German the Germans with sports sedans, it's refreshing to see Lincoln doubling down on the proven formula for American excess as a selling point.
That mission is most apparent in the new Lincoln Navigator, an SUV so luxurious and captivating that Ford could barely build enough to meet demand. Some may scoff at paying nearly six figures for a Lincoln these days, but the Navigator is seriously one of the best luxury vehicles on sale today.
The Navigator Black Label that Ford sent for review arrived with a $98,320 price tag and a hell of a lot to prove.
The Lincoln brand hadn't produced a class leader or a true winner since the original Navigator that debuted as a 1998 model. The second-generation of the glorified Expedition didn't capture the same magic, with a lot of its sales going to General Motor's Cadillac Escalade. That the new one was suddenly pulling massive profits for Ford and luring buyers away from other brands was a surprise — until we drove it.
It's rare that a new vehicle is a genuinely unexpected, but the Navigator blows you away from the moment you get into it. It's a bit of a climb to get in — thank the Lincoln lords for including power-deployed running boards to provide a nice step up to the cabin — but the view is worth it. The top Navigator has the Black Label trim, which comes in a variety of themes. Rather than simply picking your leather and wood, Lincoln designed interiors around central concepts with well-matched upholstery and trim.
Our tester was a Black Label with the "yacht club" interior theme, which brings blue leather and light sun-bleached woods. No doubt, it's one of the most stunning interiors of any vehicle on sale today. It's well-designed, thoughtfully laid out and brimming with premium metals and woods. Paired with the lovely Chroma Crystal Blue paint, the Navigator is one of the most distinctive and stunning vehicles we've ever tested.
Fire it up and it continues to impress. You truly cannot hear the engine at idle with the only sounds at a stop coming from the slow inflation of the air bladders in the Navigator's massaging 30-way adjustable "perfect position" seats or the shockingly good Revel audio system. We've tested audio systems costing over $5,000 that didn't sound this great. Only Jaguar Land Rover's Meridian systems can compete.
Part of that must be attributed to just how quiet the Navigator is on the road. There's nothing for the stereo to compete with; the engine is almost undetectable at low loads and there's no road noise intrusion while driving in the city. It's also got a ton of room in the suspension to soak up big bumps, making it one of the comfiest city rides on the market.
The luxury doesn't stop there, as the Navigator offers every single capability you'd need in a car. It's got an absurdly massive interior with room for six adults and even a seventh — albeit thinner person — in the middle seat in the back. The second-row chairs are massive, with their own heating function and center console. Climate toggles and controls for the massive panoramic sunroof are accessible through a middle-row control panel, so the cheap seats aren't a punishment.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make an appearance, but Ford's infotainment system is good enough that we preferred using it. There are lots of nice, physical buttons to control the endless list of active safety and convenience features. Most importantly, there's a lot of tech to help rein in the massive size of the barge. You'll be thankful for the 360-degree camera and automatic parking function, which works in parallel and perpendicular parking.
Those wanting to make use of the 8,700-pound towing capacity will appreciate the available "pro trailer backup assist," which allows you to reverse a trailer using a little knob to steer it. It takes the mental gymnastics out of trying to turn left to get your trailer to turn right, a serious help to those who need it. When you do get the trailer loaded up, its 450 horsepower helps ensure that the Navigator can handle its own mass and then some without feeling overburdened.
Taken as a whole, it's hard to think of a situation the Navigator can't handle.
We briefly entertained the idea that this may be a better luxury vehicle than the Mercedes S-Class, the perenial industry leader in luxury and feature content. But after more time with the Lincoln on the highway, we realized that the Germans still have the advantage in higher-speed driving.
First, while road and engine noise are well filtered, the sheer size of the Navigator makes the noise of the wind rushing over it hard to fully block out. More importantly, the ride gets busy above 70 mph. Make no mistake, it's still smooth, but you can feel the burdensome beast shifting around on its springs through little jiggles in the steering wheel and bumps you feel with your hindquarters.
The Navigator also doesn't have the latest and greatest lane-keeping technology. While thoroughly modern systems like Tesla's Autopilot, Cadillac's Super Cruise and even Ford's own Co-Pilot 360 will automatically hold you in the center of the lane and provide steering input around bends, the more rudimentary Navigator makes do with an older system that merely bounces you back if you clip a lane marking.
The Co-Pilot 360 system debuted for the Lincoln brand on the Nautilus crossover, but the Navigator redesign came out before Co-Pilot 360 was ready for prime time. The upcoming Aviator will have it, too, so we're expecting it to find its way to the Navigator as well. With a proper semi-autonomous system, we'd have no problem calling this the best road trip car of all time.
And though it's obvious, we should note that the fuel economy of a seven-passenger with 450 horsepower is anything but impressive. It's officially rated for 16 miles per gallon in the city and 21 mpg on the highway in four-wheel-drive guise, but over a 100-mile drive at around 80 mph we saw 16.2 mpg. With such a huge frontal area, it's more susceptible to decreased efficiency at higher speeds than your normal executive sedan.
You can get a lesser Navigator, but the Black Label is where it really shines. If you don't need a class-leading interior and an absurd list of features, just go for the Expedition. It shares its underpinnings with the Navigator and is significantly cheaper, so value-conscious buyers should look in that direction.
But the Navigator is a value in its own right. Executive sedans typically cost over $100,000 when optioned, but you don't need to spend that much to get a seven-seat behemoth that either matches or outperforms almost every competitor. You'll have to drop $96,395 to get into the Black Label trim in standard-length configuration, but if that is somehow not big enough there is an "L" version that increases the cargo space significantly for $99,595.
Unless you want one of the two extra-cost paint options or different wheels, you don't need to check any more boxes. The Black Label includes all of the equipment Lincoln has to offer, which brings our total price to $97,690 with the requisite destination charge.
It's also worth noting here that Black Label buyers receive a slew of perks to up the luxury ownership experience. You'll get complimentary car washes whenever you want at your local dealership with a yearly detailing on the Blue Oval's dime. You also never need to go to a dealership; Lincoln will bring a car to show to you before purchase, deliver your vehicle to your house and pick it up whenever it needs servicing. Finally, the company continues to add perks like a culinary concierge for upscale dining and a full year of CLEAR membership that will speed up wait times at airport security.
From the moment you decide to drive a new product, Lincoln has worked to provide an industry-leading ownership experience. But none of that matters if the product doesn't hold up.
The Navigator does, offering everything buyers demand at a price that delivers more luxury, capability and space for the dollar than just about anything out there. It's so good that it has catapulted Lincoln from the brink of irrelevance to the forefront of the conversation.
It's not perfect, but it's about as close as you're going to get for $98,320.
Driving Experience: 4.5
Price as tested: $98,320