It’s been easy to forget about the Lincoln Navigator for the past few years. It’s not just because the full-size luxury SUV market very much not where it’s at in these days of eco-conscious performance in the premium market, but also due to Lincoln’s shifting focus. In its latest reinvention, Lincoln has focused on its alphanumeric nameplates and a vision of slick, futuristic luxury.

So where does that leave the body-on-frame truck that they call the Navigator? It may be a bit of a dinosaur, but it hasn’t been put completely out to pasture. Lincoln’s last vehicle without an "MK" badge receives a comprehensive update for 2015, and soldiers into the future with updated interior and exterior styling and a new engine. I spent a week with the new Navigator.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2015 Lincoln Navigator I drove.

Exterior

2015 Lincoln Navigator - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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A major facelift improves the Navigator’s looks but doesn’t quite hide the aging platform beneath. Lincoln has applied a smoother style and its handsome "split-wing" grille to the Navigator’s face to good effect, as well as LED accent lights and a smoothed bumper with a narrow lower opening that’s similar to the style used on more recent Lincolns. At the rear, the bumper is smoothly wrapped into the lines of the body; the big chrome battering ram of yore is gone. The standard receiver hitch hides neatly behind a handsome cover. The Navigator is available with power running boards, both to keep mud off of your pants cuffs and to aid shorter passengers upon entry. The 20-inch wheels are standard. The greenhouse, big blocky mirrors and stance remain a dead giveaway that competitors like the Cadillac Escalade and Mercedes GL-Class are riding on newer chassis, however. Then again, the Navigator’s truck frame makes it possible for Lincoln to offer regular- and long-wheelbase versions, which the Mercedesand Infiniti QX80 can’t match.

Interior

2015 Lincoln Navigator - Driven Interior
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From the driver’s seat, the Navigator feels a bit like a throwback as well. That long, long hood out front and windows that feel small in spite of the high roof are only a part of it. Lincoln has made over the Navigator’s dash with strong influence from its early 1960s models as well. The tall, twin-hooded dash and instrument panel are updated retro touches, and visible stitching with contrasting color trim really sets this design apart. Real wood trim decorates the steering wheel, and the digital dash is reconfigurable, as is Ford and Lincoln’s current style. The MyLincolnTouch system has been improved with the addition of manual knobs for those who don’t like the touch-screens. I still find the SYNC infotainment system annoying, especially its habit of making long announcements every time the Navigator is started. It’s also got a habit of hijacking your phone’s text-to-speech function if you’re using Bluetooth, and failing to translate as well as the phone does. I found myself arguing with the Navigator a lot, and that’s never a fun thing to do in a $60,000 vehicle. I haven’t had as much trouble with BMW or Lexus’ systems.

"At night, hidden lights project a bright Lincoln logo onto the ground next to the front doors. Why? Because it’s cool, that’s why."

The Navigator has taken steps to keep up with the competition, though. Sound deadening keeps the cabin awesomely quiet, and there’s a new "Reserve Package" that adds hand-wrapped leather on the dash, second and third-row seats and armrests, special Ziricote wood trim (Never heard of it? Lincoln says it’s famous for being used in high-dollar yachts.), and 22-inch wheels. It’s no replacement for an all-new body, but it does make the Navigator a pleasant place to be. At night, hidden lights project a bright Lincoln logo onto the ground next to the front doors. Why? Because it’s cool, that’s why.

The cargo area indistinguishable from the Expedition’s, and has a fairly high load floor. The glass and tailgate can be opened separately, which is handy for loading small items, but the buttons take some learning to remember which is which. At the touch of a button, the third row seats fold electronically, opening up a 54.4 cubic foot cargo hold that grows to over 100 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded. The extended-wheelbase Navigator will swallow over 128 cubic feet of your stuff.

The Navigator’s age shows in some features that are notable for their absence; for instance, the keyless entry requires a button push to unlock the doors, as there’s no touch sensor in the door handle or a proximity sensor, like in the Navigator’s competitors. Again, on a less expensive vehicle this is no big deal, but this is an all-the-toys luxury SUV where getting outdone by the competition can be a dealbreaker.

Drivetrain

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The Navigator breaks significantly from tradition under the hood, where there’s a 3.5 liter twin-turbo V6 in place of the 5.4 liter V8 that traditionally powered this big beast. The new EcoBoost engine is equipped with direct fuel injection, produces 380 horsepower and a staggering 460 pound-feet of torque, and in terms of on-pavement performance it’s indistinguishable from a V8. Lincoln even gave it a deep, throaty exhaust note to help mask the fact that it’s not a V8. A six-speed automatic transmission puts the power to the road smoothly. The body may be dated, but the Navigator’s rolling with a thoroughly modern drivetrain, and one of the smoother ones available, too. Fuel economy is "good" only by comparison to what full-size luxury SUVs have gotten in the past. There’s only so much economy you can get out of an three-ton vehicle, after all. During my week with the Navigator, driving normally, average fuel economy came in at about 18 mpg, which is exactly what the EPA says the combined economy should be. That said, buyers who are seriously concerned about fuel economy aren’t shopping in this class.

"The Navigator's rolling with a thoroughly modern drivetrain, and one of the smoother ones available, too."

The idea is to provide real-truck capability with maximum luxury. The Navigator’s 9,000-pound towing capacity is evidence of this. One solid advantage that the Navigator has over the competition from Mercedes and Lexus is that it’s a serious truck underneath. I hooked the Navigator up to a trailer and used it to fetch a 100-year old piano; this big luxobarge barely noticed the encumbrance. Trailer-brake controls and a tow/haul mode are standard equipment. Four-wheel-drive Navigators feature hill-descent control—not because Lincoln expects someone to take these things off-road, but because it’s already available on the Expedition anyway.

Lincoln has done about as much as it possibly can with the suspension. When it was introduced in 1997, the Navigator rode on the same live-axle suspension as the Expedition, with the addition of load-leveling air shocks. Things have changed a lot since then. The Nivomat self-leveling rear end is still there as an option, but the latest iteration features an independent rear end and a fully active suspension. Called “Lincoln Drive Control,” the Navigator’s suspension’s continuous damping control changes to react to road conditions. Drivers can select Normal, Sport and Comfort modes, though I didn’t notice much difference between them. Apart from being quieter and slightly less apt to waddle, the road feel isn’t all that different from that of the Ford Expedition, with which the frame is shared.

Cutting-edge or not, the Navigator is a big, comfortable freeway cruiser that’s happy to eat up miles. The Navigator rolls with an unperturbed sort of gravitas that’s very relaxing, and serves as a reminder that with its strong frame underneath, this SUV has inherited everything that was good about the classic, yacht-sized American luxury car. Even at 80 mph, the Navigator doesn’t feel rushed.

Around town, this big vehicle is generally manageable. A blind spot monitor and backup camera are standard, making it easier to pilot the Navigator around congested urban areas. Electronic power steering is new, and offers smooth inputs.

Prices

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Navigator pricing starts at $62,475. That actually makes it one of the less expensive vehicles in the class, undercutting the Escalade by $11,000, the Mercedes GL450 by $3000 and the Lexus LX 570 by almost 20 grand. It’s true that there’s not much glory in being the least-expensive luxury option, but the price actually helps to smooth some of the Navigator’s rough edges. It may not stack up option-for-option to the competition, but the pricing seems reasonable as a result.

Competition

Cadillac Escalade

2015 Cadillac Escalade High Resolution Exterior
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The Escalade is arguably the current gold standard in the full-size SUV class, combining serious towing and hauling ability with eight-passenger seating and sumptuous luxury. The latest Escalade is less obviously badge-engineered compared to the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon than in years past; it provides a genuine “something special” feel and hides its work-truck roots well.

Read our full review here.

Mercedes GL-Class

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Mercedes’ biggest luxury SUV is less iconic but much more comfortable and domesticated than the boxy G-Class it was originally intended to replace and has never managed to outshine. The GL-Class is still an impressive range of vehicles, with more powertrain choices than the Navigator’s one-engine lineup and a smooth-shifting seven-speed automatic transmission.

Read our full review here.

Lexus LX 570

2013 Lexus LX 570 High Resolution Exterior
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With its Toyota Land Cruiser underpinnings well hidden, the LX 570 is a bona fide off-roader as well as a way to ride tall in full luxury. The LX 570 was last updated in 2012, so it’s getting a bit long in the tooth as well, but Lexus’ low-volume, high-dollar sport-ute is still an impressive vehicle thanks to a silent but powerful V8 engine and unflinchingly opulent interior appointments.

Read our full review here.

Conclusion

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By now the biggest Lincoln in the lineup stands out because it’s got the oldest platform and a different name. This is a vehicle from a different era, and it still feels like it in spite of the updates and upgrades. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. The revised Navigator is just modern enough to keep the good stuff while not giving the impression that it’s just riding the coattails of its glory days. It’s arguably a better luxury flagship than the forgettable MKT, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this update were just an interim step before a new evolution for the model.

  • Leave it
    • * SYNC is still annoying
    • * Still feels like an old platform
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