“You said the F-word!” That was shouted at me by one of the legions of Lincoln PR people shipped down to Louisville, Kentucky, for the launch of the pretty majorly refreshed 2015 Lincoln Navigator. I’d been trying to ask if we would be seeing the new Navigator’s excellent engine in any other products, like, say, the upcoming all-new MKX or an aluminum Ford Raptor. Really and truly, while there’s much to like about the newish Navigator, the 380-horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque, twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 is the star of the show. Since it is such a masterfully executed motor, I honestly wanted to know where else it’ll be showing up. Because as good as the 2015 ’Gator is, Lincoln’s maybe going to sell 8000 of them. Maybe. And that’s when I got yelled at.
It’s the new Lincoln, or as they prefer, the Lincoln Motor Company. You can’t mention Ford anymore. Never mind the EcoBoost badges slapped onto the butt of the Navigator. It’s like changing the name of MyFord Touch to MyLincoln Touch. Just accept it. The only people fooled are those working for Lincoln who, mind you, have been given the near-impossible task of creating a credible luxury brand out of dolled-up Ford products. I should amend that to read that the only people they fooled in attendance were themselves. When I told my wife about my upcoming trip she said, “Lincoln’s part of Ford? Since when?” And she drives a Ford. So maybe the Lincoln peeps are on to something? Perhaps. And perhaps we will see this honey of an engine in another application. Hint, hint.
Let’s stick with the engine. According to the chief engineer, all they did to unlock so much power (and really, torque) was fiddle with the software. That’s it. No upsized turbos, no new breathing tricks, no new internals or even headers — nothing but a reflash. Unlike the EcoBoost in, say, the Ford F-150, the high-output version in the Navigator requires premium fuel. Those power numbers are based on 91-octane gasoline. Interestingly, the mileage estimates they quoted were based on the same engine running 87-octane. Lincoln claims that’s the industry standard: quote power with one type of gas, and mileage with another. Sounds fishy to me. The regular wheelbase, 4×2 Navigator gets 16 city, 22 highway, with a combined score of 18 mpg. On the other end of the spectrum, a 4×4 long-wheelbase version is rated at 15/19/16.
But who’s buying a 6000-pound truck for the fuel economy? Exactly right — no one. Instead, revel in the fact that peak torque, all 460 lb-ft of it, kicks in at 2250 rpm. That’s Bentley-esque. Well, Bentley before VW got involved, but still. Anyhow, compared to the 6.2-liter V-8 you’d find in the Cadillac Escalade, it’s all Lincoln. Sure, on paper the Caddy’s got more power (420 hp compared to 380 hp) and the same amount of torque. From behind the wheel, however, the Lincoln’s more gutsy. All that torque down so low in the rev range is just awesome. The Navigator feels mightier than the Escalade. As Bob Lutz always said, “Americans buy horsepower but drive torque.” Lincoln has learned that lesson well.
Other changes for the 2015 Navigator include much plastic surgery to the front and rear of the big gal. Up front, the hood’s been re-sculpted to flow into the signature mustache grille. There are LEDs in the lamps and LED running lights in the revised lower fascia. Out back, it’s an LED party with more than 100 LEDs making up the taillamps. In a nice, subtle touch, Lincoln even rolled the exhaust tip. Standard wheels grow (of course) from 18 inches to 20. However, the car I drove had the optional Reserve Package that updonks the wheels to 22 inches, piano-blacks out the lower fascia (though it’s such a narrow strip of gloss black that if you blink you’ll miss it),and adds power running boards, a two-tone interior scheme featuring ziricote wood, an expensive and threatened type of tree typically used for furniture and guitars. The leather is fairly high-end, too. I could actually smell it from outside the vehicle when the door was opened. Smelled nice.
I like all the updates, but I’m still aware that this is a refreshed Navigator, not a new one. For instance, the interior packaging, especially up front, is still bad. You can get your knee caught between the door and the steering wheel when entering. It’s such an awkward space that you can’t fit a water bottle or a sunglasses case in the door pocket. Think of an SUV where that’s also true. I’ll wait. The Navigator is missing radar cruise control, still. The Honda CR-V and the Nissan Rogue both feature it. Yet the $62K Lincoln doesn’t. Huh? Turns out the software language the ’Gator speaks is old to the point that it can’t communicate with Ford’s radar units. As Homer would say, “D’oh!” Especially as this Navigator will probably be around until 2019 and beyond. Lincoln did say that as a brand it’s committed to the Navigator. Meaning that one day there will be an all-new, big three-row SUV from Lincoln. But that vehicle is years off. Until then, no radar cruise control for you.
On the rolling highways and byways between Louisville and Frankfort, the regular wheelbase Navigator did a decent job of hiding its truck roots and 3-ton weight. Sporting three-mode continuously variable damping, I spent a good deal of the journey toggling between Comfort, Normal and Sport. On back roads, Comfort’s way too roly-poly for my tastes, and even Normal had a nautical feel to it. I really enjoyed Sport mode, as it tended to do away with most secondary body motions. However, I think the traditional Navigator customer (married, with an income over $200K, the brand’s best demographic) might find Sport too jarring. Comfort and Normal make more sense on freshly paved, straight roads but even then the Navigator’s ride — despite the independent rear suspension — just isn’t as smooth as it should be. There’s an awful lot of chatter and fidgety heaving all coming from the rear of the car. Having the IRS is still a packaging breakthrough, allowing fully flat folding rear seats. The independent rear end also gives the Navigator a much roomier third row than the competition from Cadillac. But the ride should be better.
That is, on the regular, 119-inch wheelbase car. Step up to the 131-inch Navigator L, find a freeway, stick her in Comfort mode, and you’d swear you’re actually behind the wheel of a 1972 Continental. All that’s missing are the pleated seats. That extra foot seems to correct every ride-quality issue I have with the standard length Navigator. You’d think that the bigger car would feel slower or drive worse, but honestly it just feels like a more luxurious vehicle. That right there is yet another advantage of having all that gooey torque available almost immediately and so low in the rev range. I bet this would make a great tow vehicle, too. Lincoln claims the max tow rating is 9000 pounds for the regular length 4×2 car and 8600 for the 4×4. Go for the Navigator L and that rating drops to 8500 for the 2WD ’Gator and 8300 for the 4×4. If you have some horses to take from the stable to the track — as they’re wont to do in Kentucky — the Navigator will serve you well. I imagine the same holds true in most other states, too. The Navigator’s old, granted, but Lincoln has found a way to infuse some new blood into it. If you’re in the market for a big, three-row, eight-passenger, body-on-frame SUV that can tow a good amount, you should have a look. Just remember to opt for the L. It’s worth the stretch.