Car Reviews SUV of the Year

What Makes the 2020 Lincoln Aviator So Compelling (and how it can Improve)

Lincoln’s Explorer-based SUV is a 2020 SUV of the Year finalist

Lincoln’s Explorer-based SUV is a 2020 SUV of the Year finalist

Pros:

  • Design inside and out
  • Supple suspension
  • Stereo and infotainment system

Cons:

  • Hybrid lurches forward
  • Climbing over second row cupholders
  • Door release hard to use

With its new Aviator, Lincoln set out to create a soothing and elegant vehicle that quietly rockets you and your posse along freeway ramps.

In reviving the Aviator name, Lincoln hatched a new rear-drive architecture (impressively differentiated from the Ford Explorer’s) with a car-based chassis, excellent suspension, and all the accoutrements you want from a luxury three-row SUV. It also has a lot more power, especially in the plug-in hybrid.

The upscale mood starts as you approach the vehicle; headlights and puddle lights guide the way. Once inside, chimes from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra greet you as you clasp a lavish steering wheel and push the piano-key gear selector. “The craftsmanship and design in this cabin are simply astounding,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said.

Settle into the 30-way adjustable seat and add a massage. “These are possibly the most comfortable seats here; it feels like a Dr. Scholl’s insert for your entire back,” editor-in-chief Ed Loh said. “Truly, a lovely place to hang out.”

The chassis delivers a top-notch ride. “It’s easy to drive fast and has excellent body control,” said features editor Scott Evans, who also liked the quick steering. Executive editor Mark Rechtin lauded the Aviator’s offering of “a whole lot of drifty fun,” if that’s what you want your SUV to do.

The Reserve AWD model starts at $57,285 USD. That nets you the 400-hp, 415-lb-ft 3.0-liter V-6. “It’s hard to remember that this is the base engine,” MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina said. The 5,167-pound (2,343-kg) vehicle scoots from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and completes the quarter mile in 14.1 seconds. That slays rivals from Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz, while its EPA-rated fuel economy matches the far less powerful Cadillac XT6.

Loh described the acceleration as unwavering and unyielding. The 10-speed is smart and refined, the brakes smooth. The bigger problem is the hybrid’s aggressive throttle tip-in, which none of us could modulate well.

The Grand Touring plug-in hybrid Aviator electrifies the gas engine, but the extra motors and batteries contribute to its 5,838 pounds (2,648 kg). Some judges wondered where the 494 hp and 630 lb-ft of torque was in this beefier model—the hybrid is only three-tenths quicker than the gas version in the quarter mile.

The rear-drive bias provides a rousing ride; the air suspension feels incredibly supple over uneven surfaces. It’s wicked cool to kick sand up and over the windshield of a luxury vehicle with a drive mode for all conditions.

Props on a beautiful and functional steering wheel with clever (or irritating) placement of the voice-control button at the 10 o’clock thumb rest. Press the cruise control button, and the speed-control buttons light up. The big infotainment screen responds quickly and is intuitive to use. You feel the Revel stereo sound in every organ. There’s a vertical slot for your phone and easily accessible USB ports.

Third-row access is shockingly easy. Push a button, and the second-row captain’s seats rocket forward. (The Mercedes-Benz GLS and BMW X7 take an eternity by comparison.) Still, the third row is tight, and passengers must sit with their knees high.

A couple quibbles: The solenoid button that replaces the inside door handle is awkward to push, and the semi-autonomous cruise control worryingly shut off without warning when we approached stopped traffic.

Pricing left us divided. Guest judge Johan de Nysschen called the Grand Touring, which starts at $69,895 USD and was equipped to $88,895 USD for our test, “massively ambitious.” But international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie felt Lincoln has put in the work to justify its prices.

“Overall, I’m truly impressed with the Aviator,” Seabaugh said. “It’s done what Cadillac has tried and failed to do for years: build a distinctly American, no-compromises luxury vehicle that competes with the foreign luxury marques on its own terms, not theirs.”