Lincoln Navigator boasts the towing and load potential of a truck with the comfort and convenience of an expensive sedan. The Navigator offers real space for up to eight passengers. It also features enormous cargo capacity.
Lincoln Navigator is rated to tow up to 9,000 pounds.
Yet the Navigator is smooth and quiet on the road, with a compliant, fully independent rear suspension that smoothes over the roughest of pavement. It is a truck, however, with a ladder-type box frame and separate body, so the Navigator is not as responsive as a crossover SUV such as the Lincoln MKX. The car-based crossovers don't offer the towing capability of the truck-based Lincoln Navigator, however.
The Lincoln Navigator comes in the standard size or a long-wheelbase version called the Navigator L. Both can seat seven or eight passengers, depending on the seating configuration ordered. The Navigator L is almost 15 inches longer than the standard version. Passenger accommodations are essentially the same, but the Navigator L provides an additional 24 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third seat.
The Lincoln Navigator is powered by a 310-horsepower 5.4-liter V8 with a 6-speed automatic transmission, which we found work smoothly together. Navigator is available with either rear-wheel drive (2WD) or electronically engaged four-wheel drive (4WD) that can be driven on dry pavement and includes low-range gearing. We recommend opting for the four-wheel drive.
For 2011, Lincoln Navigator changes are minimal. Voice-controlled navigation with HD Radio technology, SYNC and Sirius Travel Link is now standard, there's standard Trailer Sway Control with AdvanceTrac and Roll Stability Control, the MyKey system allows limiting vehicle top speed and radio volume, and there is complimentary maintenance for the first 12 months or 15,000 miles. Some options have been changed. Navigator was last redesigned for the 2007 model year.
The Lincoln Navigator is a truck. It's built on a pickup-style ladder frame, with a separate body bolted to that frame, rather than welded into one unit. But unlike most truck-based vehicles, the Navigator features a fully independent rear suspension, which contributes to a smoother ride and better handling than the solid rear axle on a traditional pickup.
The Navigator L is nearly 15 inches longer than the standard model, extending its full length to almost 19 feet. The extra length does not significantly change passenger accommodations, but it adds 24 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third seat. That's more than a big trunk's worth of space. The additional overall length makes this big sport-utility even more challenging to park, however.
The Lincoln Navigator's basic shape is clean, if slightly bland. It consists of mostly sheer, tapered surfaces that are consistent across the vehicle, with a chrome strip running below the windows. The profile is tidy for such a big vehicle, almost lean.
The front and rear were clearly designed in Lincoln's retro-style brand theme. The eye is immediately drawn to the big, intricate grille in front. Its horizontal and vertical lines are supposed to inspire thoughts of Lincoln's Star logo, and the high-intensity beam headlights on either side add a jeweled, classy look. A second, thinner grille below the bumper replicates the bigger one above, flanked in this case by the fog lights.
The taillights look as if they were lifted from Lincoln's MKZ sedan. They're shaped like wings that cut into the liftgate and wrap around the rear corners, with chrome edging and a hard contrast between the red and white sections.
The details seem to be an attempt to spice up an otherwise staid look, as if Lincoln is trying to out-bling the Cadillac Escalade. The optional chrome hood accent is basically a thick piece of chrome tacked on the end of the hood above the grille. We'd find the Navigator more attractive without it, but it harkens back to Lincoln heritage.
The Navigator comes standard with 18-inch double-spoke alloy wheels. The polished 20-inch wheels look good, but have an adverse effect on ride quality and interior noise. We prefer the 18-inch wheels because the taller sidewalls soften the bumps and are better for towing. Then again, we view the Navigator as a truck, not a car.
Two exterior features have definite benefits. The outside mirrors are large, with repeating turn signals along the bottom edge and approach lamps underneath. The lamps light when the doors are unlocked with the remote key fob, and cast a nice circle of visibility around the doors. More than that, the big mirrors retract against the windows with the touch of a button. That's handy when parking in tight spaces or for curbside parking.
The Navigator retains its trademark retractable running boards. When the doors open, the running boards drop and extend, creating a step that makes climbing in and out easier. They are artfully integrated into the overall exterior design, and are almost impossible to detect when the doors are closed.
Deliberately retrogressive styling touches outside the Lincoln Navigator carry through inside, and the square-ish shapes and flat switch clusters generate a kind of post-modern, Scandinavian-furniture feel to the interior.
The leather is thick and soft. The plastics, with some retro-looking graining, are nice to the touch. There's a mix of satin-nickel and chrome peppered throughout the cabin, and nothing looks cheap. The only real gripe in our test vehicle was the seam where the wood panel for the center stack blended down into the wood on the center console. It felt more like a bump.
One of the Navigator's obvious strengths is space, seemingly acres of it, in all directions.
The front seats are large and thickly padded, yet they adjust to accommodate all sizes, from NBA forwards to those who must sit up close to the wheel to peer over the tall dash. Power-adjustable pedals are standard, and they can be moved forward or back with a button on the dash. These pedals have their advantages, but they would be more valuable if the power-adjustable steering column telescoped in addition to moving up and down. Without a telescoping wheel, the pedals don't really add anything to the adjustment mix. If we had to choose one or the other, we'd choose the telescoping wheel.
One minor annoyance with the Navigator's driver's seat is the speed at which it automatically moves backward or forward when the key is removed or inserted. In most cases, this is a welcome feature that makes it easier to climb in and out of a tall vehicle, and the Navigator's slow-moving seat may or may not have been related to sub-zero temperatures during our test drive. Yet at times the driver's seat moved so slowly that you could literally be backed out of a parking space and going forward before it had returned to its set position.
Once the driver gets comfortable, however, it's hard to beat the commanding view ahead. Greyhound buses or tractor-trailer rigs are about the only vehicles on the road that can obstruct the driver's forward vision in a Navigator.
The gauge package is the weak link in the Navigator's interior. The dials look like they're straight out of the 1960s, with black script on a white background and white lighting. They're not as crisp as some other, more contemporary schemes. The speedometer and tachometer are fine, but the four auxiliary gauges across the top (fuel level and coolant temperature among them) aren't. They're small to begin with and essentially covered by the steering wheel rim if a driver likes to keep the wheel low in its travel range.
Switches and control buttons are generally well placed, concentrated in the center stack or on stalks on both sides of the wheel. Most are big enough to operate with gloved fingers, and they have a nice, positive operating action. The gripe here is a row of switches near the bottom of the stack controlling the fans and seat heating and cooling, among other things. The buttons are on the small side, but the illuminated pictographs on them are tiny, so they seem even smaller than they really are in the dark.
The voice-activated DVD navigation system includes Sirius Travel Link, which provides uninterrupted, coast-to-coast coverage of real-time traffic data; weather reports (current and five day forecasts with storm information and even ski resort conditions); fuel options sorted by price or distance from more than 120,000 gas stations; major league pro and college sports as well as movie listings from more than 4,500 theaters. A six-month introductory subscription to Sirius is included at no cost.
We rate storage options in the Navigator slightly better than average. The front center console is big, with more than enough room for a fairly large purse, but it's countered by a small glove box that's all but filled by the owner's manual. There are hard pockets or bins at the bottom of all doors, with enough width and depth for phones, wallets or CDs, and flexible map pockets are located on the front seatbacks. The cupholders are deep and fairly useful, and front passengers can share those for the second row, which are located on the back of the center console. There are three more cupholders for the third seat.
The standard second-row seating arrangement is two captain's-style bucket seats. These are the choice if comfort for second-row passengers is the primary objective. On the other hand, a three-place second-row bench is available at no charge, and it doesn't give up much (except another storage console that goes between the buckets). The bench is not brick flat, as it is in some sport-utility vehicles. It offers some contour and bolstering to improve comfort without diminishing the value of the middle space. The bench seat is also split 40/20/40, so kids can fold down the back of the center section and feel as if they have their own space. Also, there's no center console to get in the way when the seats are folded.
Second-seat passengers have their own adjustment for temperature and airflow (between the floor and overhead vents), as well a power point located on the back of the front center console. The optional rear DVD entertainment system is mounted in its own overhead console, with the controls and input jacks. The eight-inch screen drops down in the center, and it includes two pairs of wireless headphones.
Headrests on the second- and third-row seats can fold down when the seats are empty. Good thing, because when they are up they reduce the scope of the rearview mirror considerably. The view rearward isn't all that broad in any case. Lincoln has offered a solution to this problem with its rear backup camera. The image is shown in the rear-view mirror. It is quite small, no more than three inches across. While the image is useful, obstacles are not as easy to spot as they are in systems that show their images on six- or seven-inch dash-mounted screens.
Third-row seat access is easy, with a one-hand flip lever that folds the second seat forward and clears a wide path to the rear. Passengers already in the third seat have a strap release that reverses the process. The third seat is another of the Navigator's strengths. It will actually seat adults approaching six feet in reasonable comfort, as long as they're willing to climb back there. The longer Navigator L does not increase rear seat legroom, though it does add a few millimeters more hip and headroom.
Lincoln's power-folding rear seat is easy to use and can be handy. The seat is split, and operates with a pair of toggle switches just inside the power liftgate. Simply press one or both, and one or both seat halves fold flat to the load-floor level. We'd like it better if there were redundant switches on the dash, as there are for the rear sliding doors on a minivan, for example. And if the rear-seat headrests are up, the driver has to lean into (or climb into) the rear to manually release them before the power folding mechanism will work.
Cargo capacity for the Navigator L is 128.2 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats folded. For perspective, that's more space than the entire interior volume of most passenger vehicles. Moreover, the dimensions of the Navigator L's load floor are largest in the class, with enough space for 4×8 sheets of building material. Behind the third row of the Navigator L is 42.6 cubic feet of cargo space when the third-row seats are upright. That's considerably more than any other luxury sport-utility, and almost as much as in the typical mid-size wagon with its rear seats folded.
A cargo divider folds up out of the floor behind the seats and essentially splits the load area in half, which helps control cargo by limiting the space over which packages or bags might slide back and forth.
The Lincoln Navigator is very quiet inside for a truck, and generally quite smooth, almost placid. It's a full-size SUV, and if you tend to drive conservatively you will probably like this vehicle. Initially, the brake pedal feels a little soft, but it's very progressive in application and easy to master for smooth, even stops, despite a curb weight exceeding 6,000 pounds. With a little practice, the driver can avoid the fore-aft bobbing that can make motion-sensitive passengers feel car-sick.
The Navigator is full of noise-mitigating technology, including acoustically dampened glass in the windshield and side windows. The body boom familiar in vehicles that are essentially big steel boxes, which often comes across as pulses of air hitting the eardrums, is nearly eliminated in the Navigator. The quiet seems to emphasize noise generated by the tires, which is the only noticeable encroachment on the solitude inside.
The optional 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires are noisy; when not whacking over bumps and pavement joints, there's the steady hum of tread on the road surface. We like the appearance of larger wheels, but the price of style is high in the Navigator. We recommend the standard 18-inch wheels and higher-sidewall tires, which offer a smoother, quieter ride. The 18-inch wheels are better for towing and are better for rough terrain.
The Navigator is as smooth inside as any body-on-frame truck we've tested, and generally free of annoying vibration. The ride is smooth, too (except for the effect of the 20-inch wheels), thanks partly to the fully independent rear suspension. Moreover, the rear suspension helps keep the rear tires pressed to the pavement on bumpy surfaces, eliminating most of that skipping feeling familiar in trucks with solid rear axles. There's no axle tramping over bumps or undulations, and a reasonably smooth driver can keep the Navigator's body (and those inside) nice and level through turns.
Steering is on the heavy side, perhaps surprisingly so in this type of vehicle. The good news here is that, for tracking curves or changing lanes, the steering feels responsive, direct and reasonably quick. On the downside, in sharp, slow-speed turns, such as trying to whip into a parking space, the heavy steering feel can slow things down. By comparison, the steering in the Chevy Suburban feels too light and requires a lot of steering corrections in everyday driving.
Bottom line, the Navigator rides comfortably and handles competently in nearly every situation. Driving one hard in neighborhood traffic is inappropriate behavior, however, due to its size and weight. This vehicle is a lot of mass to move, so it can't stop as quickly or change directions as quickly as a lighter vehicle.
The Navigator's 5.4-liter single-overhead cam Triton V8 generates a maximum 310 horsepower, which is no longer particularly impressive by large SUV standards. The Triton delivers torque evenly, with similar thrust whether the engine is turning 1000 or 4000 rpm, and the six-speed automatic transmission is a definite plus. There's more than enough acceleration in the Navigator to merge safely or turn quickly across traffic, and it's probably quicker than what we considered a fairly quick car in the mid-1990s. Yet at the bottom line, the Navigator accelerates more slowly than just about any luxury sport-utility we've driven in the past few years.
The automatic transmission might be the best. It's smooth and responsive. The Navigator's six-speed comes from ZF of Germany, and it was the first of its kind in a full-size SUV. It performs almost exactly as we like, shifting up or down when we would if we were doing it with a gear-change and clutch, and almost never shifting inappropriately. It will hold a gear when going downhill, for example, maximizing engine braking and reducing the need to use the brakes.
While the Navigator has less power than some competitors, a combination of factors, including the transmission, give it excellent towing capacity of 8,500-9,000 pounds (depending on model). Moreover, its Triton V8 runs on 87-octane Regular, while nearly all the other vehicles in this class demand Premium fuel.
The Navigator is not an easy vehicle to park, and the rearview camera, which comes standard, is helpful for judging distances to the car behind and alerting the driver to unseen objects.
The Trailer Tow package is a must for anyone who tows. We've found the load-leveling air suspension works very well.
The Lincoln Navigator hits the most important marks for a full-size sport-utility vehicle. It's relatively smooth, quiet and huge both inside and out. It comes equipped with lots of safety features and nearly all the luxury bells and whistles. The Navigator's tow rating is among the highest in the class, and it runs on regular gasoline where nearly all others require premium. The base price is lower than most of its competitors, before dealer incentives, but its sister vehicle, the Ford Expedition, can be equipped with almost as much luxury at a lower price. Some will find the Navigator bland. Those who regularly transport lots of passengers and stuff, and those who tow heavy loads, should find it worthy.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent J.P. Vettraino reported from Detroit, with Kirk Bell in Chicago, and Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.