Lincoln has been struggling for years like a one-armed barista fresh out of java. It’s no secret Lincoln has been looking for a new identity, a new look and hoping to regain its footing in the luxury car market.
Finally, it seems to have arrived, but not with cars, with sport-utility vehicles named Aviator and Corsair. I tested the Corsair earlier this year and found it a solid entry in the mid-size SUV market. Now comes the Aviator that soars to the upper reaches of SUV luxury, in looks, features and price.
Outside, Aviator is a blend of sophistication and sleek lines without the gaudy chrome explosion of earlier models, especially its cars. Think Town Car and old-time Continental.
But it’s the hush quiet interior, beautiful fit and finish of its fine leather interior and the technical doodads and safety equipment that put this near the pinnacle of luxury SUVs. If you like Lexus and Land Rover, add Lincoln to your shopping list.
Aviator starts with 8.6 inches of ground clearance in case you want to go off-roading, and the tested Reserve trim with AWD certainly is capable of slopping about. It has four drive modes from Normal to Excite (sporty) along with Slippery and Deep for icy or muddy situations. All that is easily dialed in on the console.
Yet it’s more likely you’ll be traipsing around suburbia with the family or pulling a boat and trailer to the lake home with this large ute. In either case you’ll do so with power and comfort.
The gas engine is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that churns 400 horses via a smooth-shifting 10-speed electronic automatic transmission. It’ll tow 6,700 pounds. And gas mileage is a reasonable (for its size) 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway says the EPA. I got 20.1 mpg in a mix of the two.
If you prefer better fuel economy Lincoln also offers a plug-in hybrid version, the Grand Touring model, which adds an electric motor to help push power to 494 horses and torque to a massive 630 lb.-ft. Mileage is 54 mpge city and 58 mpge with the hybrid. Being a plug-in, the mileage drops back to gas-only type numbers once the charge expires.
Ride and handling are exactly what one would expect in a large luxury ute with a 119.1-inch wheelbase. Ride? Well-controlled with potholes mostly a minor distraction and handling is quite good for a large ute. Aviator turns into corners well with modest body lean, feeling well controlled at all times.
Yet there is the Excite setting to firm all this up and help you fantasize you’re in Lamborghini. It does help that (with an active imagination), but I found the steering effort to be way too tight for long driving stints and the ride becomes much firmer too, not a good thing on crumbling Midwest roads and highways. Stick with Normal mode unless you are into slop or slush, then choose wisely from the other modes.
Lincoln is happy to point out its fancy new adaptive suspension system that helps it adjust for those nasty potholes. It uses front vision cameras to see the holes and to adjust the suspension accordingly. That works well in Normal mode. The Dynamic Handling package that includes this suspension system along with AirGlide damping and adaptive steering adds $3,000 to the luxury ute’s bottom line.
There’s also smart cruise control, known as Co-Pilot 360 Plus, a semiautonomous system that helps keep the car in its lane on the highway, where it is best put to use. This was easy to use and felt close to natural without the ping-ponging effect between highway lane markers found in some systems.
If none of this impresses you, Sheldon, well consider Aviator’s plush interior.
This is among the quietest leather farms I’ve plunked down in this year and is beautifully finished. There was a brown over tan leather dash and doors along with perforated heated and cooled leather seats in the first two rows. The huge armrest/storage box between the front seats was slathered in enough tan leather to shame a rodeo, while the dash and door controls were trimmed in piano black gloss while door speakers were a jeweled chrome. The console was covered in a textured black plastic with a wood look stack. My only complaint was the reflectiveness of the console’s trim.
Everything felt and looked great and the interior is roomy with captain’s chairs for the second-row riders and power folding third row seats. Put the second row far forward and you could even slip adults in row three. That doesn’t happen all the time. Power controls for that third row are in back to the side of the power hatch. Plus there’s storage under the floor and the cargo area is generous.
The transmission here is push-button, right under the center air vents and above the stack and console. Takes some getting used to. Also you’ll need to tell riders there’s a push button door release too, which is not real obvious until you use it a time or two. I like the big infotainment screen that was easy to use, plus there are volume and tuning knobs to simplify use. I did not fine a wireless phone charger, but there are plenty of plugs for front and rear seat occupants to hook into.
Above a panoramic sunroof covers the first two rows of seats and the seats themselves are extremely comfy, the front two seats having multi-function controls on the door panels to make adjustment easy. The driver’s seat has 30-adjustments possible and both front seats even include extendable lower cushions for long-legged drivers, oh, and power headrests. The first two rows are heated and cooled too, part of a giant $11,625 package that includes everything but your mother’s maiden name.
Well, it includes the sunroof ($1,250 extra on its own), giant 22-inch tires and alloy wheels, a trailer towing and illumination package (LED headlights that bend around corners and more), plus Luxury and Elements package. Those later two include the heated and cooled seats, heated wipers, the audiophile pleasing 28-speaker Quantum Logic sound system, rear seat audio controls, Revel Ultima 3D radio, Perfect Position seats and the 30-way adjustable driver’s seat.
That makes for a pricier vehicle, but if you’re after all-out luxury this all-out delivers. The radio alone is fabulous as are the seat add-ons. Yes, there are memory settings for the seats.
A Convenience package costing $2,200 also adds soft-close doors, a head-up display and wireless charger. I’d want the charger, but that’s not worth $2,200 extra even with the unnecessary features thrown in.
Standard (yes, a lot is standard) includes a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel that powers away when the ignition is off, remote start, rain-sensing wipers, 360-degree camera, keyless keypad, quad-zone climate controls, ambient interior lighting, outside approach lamps, power hatch, auto-fold sideview mirrors, and a load of safety equipment.
That includes the likes of lane-keeping assist, smart cruise, blind-spot detection, automatic high beams and more.
A few nits to pick here, the large A-pillars that so many utes have and this one’s instrument screen kept warning that my headlight system was amiss and needed to be reset. Headlights are not just a button or switch anymore.
Now at $59,795 with delivery the Aviator is well into the luxury SUV market, but at its base, $51,000, is less than many competitors. After all the goodies were ladled onto this one it hit $75,120, way into the luxury segment, although there are higher trim levels. But then again, this one had virtually every add-on and luxury feature a country club golfer could want.
And if that golfer’s wants include better gas mileage, the plug-in hybrid model starts at $69,895.
For us middlers it’s hard to imagine such pricing, but large luxury utes are big sellers and big profit producers for the automakers. Now, Lincoln is back in the game.
Hits: Luxurious, super quiet, roomy SUV with good power, ride and handling, plus AWD. Third row seat, power tilt/telescope wheel, giant sunroof, exceptional power seats, heat/cool front and second row seats, multiple drive modes and adaptable suspension. Awesome stereo, beautiful fit and finish, plus a full load of safety equipment.
Misses: Thick A-pillars, headlight system warning, Excite mode makes steering too tight and ride too firm, plus reflective center console.
Made In: Chicago, Ill.
Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, 400 hp
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Weight: 4,732 lbs.
Wheelbase: 119.1 in.
Length: 199.3 in.
Cargo: 18.3/41.8/77.7 cu.ft.
Tow: 6,700 lbs.
MPG: 17/24, 20.1 (tested)
Base Price: $59,795 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Group 202A (Elements pkg., Co-Pilot 360 Plus pkg., panoramic sunroof, 22-inch Mach alloy wheels, Luxury pkg., Illumination pkg., Class IV trailer tow pkg.), $11,625
Convenience pkg. (soft-close doors, head-up display, wireless charger), $2,200
Dynamic handling pkg. (adaptive suspension, AirGlide suspension, adaptive steering), $3,000
Test Vehicle: $75,120
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.