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The Lincoln Aviator Is the Best American Luxury Car in a Generation

The Aviator finishes the job that Lincoln started with the new Continental and Navigator.

© Mack Hogan   The Aviator finishes the job that Lincoln started with the new Continental and Navigator.

By Mack Hogan, Road & Track

One year ago, I drove a Lincoln Navigator Black Label. Imposing, smooth, opulent. Part of me thought that Lincoln—of all companies—had built a better luxury vehicle than the Mercedes S-Class. For $30,000 less you could have just as much comfort, more space, and far more approachable technology. But it was rough around the edges, not the all-around stunner that the Mercedes was and is. A couple of years later, though, I'm wondering if Lincoln might just have bested Mercedes, with an even cheaper product.

When the Aviator bowed, I already knew it had a shot at really delivering on what Lincoln promised. Three major issues hold back the Navigator: its body-on-frame construction makes it less of a high-speed, buttoned-down luxury cruiser; the driver-assist tech is a generation behind other luxury flagships; and some details feel a little too close to what you'd find on a Ford. The Aviator, with its unibody architecture, Co-Pilot 360 semi-autonomous driver's aids, and relentless attention to detail, seems to solve all of that.

© Mack Hogan   2020 lincoln aviator grand touring rear

If the Navigator's biggest problem is that it tries to match, not beat, other luxury flagships, the Aviator's boundless ambition sets a great precedent for the brand. Look at the styling. To my eye, this is the first SUV since 2013 to match the current Range Rover's elegance and athleticism, with even more intricate detailing. The Aviator beat the rest of the luxury crossover field in offering smartphone-as-key capability (Tesla offers it on the Model 3 and promises it on other models "soon"). Its adaptive suspension uses cameras to adjust to the road ahead, tech usually reserved for S-Class-level vehicles. Even the Aviator's door chime is better than the competition's, composed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to be delicate, not grating.

These new achievements join an already broad slate of Lincoln core competencies. The "perfect position" seats, though finicky and overly adjustable, are sublime once you find the perfect position. The audio system is best-in-class, handily beating anything BMW, Mercedes, or even Volvo will sell you. (Ultra-high end Meridian gear in top-spec Range Rovers still has the Lincoln beat, but that's damned good company to keep.) The ride is sublime and the cabin is whisper quiet.

© Mack Hogan   2020 lincoln aviator grand touring

Oh, that cabin. It is unquestionably one of the best on sale. It's got the stunning wow-factor of a Volvo or Mercedes, but it's far more usable than either. Physical controls are laid out clearly, with an easy and simple touchscreen handling more complicated tasks. The software is a half-step behind the best in the business, but Lincoln is proving that you can make a gorgeous cockpit that's usable and attractive.

Those keeping track of luxury car best practices will recognize that Lincoln has nailed just about every one. The key stuff—the seats, the ride, the interior—was solved in the first generation of new Lincoln products. But as the reborn company matures, the Aviator represents the company paying attention to the details. No longer content to be very good, Lincoln is shooting for best-in-the-business.

© Mack Hogan   2020 lincoln aviator grand touring

It's still possible for Lincoln to miss. The ambition is charming but, in the powertrain department, ultimately wasted. The company's attempt at a high-performance hybrid is admirable, but the fact is, very few companies can make an electrified drivetrain good enough for a top-shelf luxury car pushing a hundred grand. Even Toyota struggles with this—the company that made "hybrid" a household word.

In the Aviator's case, a twin-turbo V-6, an electric motor, and a ten-speed transmission are too much for the software to work out. Between the laggy engine response and the constant shifting of power inputs, the Aviator Grand Touring (Lincoln's name for the hybrid) is rarely as smooth as you want it to be. If the battery is fully charged and you're operating in pure EV mode, it's great, but as soon as you call the gas engine into duty it becomes a mess. A luxury vehicle that you can't drive smoothly isn't much of a luxury vehicle at all.

© Mack Hogan   2020 lincoln aviator grand touring engine

So the simple solution is to skip the Grand Touring option altogether. The twin-turbo V-6 alone makes 400 hp. It's not the 494 of the hybrid, but it's a predictable and smooth way to motivate a heavy luxury crossover. And that'll help save you some money, since the other major drawback of the Aviator is that it is not a budget option. Lincoln is building a world-class product, which means it's charging prices in line with other world-class cars. A top-trim Aviator Black Label starts at $77,695. That's deep into Mercedes GLE territory. But that's not a dealbreaker for one simple reason: the Aviator is easily the better car. Just don't get the hybrid.

© Mack Hogan   2020 lincoln aviator grand touring

See more at: Road & Track

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Autos Magazine: The Lincoln Aviator Is the Best American Luxury Car in a Generation
The Lincoln Aviator Is the Best American Luxury Car in a Generation
The Aviator finishes the job that Lincoln started with the new Continental and Navigator.
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