What hasn’t changed about the 2018 Lincoln Navigator is this: It’s still gigantic. Lincoln lists the shortest and lightest version of this body-on-frame beast at 210.0 inches long and one offensive tackle shy of three tons hefty. The long-wheelbase Navigator L with all-wheel drive comes in at 221.9 inches and well over 6000 pounds. Ford builds some Super Duty pickups and commercial trucks that are heavier, and during World War II it knocked out four-engine B-24 bombers to defeat fascism, so this isn’t the biggest Ford product ever. But it sure isn’t small.
And, like Ford’s F-series light- and heavy-duty pickups and the B-24, this new Navigator features a body made mostly of aluminum. The switch from steel body construction saves about 200 pounds over the 2017 version, depending on model, Lincoln says. And that’s despite fractional growth in most dimensions over its predecessor, which was introduced in 2007.
Still, three tons isn’t lithe. And Lincoln has done nothing to minimize the three-row, seven- or eight-seat Navigator’s epic scale. The grille remains massive, although it’s now squarish with a recessed mesh of Lincoln-logo-shaped holes backed by active shutters for aerodynamic efficiency. The rest of the body is still designed to project an imposing presence wherever it goes. It looks good in a sleek and brutalist sort of way, but it may be impossible to make a box this big look truly elegant. And an imposing presence is likely what ’Gator buyers want anyhow.
Some elements present a more contemporary appearance than before. The Navigator’s sides are defined by a slick crease running just below the beltline that ties everything together, and black B- and C-pillars make the greenhouse look more unified. The whole thing appears less clunky and slab-sided than the one we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the past decade.
Still a Big Truck
Lincoln hasn’t allowed this vehicle to devolve into a crossover of any sort. There’s a full steel ladder frame under all that aluminum, and the suspension system is more truck in concept than wimpy car. This is not quite the simple job of slapping an SUV body atop a pickup-truck chassis, though, because the Navigator, along with its blue-collar sibling, the Ford Expedition, adopted independent rear suspension back in 2003. The nose rides on massive control arms quite similar to an F-150’s, but the rear employs a multilink setup that delivers better-controlled ride motions and packaging advantages over its archrival, the Cadillac Escalade. That’s right—almost two decades into the 21st century and the Escalade continues to have a solid log between its two rear wheels.
Back in 2015, Lincoln replaced the Navigator’s V-8 engine with Ford’s first-generation twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6. Lincoln doesn’t use the Ford brand’s EcoBoost label, but it’s a version of the same engine that is used in Ford trucks, including the F-150 and the Expedition. In the Navigator, Lincoln has rated the latest V-6 at 450 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 510 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm, the same output the 3.5 generates in the mighty F-150 Raptor. That’s 70 horsepower and 50 lb-ft more than was produced by the similar engine in the 2017 Navigator, with both peaks coming 250 rpm higher than before.
In normal use, however, the V-6 will never operate near 5500 rpm. The sole transmission offered is the 10-speed automatic co-developed with General Motors and also used in other Ford trucks and in cars such as the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and the 2018 Ford Mustang. The point of a transmission with so many gears is to keep the engine running as slowly as possible at all times; minimizing revs reduces fuel consumption. Three-ton trucks don’t have much else working in their favor, economy-wise.
As it is, the new Navigator merits an EPA city fuel-economy rating of 16 mpg—that’s with either wheelbase and either two- or four-wheel drive. The EPA estimates 23 mpg on the highway for the standard 122.5-inch-wheelbase rear-driver, dropping to 21 with all-wheel drive. The rear- and all-wheel-drive L models with a 131.6-inch wheelbase are highway rated at 22 and 21 mpg. Our experiences with Ford EcoBoost engines temper our faith that the EPA numbers can be matched by ordinary drivers—any trace of aggression in throttle application sucks fuel.
The 2018 Navigator is available in four trim levels ranging from the short-wheelbase, rear-wheel-drive $73,250 Premiere, which rides on 20-inch wheels, through the Select and Reserve models on 22s, up to the Black Label, which also gets 22s. An all-wheel-drive, long-wheelbase Black Label L starts at $98,100. Hit the options list aggressively and a Black Label L will easily vault past $100K. Like General Motors, then, Ford doesn’t seem shy about asking the same money you’d pay for a Mercedes-Benz GLS450.
Luxury Doled out in Increments
The Navigator’s interior décor is reminiscent of a Hilton Garden Inn at the Premiere level, gets kind of Marriott-like as you rise into Select and Reserve trims, then goes all Ritz-Carlton at Black Label. The design itself feels a bit trapped between traditional luxury cues—thick-bolstered seats and wood trim in most models—and the emerging minimalism of touchscreens in the center for entertainment systems and another screen containing the speedometer and vehicle monitors in front of the driver.
The speedometer appears as a subdued ghost against the screen’s black plane, illuminating only those numbers around the vehicle’s speed. Then again, there may be other ways to configure the instrumentation that we didn’t have time to explore during our initial drive. There are depths to the technology that will push the learning curve beyond a few hours’ exposure.
In the lower-level models, the wood veneer is impeccable. Much of the woodgrain comes from single pieces of tree, and the gloss on them looks rich and deep. But leather quality varies from surface to surface, and the door panels are topped with a vinyl wrap that feels cheap. Only the Black Label gets a true leather wrap atop that surface; everything in that truck feels a notch higher.
Of course, all sorts of screen-based entertainment systems are available. And there’s an onboard Wi-Fi network backed up with fast-charging USB ports to keep everyone’s devices on full zap. But the most lavish options are 30-way adjustable seats that include heating, cooling, and massage functions. The first 2018 Black Label that someone totals in a crash, we’re swiping the front seats out of it and putting them in front of the 70-inch big-screen TV down in our basement.
Seven or eight people can stretch out comfortably in a Navigator no matter what the wheelbase. But—whether equipped with the standard bench or the optional captain’s chairs in the second row—the extended L models offer both better access to the third row and enough room behind it to actually carry eight people’s worth of stuff, too.
Beyond that, the second- and third-row seats fold at the touch of rear-mounted switches to produce a flat load space. “I could sleep back there,” one journalist said enthusiastically at the launch event. We may be going out on a limb here, but we imagine that people who can afford new Navigators don’t need to sleep in them.
An Object in Motion
Press the start button and the twin-turbo V-6 settles into an almost silent idle. Blip the throttle and there’s a satisfying rasp from the exhaust, but it’s subdued and unobtrusive. Gear selection is accomplished with a series of large buttons beneath the center LCD screen. Those buttons are integrated into the dash in a way that makes them easy to overlook at first, but acclimation comes quickly.
What is obvious is that the V-6 is almost as responsive here as it is in the F-150 Raptor. The Navigator may be massive, but it moves like Dick Butkus in his heyday. The last jumbo Lincoln SUV that C/D tested was a 2016 Navigator L 4×4 equipped with the 380-hp version of the twin-turbo V-6 and a six-speed automatic transmission. It hit 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds at 92 mph. That’s steaming for a truck that weighed in at 6361 pounds. The 2018 version is lighter, has more power and more gears, and should be a bit quicker. We’ll have to wait until we get to test one to see if it can break into the high fives in the 60-mph dash, as can an Escalade or a Mercedes GLS450. We think it could do better than that, actually.
Every vehicle in this rarefied category carries enough technology to manage the Department of Veterans Affairs and has climate controls more advanced than those of the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. What the Navigator has working most to its advantage is how well it drives. The steering is precise if not particularly communicative, the suspension is aided by an excellent roll-stability system, and the adaptive dampers found on higher-trim versions work great. The big 285/45R-22 tires stay planted, tread to pavement, even when the truck is diving into corners like a three-ton Mustang GT.
With running boards and only modest ground clearance, the Navigator is not built for extreme off-road duty, but when it comes to pulling a horse trailer out of a muddy paddock? It will do the job.
While the rest of the Lincoln line was being renamed with various letters, the Navigator remained a Navigator. Now there’s a Continental, too. Those model names are probably stronger lures for buyers than is the Lincoln marque itself at this point, just as Escalade carries more weight than Cadillac. It’s fair to assume that this big, ridiculously comfortable truck is among the most profitable things that the Ford Motor Company builds. It was overdue for replacement. And the automaker didn’t screw it up.