MM Full-Review: 2020 Lincoln Aviator

mmcartalk

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By multiple-request, a Review of the all-new 2020 Lincoln Aviator

https://www.lincoln.com/luxury-suvs/aviator/

IN A NUTSHELL: Worthy of a luxury-nameplate, but with a few cheap touches.

CLOSEST AMERICAN-MARKET COMPETITORS: Cadillac XT6, Mercedes GLE, BMW X5 (possibly X7 in some trims), Volvo XC90, Audi Q7, Lexus GX (and possibly some versions of the RX), Infiniti QX60, Range Rover Velar, Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Macan. Genesis has not announced pricing yet, but the upcoming GV80 will also probably be a competitor.

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OVERVIEW:

Lincoln's first SUV, the full-size Navigator, introduced in 1998, which was derived from the Ford Expedition platform (itself derived from the full-size F-150 body-on-frame truck), pretty much caught arch-rival Cadillac with its pants down. The Navigator was an instant hit with celebrities, professional athletes, and those with families, needing interior space, who wanted to flaunt their wealth or drive something that would exude class. I remember my first test-drive of the then-new Navigator. The salesperson that got the key for me told me he had sold two of them just the previous day.....one to a guy on the Washington Redskins (NFL) and another to a guy on the Washington Wizards (NBA). He told me the names, but I remember only one of them, and will refrain from the other for privacy reasons, even if he didn't.

Cadillac, of course, rushed though a hastily-done and unimpressive first-generation Escalade, and it got pasted by first-generation Navigator sales. But subsequent Escalades turned the tide, as they improved, became more refined and better-built, and subsequent Navigators more or less languished in comparison. Indeed, the Escalade became such a symbol of class and prestige (it was one of the few vehicles left with plenty of pure, old-fashioned American-Luxury Bling, inside and out) that it also became a magnet for car thieves. Indeed, in the "Bait-Car" TV series, police used a specially-rigged Escalade to deliberately attract car thieves and try and catch them in the act. Recently, though, a totally-redesigned Navigator, with vast improvements inside and out, has brought back much of the initial Navigator's prestige, and once, again, Cadillac's Escalade is overshadowed in comparison.

Lincoln also tried compact and mid-sized SUVs, such as the initial Aviator (based on the Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer), the MKC (a personal favorite of mine, though I was never impressed with its build quality), the MKX (the first-generation was too much of a Ford Edge...the second far better), and the awful-looking MKT, which, IMO, was a joke. For years, the brand languished in comparison to rivals. Though I never had much trouble with it myself, Lincoln's alphabet-soup naming system was confusing to a number of people...it certainly didn't help. And another thing which didn't help, at least, with the brand's image, was Ford's practice of shifting sales and service of the Lincoln brand into Ford/Lincoln dealerships instead of keeping Lincoln franchises independent. Previously, Lincolns had been sold together, with Mercurys, and those old Lincoln/Mercury dealerships were still available when Mercury was abolished..they could have been used as stand-alone Lincoln shops, but Ford's management wouldn't do it. So, today, Lincoln suffers some of the same problem Genesis does, as Genesis products are sold out of Hyundai dealerships.

Lincoln did, however, at least partly-address the Alphabet-soup naming problem. It renamed the MKX as the Nautilus, while making other improvements to the vehicle. The Navigator name was kept for the all-new full-size SUV last year. The MKC name is still in effect, though it will shortly be replaced by an all-new Corsair later this year.....one of the very few SUVs that I may (?) have a personal interest in. The awkward-looking MKT is still in the line-up, but my guess is that it won't be around much longer....it is the only remaining Lincoln SUV not to have gotten the nice-looking Jaguar-type grille/front-end and interior improvements. And, of course, the subject of this review....the all-new second-generation Aviator, which, as I write this, is already starting to reach dealerships in the D.C. area where I live.

Like some other Lincolns, the 2020 Aviator will come in four basic versions...Standard ($51,100), Reserve ($56,190), Grand Touring ($68,800), and the classy Black Label ($77,695). There is also a special Black Label Grand Touring version ($87,800). Black Label versions include special customer/dealer-perks that are not available on the lesser trims. All versions come with a 10-speed automatic with Sport/Select Shift with paddles. A 3.0L twin-turbocharged V6 of 400 HP and 415 ft-lbs. of torque is currently listed as standard in all versions, but there are plans to incorporate a plug-in Hybrid version with up to 450 HP and 600 ft-lbs, of torque. Standard and Reserve models have a choice of RWD or AWD...the others come with standard AWD. This is obviously not an inexpensive vehicle, and the pricing of some versions extends well into Navigator territory. You will also likely get larger discounts on the larger Navigator.

As usual, I looked over several different interiors, but, for the gist of the review, settled on one that looked like it would be typical of what the average Aviator customer would probably choose.....an AWD Reserve model with a modest number of options. It listed for a little under 62K, so even moderate bread-and-butter versions of the Aviator are not going to be inexpensive. The Reserve model, does, however, give you a lot of standard equipment for that significant price, including Premium Leather seats, not the fake stuff. For the actual test-drive, it was done on a different day, at a different dealership, with a Reserve AWD model similar to the principal one I used for the static review. The one I test-drove, however, appeared to be another Factory Program Vehicle, like the one I originally looked at several months ago....it had a window sticker with all of the data, but no official price-tag, and, on the sticker, was marked Not for Sale. Again, I don't know if it was my imagination, but (again) the fit/finish and hardware/trim quality on it seemed better and more solid than a (production) sample of the same vehicle, with the same options but a different color, sitting right next to it. Just seemed a little strange to me...but I'll let it go at that.

Anyhow, on with the review.


MODEL REVIEWED: 2020 Lincoln Aviator Reserve AWD

BASE PRICE: $58,700


OPTIONS:

Pristine White Pearl Paint: $695

Elements Package Plus: $1180

Locking Wheel Lug Nut Kit: $65

Floor Liners, First and Second Rows: $120


DESTINATION/FREIGHT: $1095 (about average for a vehicle of this size)

LIST PRICE AS REVIEWED: $61,855



DRIVETRAIN: AWD, Longitudinally-mounted 3.0L twin-turbo V6, 400 HP @ 5500 RPM / Torque 415 Ft-lbs. @ 3000 RPM, 10-speed Select/Sport-Shift automatic transmission with shift paddles.


EPA MILEAGE RATING: 17 City, 24 Highway, 20 Combined


EXTERIOR COLOR: Pristine White

INTERIOR: Sandstone Premium Leather





PLUSSES:


Strong powerplant.

Smooth, refined drivetrain.

Luxury-vehicle sound insulation/refinement.

Handsome (IMO) design inside and out.

Country-cub elegance.

A lot of standard equipment, even without expensive packages.

Soft-touch surfaces throughout the cabin.

Black Label versions, though expensive, include a lot of customer-perks.




MINUSES:


Some porpoising to a generally smooth ride.

(Some) of the paint jobs not quite up to snuff for the price.

Awkardly-designed engine Start/Stop button.

Tacky-looking mount for the video screen.

Awkward hood-release lever.

Munchkin third-row seats.

Underhood compartment could be better-designed.

Lincoln dealer-network rather limited...and shared with some Ford shops.





EXTERIOR:

As with every other newer Lincoln product today, the exterior of the 2020 Aviator is characterized by the nice-looking Jaguar-esque grille/front-end, which, IMO, style-wise, is one of the best things that the Ford (Jaguar?) stylists have ever come up with. Only the already-awkward-looking MKT still retains the old aero-wing look up front......and, though I have not seen anything final from Lincoln on the subject, my guess is that the MKT is on the way out.

Anyhow, the new Aviator is instantly recognizable as a Lincoln-family SUV, and, in some ways, looks like a downsized Navigator, although the Navigator has more trim on the outside and a slightly more squared-off roofline. I can't quite understand why (and perhaps some of it is, or was, just my imagination?), but, for whatever reason, the fit/finish of the pre-production Aviator I saw a few months ago, in the showroom (It had been brought in for a few days, for display purposes only, by a Ford factory-rep) seemed better than the production models, sitting on the lot, than I examined today. The doors closed with a more solid thunk, the sheet metal seemed more solid, and the panels seemed to fit better. Like I said though, perhaps it was either partly my imagination or the indoor-effect of sound, on bare-tile floors, amplifying the door-closing sounds and making them more thunk-like....that effect doesn't occur outside.

Standard and Reserve models get the usual SUV black-cladding around the vehicle lower-body and wheel-wells, and Grand Touring/Black Label models get body-color paint. I myself prefer the cladding, as it protects the lower-body from salt/road-debris damage, although I'll admit the painted lower body looks a little more classy. Instead of being a classic two-box design like the Ford Flex and its big-brother Lincoln Navigator, the Aviator's rear roofline droops slightly....not to a ridiculous extent like on the Land Rover Evoque with peep-slit rear windows, but just enough to be noticeable. The paint job is very good to excellent, depending on color (again, a little short of the pre-production model I saw)...but nonetheless very good overall. As on the Navigator, a total of ten different exterior colors are offered....but not all on all trim-levels. My favorites were the Blue Diamond and Crystal Copper (the copper, along with some other colors, is a $695 option).


UNDERHOOD:

To open the hood, one must pull the lever in the drivers' floor-well twice, just like on the new Ford Explorer.....and then, only after opening the drivers' door to expose the lever, since the closed door covers it up. Unlike the Explorer XLE, the underside of the hood appeared to have a nice insulation pad, and nice gas struts hold the hood up for you...no fumbling with a manual prop-rod. Also like the Explorer, a steel beam runs across the width of the compartment to add rigidity to the front end....but, weak enough that I could twist it some with my bare hands, even with arthritis in two of my fingers. The 3.0L twin-turbo V6 sits in a narrow, deep compartment, flanked by plastic covers on both sides, though the top of the engine itself is not covered, and allows relatively free access to top-engine components. Other things like dipsticks, fluid-reservoirs, and filler-caps, are also relatively easy to access.


INTERIOR:

The quite-nice interior of the Aviator is, more or less, a downsized version of that in the big Brother Navigator, though there are some differences in how the center-dash, door panels and air vents are done. As with the Navigator, four different interior colors are available....though not necessarily on all trim levels. And, as with the exterior, the interior hardware, for some reason, did not feel quite as rock-solid as the very impressive pre-production model I saw a few months ago, but it was far from chintzy, and, yes, impressive non the least...I am certainly not complaining about it. This is still a posh-enough interior that you can drive to the country club and fit right in. The Black-Label-grade interior, not surprisingly, is noticeably more posh-looking than the lower-trim versions, but that is still saying a lot for even the base-level interior, which is head and shoulders above its Ford-Explorer cousin. Even in the base version, nice soft-touch surfaces abound almost everywhere, and much of the hardware and radio-speakers are trimmed and covered in nice metallic aluminum. The sun-visors have a nice thick-fabric covering (no cheap hard plastic here). The electronic inside door-release buttons are cleverly mounted just below the built-in hand-grips, right where your thumb naturally falls when gripping them....an excellent design. Rich-looking finishes are applied to the dash, console, and door panels, particularly in Black Label versions. The relatively high roofline, with only minimal droop-down in the rear, allows generally good headroom, front and rear. Legroom in the second-row seat is decent, though, of course, dependent on how you have those seats (and the front seats) adjusted. The stereo sound quality, though not the absolute best I've sampled, is first-rate, as expected in a vehicle of this class.

Not all is perfect inside, though, and a few of what IMO are annoyances were brought over from the new Ford Explorer, which, of course, the Aviator shares a platform with. One of those annoyances is the awkward engine start/stop button mounted on top of the dash, which you push down with your finger instead of forward. It is not quite as awkward as in the Explorer, though, since it is clear on top of the dash, and not in a hole/crevasse under the air vent like on the Explorer, where you must stick your finger in first and then push down. The second is the (IMO) poorly-designed pull-lever for the hood-release. The drivers' door covers it on the front door-jamb when it is shut, and, to release the hood, you open the door and pull on the lever twice. The third is the tacked-on look of the center-dash video-screen housing. I didn't like those features on the Explorer, and don't like them on the Aviator either. And the third-row seats are designed for Munchkins....more on that below. But, I realize that may just be nit-picking....overall, like the Navigator, this is a classy interior, and Lincoln gets a lot of credit for it.





CARGO COMPARTMENT/TRUNK:

The cargo-compartment is generally roomy, and the rear roofline, though bending down very slightly, still allows a decent amount of cargo space. With the small third-row seats up, especially on the Black Label version, don't expect to carry more than children or very small adults there.....these are not the roomiest third-row seats on the market, nor are they the most accessible. The seats, of course, power-fold down for more cargo room. The cargo area is well-trimmed with nice materials, as befits a Lincoln. Two strong metal tie-down rings are built into the lower side-walls.....chrome-finished rings on the Black Babel version, and painted black on some others. The floor-carpeting feels nice, there is a nice, lined, lower-compartment under the floorboard, and, under that, the temporary spare tire.



ON THE ROAD:

Fire up the twin-turbo V6 with the same awkward push-down button as in the Explorer (except that the Lincoln version has a brushed-metal finish and is not quite so awkward to reach), and the engine comes to life with the smoothness and refinement expected of a vehicle in this class. On the road, my test-drive was slowed somewhat by dense traffic, residential streets, with only a relatively small amount of time in clear, unobstructed conditions. But, nevertheless, even with these conditions, the general weight of this vehicle, and the additional heft and drag of the AWD system, it was apparent that this powerplant, and the added efficiency of the new 10-speed automatic co-developed wth GM, had more than enough spunk for virtually all normal driving. The Select-Shift automatic shifted smoothly, whether in manual mode (with the paddles...there is no programmed Manual mode with the shift-buttons), or in full-automatic...and, of course, there was a gear available for almost condition one could think of. The drive-mode rotary-switch, on the console, brings up not only the mode itself in the dash-panel in front of the driver, but a colorful image with it for illustration. "Excite" mode takes the place of what is "Sport" mode in most vehicles, and there is no Comfort Mode to speak of....you simply use Normal. There are also modes for snow, sand, off-roading, etc.....

The chassis is generally well-done, and my only complaint was a (very slight) back/forth porposing motion to the ride...something I used to notice on trucks and SUVs years ago, but has been eliminated from most of them today. But it did not really disturb the ride that much, and the basic comfort over bumps was good by SUV standards, even with large 22-inch wheels and relatively low-profile tires. Lincoln engineers recommend an odd pressure-combination for the tires (32 front, 38 rear, cold), but it seems to work for most driving. Steering response was decently quick for an SUV (perhaps very slightly quicker in Excite mode, almost unnoticeable), although there was some body roll from the high center of gravity. Brakes were smooth and effective (some of the smoothest I've sampled in awhile), and the brake pedal, though not quite ideally-located for by big-size-15 shoe to go from gas to brake without a hang-up, was generally in a good spot.



THE VERDICT:

Though this vehicle is done on the new RWD Ford Explorer platform, it is, IMO, head-and shoulders above the Explorer in almost every way except a few interior design issues, which it either copies or partly-copies...I've already explained most of them. In general, it competes very well with the competition I have sampled, though I have not sampled some the latest Cadillac SUVs, and it will be interesting to see how the Lincoln Navigator, Aviator (and the upcoming Corsair) do against the Cadillac XT6, XT5, and XT4. Even with its few faults, the Aviator is, IMO, worthy of a luxury-vehicle nameplate badge, though, of course, it also comes with a luxury-vehicle price, particularly in the Black Label versions. Yes, you shell out some cash for this vehicle.....but, particularly in the lower-line trim versions, you get what you pay for.

And, as always......Happy SUV-Shopping.🙂

MM
 
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mmcartalk

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And I just watched this yesterday:
Yes, I saw that video. I respect Doug's views, but I don't totally agree with him on this one. I think, with the Aviator, he let himself get carried away by his emotions, and was not entirely objective.
 

mikeavelli

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Saw one Sunday. First time I've ever seen a Lincoln booth at Caffiene & Octane or anywhere not an auto show. The new Aviator is gorgeous inside and out. Also has factory air (or this one did). 82k was the list price I saw. Outside of being a badge whore, it was superior to the Q7, MDX etc etc. What a vehicle.
 

mmcartalk

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Saw one Sunday. First time I've ever seen a Lincoln booth at Caffiene & Octane or anywhere not an auto show. The new Aviator is gorgeous inside and out. Also has factory air (or this one did). 82k was the list price I saw. Outside of being a badge whore, it was superior to the Q7, MDX etc etc. What a vehicle.
At 82K, it was probably a Black Label version.

Also has factory air (or this one did).
Not sure I follow you on this one, Mike. What doesn't have factory A/C nowadays?
 
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Yes, I saw that video. I respect Doug's views, but I don't totally agree with him on this one. I think, with the Aviator, he let himself get carried away by his emotions, and was not entirely objective.
He saw a lot of 'quirks and features'
 

Ian Schmidt

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So, about the Aviator's quality...
“It wasn’t more than 24 hours since I drove it off the lot that I had my first problem — a leaky sunroof,” she said. “A week or so later, it was seat belts that didn’t work, and now it has been in the shop for nearly a week for computer malfunctions which had my crash detection set off when driving on a quiet road. The parking brake came on while driving, and a major transmission fault alarm went off. When they were fixing it, the seat controls went.”

Consumer Reports' test unit has a digital dash where the speedo and tach show random numbers. I think Ford needs an exorcist.
 

mmcartalk

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So, about the Aviator's quality...



Consumer Reports' test unit has a digital dash where the speedo and tach show random numbers. I think Ford needs an exorcist.

I hope the Corsair doesn't have the same QC problems...so far, it seems to have had some minor teething-issues, but not to the same extent as the Aviator. I truly like the Corsair, and could actually see myself in one....though, in general, I'm not an SUV man.

I did mention, in the review, that, IMO, the actual production Aviators I saw did not seem as solidly-built as that very impressive pre-production one I saw several months ago.
 
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I hope the Corsair doesn't have the same QC problems...so far, it seems to have had some minor teething-issues, but not to the same extent as the Aviator. I truly like the Corsair, and could actually see myself in one....though, in general, I'm not an SUV man.

I did mention, in the review, that, IMO, the actual production Aviators I saw did not seem as solidly-built as that very impressive pre-production one I saw several months ago.
Workers be like "Hold my beer"
 
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