The Car Connection Lincoln Navigator Overview
The Lincoln Navigator helped create the full-size luxury sport-utility category. Lincoln's biggest, most expensive vehicle to date, the Navigator was introduced in the 1998 model year, before the Cadillac Escalade—though since then, the Escalade has sold far more examples than the Lincoln.
The long-running Navigator sits at the top of Lincoln's SUV lineup, above the MKT and MKX crossover SUVs, and the new MKC compact crossover.
Today, the Navigator's main competitor is still the Cadillac Escalade, while the GMC Yukon Denali, Chevrolet Suburban, Infiniti QX80, Lexus LX, Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class—and perhaps even the Mercedes G-Class—can be considered competitors as well.
MORE: Read our 2016 Lincoln Navigator review
The new Lincoln Navigator
The latest Lincoln Navigator represents a major refresh on what had become an aging utility vehicle. Fuel economy has risen, thanks to a new EcoBoost (turbocharged and direct-injected) V-6 engine that's been subbed in for the V-8 across the model line, and front-end styling joins the latest Lincoln design themes—although the rest of the body remains largely the same as it's been since 2007.
The heavy update that came for 2015 carries over unchanged for 2016, and it keeps the Navigator in its third generation. Until this point, the big Lincoln SUV has been powered by one engine, a 5.4-liter V-8, paired with an automatic transmission and a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. The package has also included seating for seven, a leather-lined interior, and Lincoln styling to differentiate it from its near-twin, the Ford Expedition.
The new EcoBoost V-6 makes 380 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque—more than the V-8 on both counts—and the Navigator now includes standard magnetic ride control with continuous damping. Inside, the instrument panel has been refreshed, and the Navigator at last includes the latest version of MyFord Touch, plus a blind-spot monitoring system with cross-traffic alert, and a revised feature set. Gas mileage numbers are up to 16 mpg city, 22 highway, 18 combined with rear-wheel drive.
The Navigator continues to be offered in both Navigator and Navigator L versions, with the L adding 12 inches of wheelbase as well as almost 14 inches of length. It doesn't make the third row all that much more spacious, but it's at least easier to get to, and there is more space for cargo behind the rearmost seats.
The Navigator has always been closely related to the Ford Expedition SUV, with both of them derived from the Ford F-150 truck chassis. That's no longer the case: today's F-150 is built on a new frame with aluminum body panels, while the Expedition and Navigator roll on a frame derived from the last steel-bodied F-Series.
Lincoln Navigator history
In its first generation, which included the 1998-2002 model years, the Navigator gained instant status among celebrities, athletes, and music stars for its urbane touches and its tough ability. SUVs were popular, gas was cheap, and the chrome-crusted Navigator hit an upscale demographic right on target. Its 230-hp V-8 teamed with a 4-speed automatic for uninspiring acceleration, and handling rated along the same lines—with even its off-road ability ignored in favor of wood trim, high-powered audio systems, and rear-seat LCD screens with DVD players. Power rose to 300 hp through the years, and the Navigator added side airbags, reverse parking sensors, and an optional navigation system to its equipment list.
For the second-generation Navigator—sold in the 2003-2006 model years—Ford spent ample time on the SUV's styling and safety. The new Navigator received a larger grille, a better integrated look with smoother sheet metal, and a new interior with twin binnacles, soft white instrument lighting and satin-nickel and matte wood trim. Curtain airbags were added, and the third-row seat and tailgate both added power controls. The biggest improvement came in ride quality and packaging: a new independent rear suspension opened more cargo space in back, and softened the Navigator's trucky ride. In its final years, this Navigator also upgraded to a six-speed automatic and to stability control with anti-roll technology.
Introduced as a 2007 model, the third generation also comes in a long-wheelbase Navigator L edition with even more cargo room—better to take on the Cadillac Escalade ESV and Chevrolet Suburban. The uniquely American-inflected styling remains, and it's a less brash, more evocative set of details than you'll find in the outright glitzy Escalade—especially inside. At the beginning of the third generation, power still came from the 310-hp V-8 and was channeled through a six-speed automatic--and so outfitted the Navigator got a tow rating of 9,100 pounds. Handling was SUV-sized but fine, and the ride quality was good, though we wished there were less road noise and more speed payoff for the big, torquey V-8.
For 2012, the sideview mirrors got new integrated spotter mirrors, and Lincoln added AppLink, a system that lets the Navigator control mobile apps like Pandora with built-in Bluetooth and voice commands.