2012 Lincoln Navigator Review

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Nelson Ireson Nelson Ireson Senior Editor
January 24, 2012

Lavish and large, the 2012 Lincoln Navigator is luxury, American-style, but its powertrains are a step behind those of the competition.

Standing as one of the few stalwarts of the old guard of full-size SUVs, the stately Lincoln Navigator carries a full load of passengers readily, yet just as easily takes on the truck-like duties of towing.

As a truck-based SUV, the Lincoln Navigator hasn't seen a need to change its appearance much over the years. It retains its tall, boxy, body-on-frame makeup and its heavy dose of chromed trim. Instantly recognizable and even iconic among some subcultures, the Navigator's styling cues remain true to the brand's heritage, with some elements traceable all the way back to the 1960s station wagon era. Not everyone will love the Navigator's bold look, but others will find it to be exactly what they're after. The same holds true inside, with retro-themed gauges and styling that still gets the job of conveying information done smartly.

Whether you choose the standard Navigator or the longer-wheelbase Navigator L, you'll get a 5.4-liter V-8 engine rated for 310 horsepower and your choice of two- or four-wheel drive. Both Navigators are able towers, rated for 9,100 pounds. Once you add in the Navigator's own 6,200-pound curb weight, however, a full load on the trail can put a strain on the engine, especially in comparison to modern heavy-duty trucks with similar towing capacities. Nevertheless, the transmission is up to snuff, shifting easily and keeping engine revs low.

Review continues below

Handling is about what you'd expect of a large SUV: it's stable and solid, but there's plenty of body motion and nosedive in quick maneuvers and stops. Four-wheel independent suspension smooths out the ride and makes the most of the Navigator's abilities, however.

Inside, the 2012 Lincoln Navigator is more upscale than its close corporate cousin, the Ford Expedition. Noise insulation, higher-grade materials and more touchable finishes make the Navigator a true luxury-grade vehicle. A few small exceptions to the quality feel are the hard plastic trim elements, chrome-painted plastics, and sometimes cheap-feeling switchgear. Despite the small downside, there's not shortage of handy small storage spaces or cupholders.

Seating is comfortable and roomy throughout the Navigator, though the Navigator L offers better access to the third-row seats thanks to its 14.7-inch longer wheelbase. Some of the Navigator L's extra length also expands its cargo capacity, though both models offer plenty of room for the average family.

When it comes to features and available equipment, the Navigator lives up to its exterior promise: plenty of space for plenty of stuff. The 2012 Navigator even offers a dash of high tech courtesy of the SYNC infotainment system, which includes Sirius Travel Link, voice-activated control of climate and navigation, and real-time traffic and weather searches. New for 2012, the SYNC system in the Navigator also features AppLink, which enables voice control of select smartphone apps.

Along with the SYNC system, HD Radio and power-deployable running boards are also standard. Other interesting features include a rearview camera system, rain-sensing wipers, capless fuel filling, Front Park Assist, heated second-row seats.

When it comes to safety, you might think the size of the Navigator alone would lend itself to near-invulnerability, but the two-wheel drive versions of the Navigator only score three out of five stars in the NHTSA's rollover rating. Four-wheel-drive models rate four out of five stars, however. Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has published crash test ratings for the 2012 Lincoln Navigator. For 2012 the Navigator adds standard integrated spotter mirrors to improve safety when maneuvering the vehicle in tighter confines.

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2012 Lincoln Navigator

Styling

Is it a piece of American archaeology, or still a swinging king of bling? With the 2012 Lincoln Navigator, it can be hard to tell.

Still a big, two-box ute with lots of metallic trim and bejeweled details, the 2012 Lincoln Navigator hasn't changed its game much over the past decade. Does it need to? Of the buyers still left looking for big, blingy SUVs, the Navigator still gets its share, though it was eclipsed years ago by Cadillac's even more glitzy Escalade.

Unplug some of the Navigator's more overdrawn details--the Sixties-sized grille comes to mind--and the basic Navigator body shell is actually pretty conservative, themed as tastefully as Ford's own Expedition.

Inside, there's a lot of inspiration from earlier Lincolns, this time with gauges modeled after those found in 1970s and '80s vehicles. There's a retro look, no doubt, but they're very visible and straightforward.
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2012 Lincoln Navigator

Performance

There's more to the Navigator's handling than you may suspect, but acceleration is disappointing for a big, bold luxury ute.

There's no sin in offering just a single powertrain, but in the 2012 Lincoln Navigator, the outmoded V-8 feels like a step down from other luxury SUVs.

Where Range Rovers and GL-Class SUVs offer a choice of V-8s, even with performance companions, the Navigator soldiers on with the same 5.4-liter V-8 it's sported for most of the past decade. It's been massaged over the years to put out 310 horsepower, but that's woefully behind almost every competitor, some of which are pushing 400 hp. Last year Ford updated the related F-150's drivetrains--but so far those new engines haven't been applied across the board to the big SUVs.

The Navigator also comes with a standard six-speed automatic transmission, with a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive. It's a combination that rates well for towing, at 9,100 pounds max, but with the Navigator's power and its curb weight of about 6,200 pounds, it's a more strained relationship. In just people-carrying duties, the Navigator can feel strained, compared to powerful new entries like the Infiniti QX56. Shifting is slick and easy, though, and the transmission turns low revs at highway speeds to reduce engine noise.

The Navigator handles solidly and stably, but you'll never forget you're in such a big, heavy vehicle. Body roll is what you'd expect from a big, heavy SUV—and expect heavy nosedive and lots of body motion during quick stops, or any change in direction for that matter—but the four-wheel independent suspension helps provide a smooth ride.

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2012 Lincoln Navigator

Comfort & Quality

A few inexpensive-looking details don't disrupt the extremely roomy, luxurious feel inside the Navigator.

The 2012 Lincoln Navigator's close kin to the Ford Expedition. However, Ford's done a good job distinguishing the vehicles, at least on the inside. They share all their dimensions and seating capacities, but the Navigator in general is finished more nicely, with better materials and a few more features here and there.

Vehicles as large as the Navigator can sometimes disappoint on functionality. That's not the case here, where big seats with tremendous space define one of the best big-SUV interiors available. Lincoln mimics GMC in offering the Navigator in two overall lengths, with the "L" model adding 14.7 inches of overall length to the basic shape. It also doles out an additional 24.5 cubic feet of cargo space, compared to the short-wheelbase version, which has at least 18 cubic feet behind the third-row seats. With the second- and third-row seats lowered, cargo space grows to 103.5 in the standard edition and in the L, to 128.2 cubic feet.

Either Navigator offers the kind of adult-sized room that makes these SUVs great long-distance tourers for a mature crew. In front, the buckets are wide and only slightly bolstered, but soft to the touch, and with extra space in every direction. The second-row seat doesn't lose much space; it's available as a bench or as a pair of buckets. The third-row seat is where grown-ups will feel the pinch, not only in entry and exit but ultimately in seat comfort--at least on base versions, where it's more cramped and more difficult to get back there. In L versions, the space is actually usable by fully grown adult men. The seat isn't nearly as compromised as it is in many other vehicles, though two big guys max will fit (or three kids, which gives the Navigator its eight-seat rating).

Power fold capability means the third row can be quickly and easily stowed when not in use, and the power fold feature can be used to scoot faraway cargo toward the rear, as it moves the cargo aft when unfolding the seats.

Lincoln does a fine job transforming the big SUV's interior with premium materials, though there are a few inexpensive-looking passages. Real wood trim and leather upholstery have the ideal upscale look and feel, but they're flanked by hard plastics, chrome-painted trim, and some cheap-feeling switchgear. The payoff of additional insulation and noise-canceling materials is worthwhile; the only exception is that you hear the engine a little too much.

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2012 Lincoln Navigator

Safety

Crash-test scores are absent, but the 2012 Lincoln Navigator gets decent rollover protection ratings and has lots of standard safety equipment.

Without crash-test results from either of the major testing agencies, the 2012 Lincoln Navigator relies on some predicted rollover-protection scores and a host of standard safety features to make its case as a secure family luxury SUV.

The Navigator's impressive safety feature set is a good start. The usual assortment of dual front, side and curtain airbags are fitted, along with anti-lock brakes, traction, and stability control with roll mitigation. There's also trailer-sway control, which helps the vehicle correct for the swinging motion induced when it's towing.

The big Lincoln SUV also comes with front parking sensors and a rearview camera, as well as Ford's MyKey system, which lets drivers set governors on things like radio volume and overall vehicle speed.

These noted, the Navigator hasn't been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), or by the federal government's completely revised testing and rating system that began for 2011. But under the former system, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2010 Navigator a top five-star rating in both frontal and side-impact tests. Today, it receives just a mix of three and four stars for rollover protection, a mathematical rating inferred from its size and footprint.

Some drivers might find outward visibility challenging in the 2012 Navigator because of its sheer height.

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2012 Lincoln Navigator

Features

Few buyers will be left unsatisfied by the 2012 Lincoln Navigator's luxury features and amenities.

With a standard-features list that meets or exceeds the domestic SUV class, the 2012 Lincoln Navigator is a conservative but richly fitted luxury truck—one with some of the most advanced connectivity features in the class.

Among its standard features are more functional pieces, like power running boards that ease entry and exit, and leather seating. Last year Ford added some of its highest tech to the mix: there's now Sirius Travel Link, HD Radio, and SYNC, the Bluetooth controller that enables voice commands for some audio, navigation and phone controls. The SYNC and Sirius Travel Link system offers voice-activated control of climate and navigation systems, plus the ability to search traffic and weather conditions in real time. All are now standard, along with Ford's MyKey system, which lets drivers set limits on vehicle functions such as radio volume and top speed.

Ford also includes standard front parking sensors, a rearview camera, rain-sensing windshield wipers, EasyFuel capless fuel fill, and heated second-row seats.

There are plenty of chances to option the 2012 Navigator with items including a power moonroof, rear-seat DVD system, perimeter alarm, illuminated entry with approach lamps, remote start, and adjustable pedals. Adaptive cruise control is one of the few increasingly common options that's missing.

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2012 Lincoln Navigator

Fuel Economy

It's a thirsty one, but the gas mileage stings less if you put the 2012 Lincoln Navigator to its highest use.

Like most other large SUVs, the 2012 Lincoln Navigator has disappointing fuel economy.

As one of the heaviest, largest sport-utes on the market, the Navigator's low gas mileage numbers aren't too surprising. The EPA rates it at 14/20 mpg in rear-wheel-drive form, and at 13/18 mpg when four-wheel drive is specified.

Think of it from another point of view, though, and the Navigator nets out better. The biggest Lincoln seats up to eight passengers, which makes it superior on a per-person average than many mid-size, luxury crossovers that get higher numbers in the EPA cycle.

All 2012 Navigator models are E85-compatible, but with that fuel its ratings drop to 9/13 mpg (4WD).
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