The Car Connection Lincoln Aviator Overview
The Lincoln Aviator is a new three-row crossover SUV that returns in 2019 for the 2020 model year.
Previously sold from 2003 to 2005, the Aviator nameplate now applies to a new vehicle based on a new rear-drive platform, again shared with the upcoming Ford Explorer.
READ our 2022 Lincoln Aviator review
The 7-passenger Aviator adopts new styling cues which bring the brand's visual appeal very close to that of former stablemates at Land Rover.
The new Lincoln Aviator
Lincoln took the wraps off the latest Aviator at the 2018 LA Auto Show. Wedged between the Navigator SUV and the Nautilus crossover, the Aviator revives a nameplate Lincoln had left dormant since 2006.
A new rival for vehicles such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE-Class, the new Aviator rides atop a new architecture that will spawn a family of rear- and all-wheel-drive vehicles. In this form, the architecture bows with new safety features, adaptive suspension technology, and a hybrid drivetrain.
The sleek, elegantly shaped Aviator owes much to Ford's experience with its former Land Rover brand, but the Aviator owes more to the bigger Navigator than to any other vehicle. The swept-back shape jewels its sheet metal with fender vents and a sloped roofline that's more Jaguar than that brand's own F-Pace SUV. Inside, it's a stellar turn, with a widescreen infotainment setup, lavish touches of leather and textured aluminum, and digital instrument cluster displays.
The base Aviator comes with a 400-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 coupled to a 10-speed automatic. The new plug-in hybrid is offered with the 10-speed and a set of batteries and a motor that build power up to 494 hp.
A set of drive modes help govern shifts, throttle, and settings for the available air suspension—and hybrid battery charging, on plug-in models. The air suspension uses cameras to predict and adapt to the road ahead. The Aviator dazzles with other technology, including the ability to use a smartphone as the key.
The Aviator has three rows of seats. Front seats can be adjusted up to 30 ways, and the second-row seats slide fore and aft for easier access to the third-row seat.
Other features include a head-up display, Revel audio with 28 speakers, and wireless smartphone charging.
Lincoln Aviator history
The first-generation Lincoln Aviator was a somewhat more luxurious, Lincoln-badged version of the Ford Explorer, sold from the 2003-2005 model years. The Lincoln MKX officially succeeded the Aviator (and was originally intended to carry on the name); however today's MKT lands closer to the purpose and size of the original Aviator.
The Aviator was powered by a 302-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8, with a five-speed automatic transmission and a choice between rear- or all-wheel drive systems. Rear-drive Aviators could tow up to 7,300 pounds.
While the Aviator was quick, it didn't handle well, and the Aviator's ride was soft and well-suited for flat, Midwestern-style highways and not at all hilly, curvy roads. With a hefty curb weight of about 5,000 pounds in all-wheel-drive form, even a four-wheel independent suspension couldn't save this vehicle from pitching, bounding, and wallowing.
While these models have proven reliable over the long run, the Aviator's embarrassingly low fuel efficiency can make it a poor choice for an everyday-driver used vehicle. The Aviator arrived with EPA fuel economy ratings of 13 mpg city, 18 highway (or 11/16 mpg for AWD models) back then—under a more lenient test method—and we can say from our drives from that era that you're likely to see combined numbers in the low teens with either version. Keep in mind that the all-wheel drive system here is one that maintains a permanent torque split (65 percent rear, 35 percent front) under normal conditions, so it adds thirst to the Aviator at nearly all times.
For the second row, you could choose between two captain's chairs with a center console or a bench for three, so the Aviator could fit either six or seven in all. The third row was usable by kids, although there really wasn't significant cargo space back there when you had the third row up. In either case, the third row flips forward, while the second row—no matter which configuration—has a fold-and-tumble feature for third-row access. Fold it all and there is a very significant 77 cubic feet of cargo space.
Standard features were abundant on the Aviator and included dual-zone climate control, a separate climate system for the second and third rows, cruise control, power front seats, power windows, locks, and mirrors, and a 60-watt 'premium' sound system. Interiors were plush, with satin-nickel trim, white LED ambient lighting, real walnut wood trim, and pebble-grain leather.
By the time the Aviator was discontinued, in 2005, it was clear that Americans' obsession with truck-based SUVs was over, and most shoppers were either stepping up to the Expedition-based Navigator if they wanted space and trailer-towing, or settling on a car-based crossover utes like the Acura MDX, Chrysler Pacifica, or Lexus LX if passenger comfort was the priority.