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. Since then, the Escalade has sold far more examples than the Lincoln.
But the Navigator is new for 2018 and it brings a lot to this very exclusive party.
The long-running Navigator sits at the top of Lincoln's SUV lineup, above the MKT and Nautilus crossover SUVs, and the 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 rivals as well.
MORE: Read our 2018 Lincoln Navigator review
The new Lincoln Navigator
For 2018, the Navigator is all-new. It remains closely related to the Ford Expedition, but the Navigator moves considerably upscale with a far more sophisticated interior and no shortage of available luxury features.
The Navigator sheds a good bit of weight thanks to new aluminum body panels, but it also adds more power. Its 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 grows to 450 horsepower and it now uses a high-tech 10-speed automatic gearbox to direct power to the rear or, when equipped, all four wheels. A fully independent suspension remains underneath, as does a truck-type ladder frame. That frame helps deliver what Lincoln says will be an excellent towing capacity.
But buyers will really notice the upgrade inside. We've only seen high-spec Navigators so far, but they're lavishly outfitted with tasteful teak wood trim, acres of leather, and numerous LCD screens. Though its basic proportions are shared with the Expedition, the Navigator truly stands on its own for the first time ever.
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 6-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.
A much needed heavy update came for the 2015 model year. Fuel economy rose, thanks to a new EcoBoost (turbocharged and direct-injected) V-6 engine subbed in for the V-8 across the model line, and the front-end styling joined the latest Lincoln design themes—although the rest of the body remained largely the same as the 2007.
Until this point, the big Lincoln SUV had 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 cranked out 380 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque—more than the V-8 on both counts—and the Navigator added standard magnetic ride control with continuous damping. Inside, the instrument panel was refreshed, and the Navigator at last included the latest version of MyFord Touch, plus blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, and a revised feature set. Gas mileage numbers were up to 16 mpg city, 22 highway, 18 combined with rear-wheel drive.
The Navigator continued to be offered in both Navigator and Navigator L versions; the L adds 12 inches to the wheelbase and is nearly 14 inches longer. 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 was unchanged for the 2016 and 2017 model years.