Having spent years covering the auto industry, it’s been fascinating to see how companies have changed over time. We’ve seen new manufacturers enter the game, and we’ve seen some legendary brands shutter forever. But what always takes us by surprise is when a car company rises from mediocrity to create something great.
Take Lincoln, for example, which over the past couple of decades has mostly sold overpriced, warmed-over Fords. But Lincoln persevered, rediscovered its mojo, and in recent years started crafting some truly fine automobiles. Its resurrected Continental was a triumph of design, both inside and out. It’s a car that captivated the media, bringing a modern take to old-school American luxury. The public, however, didn’t feel that spark, leaving the car doomed to a life of limousine fleets and, unfortunately, cessation of production.
But don’t cry for Lincoln, for it has the all-new 2018 Navigator. This full-size SUV has thus far proven to be so incredibly popular, Ford won’t let its own employees buy one; the company needs each and every one it can build to satisfy public demand. And this Lincoln isn’t cheap, either. A nicely appointed Navigator Black Label edition retails for over $100,000 USD. But does this luxury SUV feel that much nicer than its Ford-branded platform mate, the also pricey $77,000 Expedition?
The answer, in a word, is “yes.”
Lincoln’s Navigator — especially the Black Edition — is the current pinnacle of American automotive luxury and design, inspired more by the mid-century-modern aesthetic than Nurburgring times. Yes, it has a significant presence outside with its massive chrome grille, equally large 22-in. alloy wheels, and, well, massive size. But, as they say, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Lincoln delivered to us a fully loaded Black Label edition with the Chalet interior theme, featuring surfaces trimmed in quilted Alpine Venetian leather and accented with deep, rich wood trim. It’s a cabin that looks more boutique hotel than car interior, with the sculpted, 30-way heated and cooled massage chairs feeling like something out of an Eames catalogue. Overall interior design is clean and heavy on the minimalism, making the cabin of this Lincoln feel unlike anything else on the road. Well, okay…it does lift a bit from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class — namely the seat controls and “salt shaker” speaker grilles. But since 10 years ago we’d have been comparing this SUV to a Fusion, the fact that we’re saying it “feels like a Mercedes” — specifically its flagship vehicle — shows that Lincoln is doing something right.
Listing all the interior features that come standard on the Navigator Black Label would take ages, but if you can imagine a feature, it’s on here. Customizable digital gauges, a high-def touch-screen console, rear-seat entertainment, crazy push-button transmission, and so on — they’re all here, and all work really well. Controls are intuitive and easy to use, which is nice, as it doesn’t require us to dive deep into a menu system to, say, adjust the temperature.
As good as this interior is, though, it’s missing a few of the things that can really elevate it to be a true competitor to its European rivals. Namely, the back seats need some work. They’re fine, but they’re just that: fine. Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and even Lexus all offer executive seating packages in their flagships, and it seems only fitting that the Navigator should offer the same. We doubt that someone shelling out $100,000 for a car needs a third row, so why not ditch it and put some proper recliners in the back? It’s a small thing, sure, but it’s also a powerful signal that the brand takes ultimate luxury seriously. As it is, the back of the Navigator still feels more like that of a fancy Ford.
But as drivers, we don’t have to worry (much) about the back — we’ve just got to focus on the drive. And it’s yet another aspect of the Navigator that surprises and delights us. It does share the same twin-turbo 450-hp V6 and 10-speed automatic transmission found on Ford’s trucks, but as these mechanical components are smooth, powerful, and efficient, they do a fine job here. The Navigator is still a large truck, so there’s not much to say about acceleration, cornering, or stopping, other than that this SUV does all of the above with no problem. The ride is pleasantly smooth, too, making it hard to believe it rides on the same chassis as the Ford F-150.
What really surprised us, though, was how easy the Navigator is to drive in tight spaces. No exaggeration: It’s a lot easier to park this house-sized SUV than it is a host of smaller sports cars. The Navigator’s tight turning circle pretty much eliminates the problems we have with other large trucks and SUVs, making us wonder why other trucks can’t be this good.
Due to our Navigator Black Label edition being a loaner, we unfortunately couldn’t sample the jewel in Lincoln’s Black Label experience: the Black Label membership. It’s a concierge service that brings the Lincoln showroom to you, manages service, provides travel benefits, and even a complimentary CLEAR membership. These may all sound fancy, but if services are still handled at the local Ford/Lincoln dealer, then some of the “premium-ness” is lost. We can’t imagine it feels good to spend six figures on a car and get the same service experience as someone with a used Fiesta.
But at the end of the day, we’re glad to see Lincoln reaching for greatness and pretty much achieving it. Things aren’t perfect, sure, but with some minor tweaks to the packaging and dealer network, the brand can be back to competing with the best the world has to offer. As it stands, this current Navigator is excellent, and we can’t wait to see what Lincoln offers next.