Road Testing the Lincoln Aviator 2020

American luxury is based on size and opulence, and few vehicles deliver on that combination as well as the Lincoln Navigator. But as much as we like the Navi, its size can make it a bit taxing to drive. Luckily, Lincoln makes another three-row SUV that may be even better: the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring Hybrid. Yes, the Aviator is based on the Ford Explorer, so those looking for a truly bespoke ride may want to look elsewhere. But for the rest of us, those Explorer bones mean that the Aviator is one well-sorted machine. 

Not that you can see much – if any – Ford bits on the outside. The Aviator continues Lincoln’s elegant design language, focusing on flowing lines and simple shapes. It’s a familiar two-box SUV, only softened, its profile looking more like a 21st century version of an Art Deco hood ornament than that of a truck. There’s just enough brightwork on the grille and wheels to further elevate this SUV’s luxury pretentions, all of which integrates nicely into Lincoln’s old-time aeronautical aesthetic.

But modern luxury has moved to take on a more technological bent, so with the Aviator, Lincoln has responded appropriately. Let’s talk powertrain: the Aviator Grand Touring Hybrid gets a twin-turbo V6 mated to a plug-in hybrid system. As for that electric stuff, you get a 13.6 kWh battery and a 75 kW motor, and that can give you a few miles of EV-only driving. If you’re into that sort of thing, that is. The Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring Hybrid’s real party trick, however, is its total system output. This PHEV powertrain gives you 494 horsepower and a whopping 630 lb-ft of torque.

And that means that this Lincoln is best described as a Luxury Cruise Missile. 

Thanks to the advanced 10-speed transmission, that power is available on-demand, no matter your speed. And there’s something magical about the way this SUV just eats up miles of road. Its air-ride suspension not only soaks up bumps, it also lowers the Aviator at speed to help aid aerodynamic efficiency. Steering feel and handling is about what you expect from a 5600-lb SUV, but the overall package feels nicely maneuverable at lower speeds. As long as you don’t let that power fool you into thinking you’re driving a sports car, you should be happy with the drive. 

Inside things are typical Lincoln, meaning an incredibly nice cabin that is almost – almost­ – let down by a couple of small issues. Let’s start with the good, like the elegant dash, wrapped in leather and with exquisite wood and aluminum accents. The perforated leather seats still have a near-infinite amount of adjustment, and the front buckets will massage you while cooling you off, too. The interior chimes were scored by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the simple all-glass display lets you drive without too many distractions. And interior space is generous, with captain’s chairs for second-row passengers, and a third row that’s not a total penalty box. If there ever was such a thing as a luxury minivan, this could be it. 

But as with other Lincolns, the small details sour what is an otherwise excellent experience. The main control knobs – like for the volume and command functions – feel cheap, with a plastic-on-plastic grinding sensation every time you use them. The exterior lock/unlock pad – located on the driver’s side B-pillar – doesn’t always want to work, either. Not a big deal if you don’t mind digging out your key fob to unlock. But as this pad also serves as the backup lock/unlock method for the phone-as-key system, we can see this system leaving owners stranded should their phone ever die.

So we leave our time with the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring Hybrid with mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s a truly luxurious machine built atop a proven, robust chassis. It’s an investment that will likely go the long haul, and keep you comfortable while doing so. But the Aviator Grand Touring Hybrid starts at a hair under $70,000, and some of the switchgear feels cheaper than what you’d find in a new Kia. It’s those small details that define the luxury experience, and Lincoln just slightly misses the mark. If Lincoln can continue to refine things and get that last 5% right, they will become the definition of great American luxury.

Justin Kaehler
Justin Kaehler is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, and auto enthusiast who has been sharing his passion for cars for over 15 years.