Lincoln Motor Company is in the midst of a product revival, a task not helped by rumors of its demise not too long ago. In fact, new product has been rolling off the assembly lines of Ford’s luxury division over the past couple of years in the form of the MKZ/MKZ Hybrid and MKC models, and amidst this they have given the flagship of the fleet – Navigator – a decent makeover for 2015.
Changes are led by new engine, new styling, new premium packages, new suspension, new drive control and…the return of knobs. Yes, Lincoln has listened to the masses complaining about the loss of traditional control over key functions inside the vehicle, most prominently radio volume. Consumers want their knobs back and Lincoln is delivering in the next Navigator set to arrive in showrooms next month.
Before I get to the knobs, let me bring you up to speed on the other highlights of the new Navigator. The automaker has forsaken the traditional large V-8 engine in favor of the EcoBoost twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 that generates some 380hp and a stout 460 lb. ft. of torque. This translates to improved fuel economy (max of 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway) as well as increased towing capacity (up to 9,000 lbs.) from the sweet eight-seater. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox and Navigator is available in 4×2 or 4×4 configuration in regular (119-inch wheelbase) and extended L (131-inch wheelbase) models.
New styling design has been given to front and rear fascia along with a new hood. Trim packages have become vintner-related in the form of select and reserve levels. The $7,500-$9,500 Reserve markup fetches a higher grade of leather interior, bright stainless treatments for the power running boards, Ziricote wood appliqués, 22-inch wheels and tires, new Lincoln Drive Control with continuously controlled damping suspension and hill descent control on 4×4 models. Styling enhancements include new split-wing grille and new hood design while the rear features power lift gate and new exhaust finisher. The new look is further boosted by some 222 LED lamps, 167 of which are in the tail lamps.
To demonstrate the new attributes of the 2015 Navigator, Lincoln brought journalists to the bluegrass of Kentucky (in the heart of bourbon country) to put the new ride through some of its paces. Twisty, scenic country roads allowed us to realize the extended torque power of the big SUV along with the stable, comfortable ride quality and the very quiet nature of the driving experience. New electronic power assist steering (EPAS) makes for very good maneuverability at all operating speeds. The damping system monitors road conditions some 46 times every two milliseconds and adjusts to those findings.
Now to those knobs. Lincoln has apparently been receiving some criticism over the past few model years of its vehicles concerning moving popular functions from traditional knobs and buttons on the dash and moving hose to the touchscreen monitor. To prove it listens to customer feedback, Lincoln has returned seat climate controls to the center dash via buttons and lights (with redundant control on the screen still) and now there are two knurled plastichrome knobs just below the center-mounted screen, volume on the left and tuning on the right.
Pricing starts at $62,475 and goes up incrementally to $75,065 for a Navigator L 4×4 in Reserve trim. Fuel economy ratings are based on use of premium fuel but the vehicle can tolerate less expensive grades just fine. The new model welcomes other features such as push-button start, blind spot monitoring and next-generation MyLincoln Touch with SYNC.
Lincoln created the fullsize luxury SUV segment when it launched Navigator in 1997, and since then several automakers have joined the fray. While the 2015 Navi isn’t a game changer, it does keep Lincoln in the hunt for consumers against the likes of Cadillac, Infiniti and Land Rover. Sales numbers last year were down to 8,613, winding down slowly after a peak in 1998 of 43,859 units. The 2015 Lincoln Navigator is a definite improvement over the previous model and absolutely still relevant in the fullsize luxury SUV market.