How much time and energy should a car company invest in a vehicle that isn’t going to sell in big numbers, but could be a key part in building its brand?
I’m wondering if that’s the dilemma that Lincoln finds itself in with the 2015 Lincoln Navigator. The luxury SUV market just isn’t that big. Investing lots of money in that segment may not result in big profits. But if Lincoln is going to compete with Cadillac it needs something that can match the Escalade, or at least the Suburban.
To me, the Navigator is a tale of two vehicles. Let’s start with the driving experience. Frankly, it’s wonderful. It uses a twin turbo V6 to produce 380 horsepower. While some people may cringe to think about not having a V8, trust me, you won’t miss it. That V6 delivers exactly what you need for a beast this large. I have a feeling that when you need to tow your boat to the lake, the Navigator will do a great job. It has a tow button on the shifter that sets up more efficient gearing. Lincoln will quickly point out how it gets better mileage than the Escalade, and it does. The two-wheel drive V6 turbo gets 16 MPG in the city and 22 MPG on the highway for a combined number of 18 MPG (17 MPG for the four-wheel drive model). But while the Navigator may win, it doesn’t have much of a margin. The two-wheel drive Escalade has a combined number of 17. Still, that single mpg means the Navigator is more than 5 percent better than the competition.
The other tale is the Navigator’s design, and I’m not sure that measures up. Lincoln did give it a facelift this year. You’ll notice the distinctive Lincoln grille up front setting it apart from everyone else. It also has new taillights that go the full width in the back. I like the changes, but to be honest with you, I don’t think its enough. The Escalade has sharp, crisp lines. The Navigator seems just a bit soft. Having said that, I had a number of people compliment the Navigator’s look during the week we spent together, so obviously it has fans.
I also think the interior is slightly behind the times. Where most carmakers are moving towards smoother lines with fewer edges, the Navigator goes a different way with three distinctive sections on the dash. It’s symmetrical, but just doesn’t look completely modern. I’m not sure I was a fan of the buttons on the dash. Maybe it was just me, but I never really felt at home during our week. The display interface was smaller than I would expect on something this huge. It is only a touch screen, which means you have no remote controller that is common on many luxury cars. In some cars that might not be a problem, but the Navigator is so big you’re just too far away to reach comfortably. When I sat back and put my fingers straight forward I couldn’t touch the screen so I found myself leaning over. You can control some functions with the screen next to the speedometer, but not enough and not as well. I was a little disappointed in that functionality. You can control two sides to the display, so it has a fair amount of information. It’s just not enough. It has a digital tach but I couldn’t find the fuel mileage. Maybe it’s there, but I couldn’t find it. These days that’s pretty standard and something I like to keep track of. The one thing you can’t do with the steering wheel is control the radio very well. You can bounce back and forth between AM and FM and satellite, but you can’t switch stations. Again, that could be me, but it’s the kind of thing that should be pretty obvious. Underneath the main display are set of controls for tuning and volume. For those of us who are old school, it’s nice.
There is no lack of comfort on the inside. My test Navigator was set up for seven seats. When you want to haul seven adults, it’s nice to know they can get in without having to practically sit on each other’s laps.
My test Navigator was the four-wheel drive version with a base price of $65,055. It had a $6,850 option package that included stuff like luxury leather, better wood and Lincoln Drive Control. Toss in an extra $500 for Ruby Red paint and the total was $73,395. I do like he fact that it has a four year, 50,000 mile warranty overall and six years, 70,000 on the powertrain.
Your decision about whether to buy will have you comparing the Chevrolet Suburban and the Cadillac Escalade. If you want the full-sized comparison, the Suburban is your only choice. The Navigator is heavier, but the Suburban is longer. The Navigator can tow more while the Suburban has slightly more range on the highway (although the Navigator has more city range).
I’ll be honest, if it comes down to looks, I think the Suburban and the Escalade win. But if you’re looking for the driving experience and a little extra tow power, the Navigator has the edge.
Ford and Lincoln won’t make a lot of profit if they put more design effort towards the Navigator. But if they want to be seen as serious players in the American luxury market, they need to make sure their flagship SUV pulls its weight on all levels.