A few months ago we had the chance to feature the 2018 Cadillac Escalade and crowned it the undisputed full-size luxury king. But like a typical mixed-martial arts fight, the winner isn't necessarily the fighter who has the most to offer, but rather the one that squeaked in the right shot to knock out their opponent. That's what the Escalade has been doing each year mainly due to it's name recognition, but a lot of viewers didn't watch long enough to find out why we gave it that title.
At the same time we had a lot of comments about featuring the 2018 Lincoln Navigator, as Ford has completely overhauled this full-size luxury SUV for this model year. Still based on the F-150 truck platform, and shares a lot of the same DNA as the Ford Expedition, the new Navigator is exponentially different from it's consumer-market brothers. In fact aside from the door handles on the inside, we really can't find many parts that are shared on the F-150. But we're getting ahead of ourselves, we need to talk about the exterior design and features of this SUV first.
The overall look of the Navigator is still imposing, with it's large 22" rims, huge front grille with adaptive opening for better aerodynamics, and massive Lincoln lettering along the back, this absolute unit of an SUV is instantly recognizable. I personally like the exterior design, from the front illuminated grille badge all the way to the 90th percentile of the vehicle. It's the back end I'm not entirely sold on. The width of the lift gate is adorned by a long LED tail light strip, much like other Lincolns have sported before. I wasn't a fan of it on the MKZ, and I'm not really digging it when it takes up a football field of rear-end real estate.
Exterior tech is expected, with 360 cameras and parking sensors to help maneuver this mammoth. A park assist feature is available when needed, but like always it's tech we prefer not using. The front LED lighting isn't adaptive, nor are corning lamps offered, but you do get a unique welcome light system that we haven't seen on other vehicles, on top of that illuminated front grille.
Automatic running boards and power folding mirrors are standard kit, and the car can be remotely started and stopped from the remote, along with convenience opening and closing for the windows during the summer. This Navigator was equipped with the roof rails, though no accessories were added to it. The $3,000 heavy duty tow package was also optioned, which adds the tow hook to the back along with Ford's trailer assist features.
Unlocking the door from either of the 4 keyless entry contact points or the numerical keypad grants you access to the all-new and unique interior found on the Navigator. The 30-way perfect position seats are equipped, allowing the front occupants extra control over their seat position, including independent leg bolster support, and power headrests that we usually only find from the Germans.
I found the front seating to be quite comfortable, much more so than the Escalade, but not as comforting as something from BMW or Mercedes-Benz. Like we found with the Escalade though, only the front seats get the luxury amenities. Heat, ventilation, and massage are only available up front, with heat only in the centre row, with nothing in the back. We feel this vehicle is still designed for a driver-oriented experience, and not to be driven around in.
We liked the technology found up front, with the Sync3 system's larger 4:3 aspect ratio screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard features these days, but we stuck with the stock Navigation system and found it to work well, even with the voice-activated search. My only gripe with the front screen comes with the backup camera system. I found the overall camera resolution to be low, and the camera displays don't take full advantage of the screen size. We'd also like to see more option to select which camera can us used, as the car needed to be in reverse in order to view the rear camera.
The colour head-up display provided ample information we don't normally find in any of the competition, but it doesn't leave any room for customization. The multi-information display gauge cluster also doesn't get customization, but works well enough and keeps with Lincoln's simple and elegant interfaces.
Wireless charging through Qi works with our iPhone 8 Plus, but we did have charging issues with the Samsung Galaxy S9.
As mentioned, the centre row is slightly disappointing from a luxury perspective. The seats are comfortable enough but don't offer anything beyond heat and basic manual adjustment. The optional centre console allows the passengers to adjust the music volume, source, and station/track with a small LCD display. Storage is quite excellent throughout.
The back seats are certainly functional and we were able to get adults into the back without issue. USB chargers and a cigarette outlet are available in the back, along with two roof-mounted air vents and power reclining mode for some adjustment. The back seats can be opened or lowered automatically from the trunk which certainly helps with total trunk space. Like the Escalade, the short wheelbase Navigator has a relatively small storage area when all 3 rows are activated.
Power is a significant improvement over the previous generation. Ford's second generation 3.5L twin-turbocharged V6 engine produces way more power, up to 450 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 510 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm, 30 more ponies and pounds than the Escalade's 6.2L V8 engine. This engine is no slouch, you getup and go quickly considering the weight of the vehicle. We had no issues getting on the highway or passing other traffic, but fuel economy is worse than the 13.7L/100km on the Cadillac. We averaged 14.6L/100km with this Navigator, but it doesn't require premium fuel.
We found the ride to be airy as it eats up the bumps on your daily commute. The back seating might feel more of the road, but overall the ride was comparable to other vehicles we've driven in this segment. Steering is certainly nautical, not as precise as smaller SUVs, but once again expected given the size of this vehicle.
I think most people looking at the full-size luxury SUV market separate them into two groups, the Americans, and everything else. Normally the Range Rover or Mercedes-Benz GLS 550 wouldn't be considered alongside the Escalade or Navigator, since the Americans are currently the only ones offering extended wheelbase variants of these vehicles. Also feature-sets are similar between these two compared with the heavy-luxury focus of the Germans/British.
I feel most people will cross-shop the Escalade if they're in the market for the Navigator, unless their a die-hard GM or Ford fan. Personally, I'd take the Navigator, it has more power, a nicer interior feel and quality, and offers something more unique over the GM options. We see plenty of Escalades on the road, but very few Navigators, and we're always advocates for taking the road less traveled.
You can watch our full episode of TestDrive Spotlight on the 2018 Lincoln Navigator Reserve 4x4 below: