As Ford Motor Company drastically slims down nameplate count, the ultimate winner is the newly christened Lincoln Motor Company.
During most of the Millennia's first decade, Ford's subsidiary network included not just Lincoln, but import-inspired Aston Martin, Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar. All import brands now have new homes outside Ford's corporate umbrella. Mercury, a domestic Ford division since the late 1930s, ceased production in 2011.
Lincoln now has Ford's full attention as the brand heads into its 2017 Centennial celebration. The company, named in honor of the 16th U.S. President, has some catching up to do.
Total Lincoln Motor Company U.S. sales in the 2014 calendar year totaled 94,474 units, a tidy 16 percent increase from the previous year. However, Lincoln brand sales account for less than one percent (.06 percent) of U.S. market sales in 2014. By contrast, Mercedes-Benz attained a luxury-brand high of 2.2 percent.
Lincoln's Navigator, a true full-sized luxury sport utility vehicle, is built upon on a rugged body-on-frame truck platform. Full-size dimensions provide three rows of seats; by far, the largest offering within Lincoln's up-scale lineup. With gas prices at the pump projected to fall from now until Christmas 2015, large SUVs and crossovers may enjoy sales renaissance of sorts. Navigator, with 2015 model year sales factored into fourth quarter, reached 10,433 units in the 2014 calendar year.
Navigator first hit the streets in 1997 as a 1998 model year product, about one year earlier than a key domestic challenger, Cadillac's Escalade. A third-generation effort, which the current Navigator is based, debuted at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show as a 2007 effort. Navigator shares underpinnings with Ford Motor Company's popular full-size Expedition.
For those seeking even more expanses , Navigator began offering an extended "L" version ("L" signifying Long) in 2007, adding 15 more inches to overall length and greatly expanding the cargo region behind third row seats.
The biggest 2015 update resides under hood. Gone is an aging 5.4-liter V-8 producing 310 horsepower. The sole powertrain now is an all-new 3.5-liter twin turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 cranking out an impressive 380 horsepower and capable of towing 9,000 pounds, 300 more than the larger outgoing V-8. During our time with Navigator, plenty of power was in reserve.
EcoBoost, a Ford driven technology, combines turbo charging with direct fuel injection. EcoBoost V-6s have proven a popular choice in Ford's full-size F-150 pickup trucks which have enticed a better-than-anticipated number of buyers of existing V-8 engines thanks to impressive towing and respectable fuel economy figures.
Our 4 x 4 tester included fuel estimates of 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, two miles per gallon better than a 2014 4 x 4 Navigator with V-8 motive. Premium 91-octane fuel is recommended for optimal performance, but 87 unleaded octane may be substituted.
This engine may be combined with rear-wheel (4 x 2) or four-wheel drive (4 x 4). Both size lengths include a nicely-equipped standard trim with an available Reserve option package featuring larger 22-inch wheels. All combos mate with a six-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive efforts include hill start assist and hill decent control. Electronic power steering provides effortless behind-the-wheel steering. High seating positions provides a commanding view of surroundings.
Pricing starts at an upmarket $61,480 for a rear-wheel drive standard-length edition. The extended-length "L" edition begins at $63,645. Our standard length 4 x 4 tester listed at $65,055. With a $905 power moon roof covering the first row and $6,850 Reserve package, the bottom line ended at $73,895 with $995 destination charge.
By comparison, General Motors' full-size Escalade Sport Utility rolls in with a $71,695 starting price (a whopping $10,000 higher) in the 2015 model year powered by a 6.2-liter 420 horsepower V-8. Escalade received a complete fourth-generation execution in the2015 model year, so Navigator's 2015 updates are well-timed, keeping pace with its domestic rival.
Visually, the split-wing front grille provides the boldest visual 2015 change. This design follows a family trend found on recently redesigned Lincoln models. Amber, horizontal secondary turn signal indicators frame the bottom of side-view mirrors.
Standard power sliding running boards along the vehicle's lower core retract inward and flush against the side once riders step onboard and prop out when doors open. This shortens stretch from ground to seat or visa-versa in this very tall-standing brute.
The rear power lift gate opens with a key-fob button press. The glass window also flips up independently. When closing, a square button on the inside left panel summons the door down. Many rivals locate this button on the hatch door itself; probably a more suitable placement since reaching an arm inside while the gate starts its journey downward can seem intimidating.
What's missing? A growing number of Ford and Lincoln crossovers including the compact Lincoln MKC offer a hand's-free power lift gate option. Operating via a 'kick' or 'swish' motion with a left or right foot under the cargo region, sensors relay the hatchback to lift up, provided the electronic key fob is close at hand.
All four side entrances smartly include accessible grab handles on nearby A or B pillars. Some trucks or SUVs skip an A-pillar handle for the entering driver. Push-button start comes standard. Both front buckets are heated and cooled in all editions.
Inside, our Reserve's 40/20/40 split bench second row accommodated three riders. Row three is capable of handling three riders and power folding backrests come standard to expand cargo room. Lincoln made maneuvering into row three rather pleasant with illustrations adorning second row seat sides. Once the second-row headrest folds down, backrests fold onto the seat cushion allowing the entire unit to flip forward. Ample headroom awaits three riders, and leg room is decent. When exiting row three, gentle tug of a second-row seat bottom pull tag starts the flip process in motion and the retracting running boards are a welcome assist.
The handsome, narrow instrument panel gets centered by a three-quarter circle analog speedometer with horizontally-arranged secondary gear shift indications lined below. Flanking the framed speedometer are digital message windows with commands found on the power tilt-and-telescope four-spoke steering wheel with faux-wood enhancements.
My Lincoln Touch, an identical twin of My Ford Touch, aimed to simplify the ever evolving interface between technology and drivers through touch-screens and voice commands. However, both get replaced (thankfully) in 2016 with a revamp dubbed "Sync 3." Navigator's current eight-inch in-dash touch screen needs a size boost as the home screen consists of four quadrants (navigation, audio, climate and portable electronics). Tough a quadrant and that choice balloons full-screen for greater scrutiny. Here's hoping for a more intuitive "Sync 3."
Lincoln employs a sometimes difficult to remember tri-letter designate for most vehicles sans the distinguishable and easy recall Navigator name. The first two letters of most Lincoln's (MK) remain identical with only the suffix letter changing. MKZ and MKS boast sedan body styles while MKC and MKX employee crossover exteriors. Kudos to Lincoln Motor Company for resisting the temptation to a MKB (B for BIG) name swap.
At a Glance2015 Lincoln Navigator
Price as tested: $73,895
Wheelbase: 119.0 inches
Length: 207.4 inches
Width: 78.8 inches
Height: 78.1 inches
Engine: 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6
Curb weight: 6,069 pounds
City/Highway economy: 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: Six years/70,000 miles
Assembly: Louisville, Kentucky