Sure, Lincoln has the supersized Navigator but they’ve never had an SUV quite like this. The all-new 2020 Aviator is a premium, 3-row midsized utility with robust power and boutique styling.
With the recent demise of the MKZ and Continental, Lincoln becomes the latest automaker to kick cars to the curb as they are now exclusively an SUV brand offering 4 utilities in total and this one here slots in as number 3 between the $80,000 Navigator and the $40,000 Nautilus.
Lincoln’s designs are uniquely American; bold, beautiful, and evocative of Lincolns of the past. Their vehicles have actual names and they’re not obsessed with trying to be European. And this Aviator Black Label in Flight Blue on these magnificent 22” wheels is indeed one sharp-looking whip.
Four of the six Lincoln models currently on sale are offered as Black Label – described as the “…ultimate expression of design and personal service.” They’re available in various themes, this one being Flight; inspired by the heyday of aviation. Absolutely gorgeous. They also come with member privileges, such as premium maintenance with pickup and delivery, anytime car washes, an annual detail and concierge dining and travel services.
But the Black Label treatment doesn’t come cheaply. This one here checks in at $82,435 and it’s not even the highest trim; that’s the Black Label Grand Touring – the plug-in hybrid Aviator – with a starting MSRP near 90 grand.
At first glance, the Aviator makes a compelling argument for its big price tag, particularly inside where it garners most of its accolades. It makes an opulent statement that not even the $230,000 Bentley Bentayga I’m also driving can match. And there are unique aspects to it – such as the door handles which conceal their smart key mechanism on the inside, locking functionality via touch on the digital pillar, a straightforward push button shifter, and steering wheel controls that change functions depending upon the screen you’re navigating.
You can use your smartphone as a key that works with both Apple and Android devices and the Detroit Symphony provides the orchestral chimes that play to inform and alert. Pretty neat stuff. The Aviator isn’t a copycat, and I like that it goes its own way to provide something different that feels special. And then you look at the spec sheet and see that there’s a 400 horsepower twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 under the hood mated to a 10-speed auto and the mechanicals look as impressive as the aesthetics. But in this regard, the Aviator isn’t quite what I was expecting.
I’m surprised by a couple of things. First, that the ride isn’t more plush and secondly, by the lack of powertrain smoothness. Even with the optional, $3,000 Dynamic Handling Package the Air Glide Suspension is just crying out for a softer, more forgiving tune and that’s with the benefit of the Road Preview feature which scans for potholes and the like and adjusts accordingly. And I’m disappointed with the way the twin-turbo and 10-speed interact in city driving. There’s a lot of dissidence here that in no way should exist in an over $80,000 vehicle.
What I want from a Lincoln is a magic carpet-like ride. I don’t need it to be sporty. But Lincoln chose to flex its muscles here and consequently the drive doesn’t possess that debonair attitude I’d love to see become a Lincoln tenet. And in slow-speed maneuvers like backing out of a parking space, shifting from reverse to drive often takes too long for the gears to mesh creating an unsettling, manual transmission rolling effect. It also acts too busy in stop and go traffic and the engine idles with too much vibration. These are all nuanced issues you may overlook in a Ford Explorer but not here and not at this price.
Rear wheel drive in nature, the Aviator flies high out here where it’s a backroad hero. In Excite Mode, it has one of the most capable and entertaining drives in the 3-row segment. It’s very quick and handles beautifully. On top of that, the cabin is quiet, the massage settings are on point and this 28 speaker Revel audio system is mind blowing. The best I’ve ever heard.
I can’t say enough about how unbelievable the music sounds replete with great user controls. But the infotainment system, in general, isn’t exceptional. It could definitely benefit from some external button redundancy as some of the features, such as massage, are cumbersome to swipe to. There’s also no wireless CarPlay and the USB port for phone projection is tucked away in here which isn’t the most convenient place.
The driver information display should also be more customizable and I’m not in love with the tricky, ever changing steering wheel controls. And how about some more crispness out of the heads-up display, please. These 30-way Perfect Position seats have been lauded for years and hold a place in the upper echelons of seat comfort but with this many adjustments, finding that perfect position can be a bit of chore.
Rear seat passengers are separated by this full console and have their own controls of features like cooled seats and the audio system. They also have access to the panoramic roof sunscreen. There’s legroom for days and seats that recline for superior comfort. The 3rd row seats are accessed via a single button and though your knees are up around your chest, kids will find more than enough room back here to keep from getting car sick.
And the cargo room is very accommodating with a foot-activated liftgate, automatic lowering of the air springs for easier loading and power-folding 3rd row seats. There’s also some useful underfloor storage making this an ideal long trip travel vehicle. All told, the Aviator has the goods – just about all of the features you could want are present from both a comfort and safety angle. Gas mileage on premium is rated at 20mpg in mixed driving.
Though not exactly how I would’ve tuned it, the Aviator is nevertheless an impressive piece of rolling art that’ll keep up to 6 people looking sharp and well cared for.