It was expected by some at the North American International Auto Show currently drawing the spotlight on Detroit, but it is finally at the Chicago Auto Show that we will get our first encounter with the 2015 Lincoln Navigator. Interestingly enough, this significant and comprehensive update to the iconic Navigator was teased on social media by the Lincoln team shortly after the end of the Detroit press days, with a full reveal planned for this week’s Washington Auto Show.
Then, after a picture of the actual vehicle was leaked on Twitter, its Washington debut was cancelled and it a press event organized in Detroit in a matter of hours with the public debut pushed back to the Chicago Auto Show; in their defence, the Detroit Auto Show floor had already been claimed by arch rival Cadillac Escalade and the Chicago Auto Show, which starts in only two weeks, has a much wider audience than its Washington counter-part.
Navigator Through and Through
Ever since Lincoln’s turn-around plan was first announced in 2010, people have been speculating on the future of the Navigator full-size sport utility vehicle. Given the aura of the Navigator name and its significance in the very making of the luxury full-size SUV segment, it was unlikely that it would be fully retired. But would it follow the lead of the Explorer and be repackaged as a smaller, fuel-efficient crossover? Back then, the question was not exclusive to Lincoln as the future of the GMC Yukon seemed in jeopardy after the release of the Acadia crossover and even the Escalade seemed unfit for changing times.
Still, the unapologetic Navigator, introduced in 1998 and completely redesigned for 2007 soldiered on, following the recipe that made it famous with only a few updates over the years. Fast-forward to the 2014 and we stand at a new turning point: the GMC Yukon/Yukon Denali and Cadillac Escalade are all-new and the Lexus GX has been given a new lease on life. With Lincoln’s newly reinforced presence on the compact crossover/SUV segment, now cornered by the MKX and MKC, it was time to give some attention to the Navigator while preserving its very essence.
Ever since it was first introduced and took the market by storm in 1998, the Navigator name was always associated with a big, brash, confident full-size SUV, so much so that the Lincoln eventually became a staple of hip-hop culture, bling-bling lifestyle and an American icon. But while the first-generation Navigator applied the luxury sedan look to a full-size format, it was the second-generation introduced in 2007 that set the tone in this segment with a full-width chrome grille inspired by the 1960s Continentals, massive wheels and a rich interior. It’s on that base that the 2015 Lincoln Navigator was created.
Up-front, we find what Autoblog called a “brave face”, a remark that I will be taking as a compliment. While the outline of the sheet metal seems closely related to the previous generation, including the powerdome on the hood and the contour of the headlight elements, gone is the retro-looking grille that seemed to spread out from the center of the Lincoln logo. In its place, we find the current Lincoln DNA, with a squared-off version of the split-wing grille found on the MKZ and MKC.
Indeed, while the rounded contours of the grille flow like the wing-span of, say, an hawk (to channel recent Lincoln commercials) on the front of the MKZ and MKC, taking an almost organic quality, the Navigator features an perfectly horizontal upper outline and angular lower outline that rather bring up images of stylized and sculpted eagles, to be found in military imagery for instance. This stark interpretation of the split-wing grille truly fits the size and road presence of the Navigator, and responds quite well to the squared-off overal lines of the vehicle – it also truly outdoes in every measure the design found on the 2010+ Mexican-market-only Lincoln Mark LT.
Intricate headlights were a hallmark of the 2007 Navigator, and Lincoln chose to continue that tradition by importing the elements introduced on the MKC crossover just a few weeks ago. The round main projector unit is surrounded by a strip of LED lights that mirror the outline of the opposite grille element, and it actually joins with the beveled chrome bars inside the grille for a cohesive look. Likewise, the turn-signal indicator is nestled on the inside of the headlight, and seems directly connected to the adjacent bars. Finally, a set of small marking lights etched with the Lincoln name round up this intricate design.
The design of the bumper has been lightened by the use of a gloss-black front air dam, as well as a lower grille insert that mirrors the lower outline of the main grille, while housing LED running lamps and a full-width chrome strip only interrupted by a center crease coming from the sculpted hood.
The sides look familiar, as they are carried over from the 2007 Navigator: massive and upright, the sheet metal and greenhouse highlight the presence of the Navigator. This year, audacious 20- and 22-inch wheels help plant the vehicle high off the ground; thankfully, passengers can count on chromed running boards for improved ease of access.
Out back, the square, upright tailgate treatment reminds us of the front-end. Gone are the twin tail lights, new is a full-width light bar: framed by sculpted wrap-around elements, it showcases the Lincoln lettering with a thin chrome strip. The abundance of horizontal elements contrast with the new Cadillac Escalade’s vertical lighting arrangement and really emphasize the size of the vehicle.
First class appointments
As a full-size SUV, called to carry entire families or posses, the Navigator had to continue its tradition of elaborate interior design and accomodations, as well as significantly raise the bar to match the all-new Escalade’s improved interior materials. While we’re going to highlight all the new features of the 2015 Navigator, I thought that maybe one element summed up the amount of detail put in this interior: on upscale Reserve trim, genuine wood inserts showcase Ziricote, an exotic wood that is usually found in high-end guitars and yachts. In the Navigator, it is presented without added dye or stain and features deep colour and grain, not unlike rosewood.
Owners of the current Navigator will feel right at home in the 2015 model, which carries over the twin-cowl design of its predecessor. That being said, while the look of the dash might be familiar, the feel is a totally different story: gone are the molded plastics, replaced by stitched leather all the way down the center stack as well as around the instrument cluster and passenger airbag cover. Expansive wood inserts come up from the central console to frame the infotainment center, which features MyLincoln Touch and its large touch-screen as well as traditional button and knobs similar to that found on the all-new MKC; overall, the dash features cohesive and flowing lines that associate the different materials. The name “Navigator” is gone from the door handle bezels but found its way to the passenger side, where it is boldly embossed on the airbag cover panel.
The driver faces a new steering wheel, wrapped in premium leather on all trim levels and featuring redundant controls for MyLincoln Touch. The gauge cluster is also all new and trades the retro-looking, watch-like dials for a set of reconfigurable LCD screens flanking an analog speedometer. Also of note is a THX-II certified stereo system, as well as three rows of seating that can be upholstered in ultrasoft, non-embossed Trevino leather on the Reserve trim level; if carrying cargo is their occupation of choice, drivers can also use the Navigator’s size to their advantage with up to almost 130 cubic-inch of capacity on available extended-length Navigator L models.
More than meets the eye
The significant update given to the Navigator goes far beyond what can be seen: indeed, while the platform of the 2007 Navigator is carried over for the 2015 model year, comprehensive changes have been made to the drivetrain. Gone is the 5.4L Triton V8: it is replaced by the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine that is already available in the MKT full-size crossover. Producing 370bhp and 430 lb-ft of torque, it is a completely different approach to the market compared to the new Escalade’s super-sized 6.2L V8 which makes 420bhp. That being said, fuel economy should be greatly improved and usability remains high given the new Navigator’s best-in-class towing capacity of 9000 pounds when properly equipped! Power is laid down to the wheels by a 6 speed automatic transmission.
Speaking of wheels, the Navigator now benefits from Lincoln Drive Control, an innovation first introduced for the 2013 model year on most of the Lincoln line-up: thanks to Continuously Controlled Damping monitoring suspension movements in real-time, the Navigator should be able to match Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control and offer a particularly smooth ride for a vehicle of this size.
The King Is Back
Having created and led the segment for years, the Lincoln Navigator is a well established player in the field of full-size luxury SUVs and road liners. Given the significance of its design and technical updates, it seems the Navigator is dead set on reclaiming its title from its Cadillac nemesis and one can bet that the Lincoln’s surprise reveal will cut right into the Escalade’s momentum.
More coverage of the 2015 Lincoln Navigator will come when pricing and final trim structure is revealed and we can compare it to its domestic and imported competition.