Do we even remember that the Navigator even exists?
While I've waxed poetic about the fortunes of Ford's luxury arm, I've pretty much given Lincoln the benefit of the doubt. One must remember that Cadillac had to go through a serious renaissance that began with self realization and then effective planning. Lincoln appears to be currently going through this with, well, limited success. We have the new MKZ which, despite looking nothing like it's more mundane Ford Fusion sister, is still based on a Ford platform (a good one to be honest). And while the split-wing grille has been proliferating throughout Lincoln's lineup, one large, tuxedo-wearing gorilla in the room has been left untouched until now.
Not many people remember that it was initially Ford that came up with the idea of sticking a chrome grille to the front of its regular Expedition full-size SUV, adding more standard equipment and calling it the Navigator in the mid '90s. So successful was this formula (at the height of the body-on-frame SUV craze) that Cadillac jumped on the bandwagon, imitating Ford's move by rehashing the Chevy Tahoe into the Escalade. At first, it was the Navigator that ruled the full-size luxury SUV roost until 2002 when Cadillac redesigned the Escalade, making it more angular in the vein of the then-new CTS. Thus began the tipping of the scales. The Navigator quickly became relegated to the back burner in the wake of not just the Escalade's bling-bling factor but new competition from the Infiniti QX80 (previously QX56), the Mercedes GL Class and regular stalwarts Range Rover and Lexus LX. In fact, so old is the current Navigator that seven years (an eternity in the automotive universe) have passed since it was last fully redesigned. With Lincoln focusing its energy on the MKZ sedan and MKC small crossover, not much funding was left to initiate a full redesign of the aging barge so instead, a heavy refresh would have to do and thus, we have the 2015 Navigator.
Looking head-on or astern, you would be forgiven for mistaking the big Navigator as an all new product. The heavily chromified split-wing grille is a better adaptation than what you'd find on the humpback-whale MKT crossover and includes LED lighting trim and standard HID headlights. To my eyes, it looks much better than the metallic mess that adorns the current model. However, from the A-pillar rearward, its pretty much business as usual. Looking from the sides however, you can't tell the old from the new as the greenhouse is largely the same. At the rear, an attempt was made to make the Navigator's huge butt look less substantial but the only nice thing I can think of when looking at the full-width LED lighting is how much it pays homage to the Dodge Durango's rear end. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I suppose. Twenty inch wheels will be standard fare, replacing the base 18s of the current model, and massive 22s will be available as part of a higher priced 'Reserve' trim to compete with the Escalade's Platinum model. The chassis is largely the same seven year old bones as the current model which means an all independent suspension front/rear, differing only by the adaptation of Lincoln's Continuously Controlled Damping system. This allows the driver to configure the dampers between three modes: Normal, Sport (!?) and Comfort.
The biggest change to the Navigator lies under the hood. Gone is the tried and true 5.4 liter Triton V8 and in its place is Ford's much touted 3.5 liter twin turbo EcoBoost V6 engine with preliminary power figures of 'over 370hp and 430lb-ft of torque'. While much lower than the rival Escalade's 420hp/460lb-ft 6.2 liter V8, Lincoln claims the 2015 Navigator will out-tow the Cadillac to the tune of 9000lbs while posting class-leading fuel economy figures. Power is directed through a six-speed automatic to either the rear wheels or an optional all-wheel drive system. Also for the first time, electric power steering will be equipped to enable ease of handling the big beast.
Inside, the Navigator will still have the largest interior volume of any full-size luxury SUV. Up to eight passengers will be coddled with three different kinds of leather wrapped seats (one of them only available on the Reserve trim) and, in the extended wheelbase 'L' version, the benefit of more cargo room. The front occupants will face an updated dash with an 8 inch touchscreen housing the MyLincoln Touch infotainment system. Euro stitching will be sprinkled around the cabin though I couldn't help but notice in some of the images, the addition of cheap looking plastic surrounding the climate control vents, some of the door surfaces and the center console. As a whole, it looks rather nice but until I get actual seat time I'll reserve judgement.
Can the 2015 Lincoln Navigator restore Ford's luxury arm to its former glory? Can the luxury 'ute that started it all for Cadillac and Infiniti entice rappers and moguls to return to the Lincoln fold? For all the refresh dollars spent on this vehicle, there's only so much plastic surgery can do. When placed up against the redesigned 2015 Cadillac Escalade, things look downright negative. However, the full-size luxury SUV segment is still a big time market and Lincoln can at least claim a fair amount of loyalty among its customers. Perhaps this heavy refresh will entice current customers to stay in the fold while attracting new ones looking for an efficient luxury rig to tow their expensive toys while hauling 7.4 kids. Lincoln needs inspiring vehicles that are able to stand on their own in order to properly compete with established luxury marques. The MKZ and new MKC are steps in the right direction but in the face of Cadillac's commitment in faithfully redesigning its Escalade, Lincoln's attempt to renew interest in the Navigator looks downright awful. In other words, don't expect 2 Chainz or Lil Wayne to start rapping about lusting after the 'gator on 22s anytime soon.
Images courtesy of Lincoln.