2012 Lincoln Navigator Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Have you ever stepped inside a Navigator? The first one, which debuted way back in 1998, was little more than a pimped out Ford Expedition, albeit nicer than the first Chevy Suburban-based Cadillac Escalade. Second-gen Navigators looked a tad richer on the inside albeit almost identical outside, but the big SUV went all glitz in the fall of 2006 with the introduction of the 2007 model, with a killer chrome grille and a totally updated interior featuring the type of luxury expected in the Nav's ultra-luxe price range.

Now that I've mentioned it I should probably point out that a 2012 Lincoln Navigator will set you back a minimum of $75,100 including freight and PDI, which I suppose isn't too expensive when compared to a 2012 Escalade that starts at $86,560 and can be optioned up to $113,055, albeit with a hybrid powertrain, or a Lexus LX 570 that started at $91,845 in 2011 when it was last sold (it's being redesigned and coming back in 2013) and escalated to $102,695 in Ultra Premium trim. Comparatively the Navigator joins the 2012 Infiniti QX56 on the full-size luxury SUV bargain rack, the Japanese competitor cheapest by a $50 nose at $75,050, yet topping out at $83,200 with its Technology package. They're all fabulous premium rides if your objective is living large or towing an Airstream trailer or powerboat. All but the hybridized Caddy can tackle the wild green yonder without complaint too, pampering to levels of civility never before experienced out of doors, while allowing for an "I've arrived" presence in the country club parking lot.

Lincoln was decommissioning my Navigator tester when I found out it was even on their fleet, but they kindly loaned it to me for a day's drive and a photo shoot before they took it off the road (unfortunately the photos were lost when my laptop was stolen… another story for another time). Normally I get to spend a week in a car to measure its attributes and shortcomings, although when an automaker sends us on a press junket to do the same type of evaluation we only get to test it for part of a day and maybe another morning at most, so having the majority of a morning and most of an afternoon to test out a vehicle I'm already quite familiar with is plenty of time.

With my calendar blocked off for the day, a moment taken from regular writing and business activities to just drive for a few hours, stopping for photos when opportunities arose and jotting down notes about the Navigator's thoughtful attributes and obvious failures, I headed up the winding mountain road of a favourite local ski resort that would allow me to both stretch its legs and provide a picturesque backdrop for capturing the big Lincoln in just the right light. It's really a handsome looking SUV. The heavy helping of chrome, which was reduced in 2011 when Lincoln deleted the big bold bright strip across the top of the grille and resultantly improved its appearance (in my opinion), will either attract or repel you depending on your personal image priorities, but for the most part I like the way the Navigator looks.

Few should complain about its interior either. The Navigator is a classy truck with plenty of wood, leather and bright metal trim, while the switchgear and interfaces are good, if not quite as rich as some of its rivals. Again, like its exterior styling such details come down to personal taste. Where the Escalade offers an analogue clock the size of Big Ben, the Navigator's timepiece is understated in size yet just as fashionably elegant, more like a Tag Heuer Monaco in comparison to a Nixon Ticket watch. The one will be elegant ten years from now while the other is fashionable for the moment, but likely will be seen as a bit garish in decades to come. Lincoln takes a simpler approach to the entire cabin; a less is more philosophy that will appeal to the more conservative, less ostentatious crowd. Its Japanese rivals, mind you, deliver a similar conservatism with greater refinement, so it'll really come down to priorities.

The priorities are often decided when balancing feel good intangibles, such as brand prestige, styling, refinement and general ambience, with real world practicality and usability. Addressing the latter, the domestic luxury utes are clear winners when measuring second- and third-row roominess as well as overall cargo capacity. Lincoln offers two Navigator lengths, regular and L for long-wheelbase, the former providing 513 litres behind the third row, 1,540 behind the second row when the third row is folded flat, and 2,925 when both rear rows are laid low, and the L bumping up stowage considerably with 1,206, 2,444, and 3,630 litres respectively. Compared to the Escalade and longer Escalade ESV, the regular wheelbase Navigator offers more cargo space behind all rows, whereas the longer L model is slightly smaller than the largest Cadillac across the board. As for towing, the Navigator is the clear winner with 3,991 kilos of possible trailer weight compared to 3,674 in regular wheelbase trims, and 3,878 kilograms for the Navigator L compared to 3,538 for the Escalade ESV.

Normally extra pulling capacity is directly related to more power and torque, but such is not the case with these two. The Cadillac actually offers a lot higher output at 403 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque compared to 310 and 365 for the Lincoln, whereas its claimed mileage is a bit better too, at 15.3 L/100km city and 10.1 highway compared to 16.4 and 11.3 for the Navigator. The numbers are a bit misleading though, as you'll need to pump premium unleaded into the Escalade's 6.2-litre V8 to optimize economy and performance, whereas the Navigator's 5.4-litre V8 only requires less expensive regular fuel. Both SUVs use six-speed transmissions, incidentally.

On the road the Escalade is noticeably quicker, but the Navigator doesn't seem to suffer from any lack of power. It moves away from stoplights with ample speed and delivers the passing power needed when opportunity opens up, but I can't help but wonder what the big Lincoln would be like if offered with the F-150's fabulous 3.5-litre turbocharged EcoBoost V6 that puts out 365-horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque while, in the pickup truck segment at least, delivers class-leading towing capacity along with best-in-segment fuel economy at 14.0 city and 9.6 highway in four-wheel drive guise. If the results were even close in the Navigator, it would be a welcome upgrade. There are no powertrain changes for 2013, in case you were wondering.

The only upgrade for 2012 is a pair of power-folding heated mirrors with puddle lamps, integrated turn signals and driver's side auto-dimming, but don't worry as last year's Navigator was filled with everything you'd expect in a luxury SUV and more, like genuine wood trim and satin-nickel accents, 10-way heated and cooled leather front seats with driver's side memory, second-row reclining heated leather seats, a power-folding third row, a powered liftgate, power-adjustable pedals, navigation, a rearview camera, plus a brilliant sounding THX II audio system, and on the outside, automatic xenon headlamps, and power-deployable running boards. Navigator handling is good for the class, and as you might expect its ride is exemplary thanks to a load-leveling rear air suspension, while noise levels are low. Then again, it's missing some items offered by others in the class, like proximity sensing access with pushbutton start, an electronic parking brake, and high-level driving aids like blind spot warning, lane departure warning and intervention, etc.

Getting back to basics, the 2012 Lincoln Navigator might not be the most advanced in its segment but it's priced much lower than most of its rivals, which I'm sure you'll factor in when making your choice.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: SUV, Lincoln, 2012, Navigator, $75,000 - $99,999,

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