Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: March 9, 2020
I have fond memories of the Lincoln Aviator as a child. My father took us down to Florida in a 2005 example in search of Disneyworld. Packed with plush back seats, a cavernous trunk for snacks, and a large-for-that-era rear entertainment screen, I was gleefully pre-occupied by Disney movies during the entire 24-hour trek south. So you can imagine just how nostalgic it must have been when Lincoln announced they were bringing back the Aviator nameplate.
The Aviator is Lincoln’s re-entry back into the heated mid-size luxury segment, and it will slot right in between the Nautilus and Navigator, offering seven-seat three-row capacity, a rear-wheel drive platform, and for the first time in a Lincoln, a plug-in hybrid powertrain, but that doesn’t come to the market until later this year. The Lincoln Aviator only comes in one trim, Reserve, which starts at a competitive $68,500. That’s a few thousand dollars less than the BMW X5 xDrive40i and Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, so there’s value to be found in that regard, but the price is about in line with the another seven-seater American that has recently entered the game, the Cadillac XT6.
It’s hard not to call the Aviator one of the best looking Lincolns in decades, with the new sheetmetal appearing fresh, modern, and worthy of a pretty penny. You can call it a disguised Ford Explorer all you want, and even though we are not a big fan of the slightly recessed and flat front end, Lincoln has aced the American luxury aesthetic, taking all the tasteful bits of the larger Navigator and shrinking them down into a medium size sanctuary. That includes the signature rectangular grill with silver mesh, a captivating light bar that extends the entire rear width, scripted badge sweeping under the side mirrors, and tidy quad exhaust tips. The Lincoln Star embedded within the front grill will even light up at night if you opt for the Illumination Package ($2,000).
The Lincoln badge may be stereotypically associated with geriatrics but we are absolutely smitten by the Aviator’s handsome cabin design, which is essentially carried over from the Corsair but amplified with a magnifying glass. That means the dashboard is wide, making room for the larger 10-inch touchscreen and new storage cubby behind the center console. The front seats adjust in thirty different ways, come with heated, ventilated, and massage functions, and the large and flat window sills offer a decent armrest as well. The dual-tone steering wheel is a beauty, thickly padded with soft leather, and utilizes small joystick pads on each side to control media and infotainment functions. On the downside, Lincoln has cheekily placed a voice control button on the 10-o’clock position of the steering wheel, which is convenient if you hold the wheel at 9- and 3-o’clock, but those used to 10- and 2- might find it annoyingly placed as you’re bound to accidentally press it. It happened to us more times that we could count, the majority during parking maneuvers while we were busy rotating the wheel. On an interesting note, the only Lincoln left not to adopt this new interior design language is the Nautilus.
You can tell that Lincoln has paid attention to the details. The lovely center console does not rely on touch-sensitive screens, and nearly every feature and function comes with its own dedicated physical button. The gear buttons shaped like piano keys in replacement of a gear shifter really helps to streamline the center console design, making it sleek, and using that precious real estate for some large storage options and cupholders.
There are even raised side borders along the center area so your phone or small items do not fall off. Like the Continental sedan, the doors are electrically operated too, and require minimal effort from the users to open and close. For those wondering what would happen if the battery runs out of juice, there is an emergency mechanical latch located within the lower cubby that opens the door. There’s an above-average quality feel to the surface textures, though it clearly lacks the rigidity and premium feel that you would find in a BMW or Audi. Still, it’s safe to say that the Aviator blows the rivaling Cadillac XT6’s interior out of the water. The latter does little to make its cabin unique and exude an upscale vibe, and fails to brush off its more humble Chevrolet and Buick origins with low-rent switchgear and undisguised black plastics.
The Aviator boasts one of the more powerful V6 engines in the mid-size SUV category, harbouring a standard 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 that dishes out 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. It’s also the same unit found in the Lincoln Continental and new Ford Explorer ST. We were dearly impressed by its potent low-end thrust and silent, dramaless way of cruising along. There’s a soulful grunt from the exhaust at wide open throttle as well. The 10-speed automatic offers quick shifts and even though it’s not as polished as the 8-speed in the Corsair, it’s efficient and effective enough to go unnoticed behind the scenes. And while the power output is impressive, the fuel consumption takes a hit and we averaged a disappointing 13.9 L/100km on an equal mix of both highway and city driving. At least it only requires regular 87-octane fuel.
The powertrain is a standout but I loathe the Aviator’s numb and inconsistent steering. Its nonlinear rotation is pillowy, overboosted, and too plush, giving me no confidence at all in placing the front wheels where I want them. It goes from light feedback to moderate, then back to light the more you turn. It’s variable ratio steering gone wrong, forcing me to make micro-corrections every few seconds, most notably during low-speed maneuvers. The Aviator is far from being a backroad champion but the steering just zaps out any uniformity from the drive.
Like its predecessor, the Aviator shares its platform with the Ford Explorer but you wouldn’t know it from behind the wheel. The ride is stiffer than I would have preferred from an $80,000 mid-sizer with an adaptive suspension but it’s supple enough to keep you isolated from the road like any Lincoln should. There’s presence in the way it drives, as it lacks that wallowy and ungainly feel of previous Lincolns, and feels just right for its intended purpose. Though, I expected a little more from the Aviator given that ours was loaded with the optional air suspension, which requires opting for the larger 22-inch wheels. My gut tells me the ride would be phenomenal on smaller 20s or 21s instead.
Lincoln has successfully resurrected the Aviator nameplate and saturated it with presence and premium amenities. The base engine is effective, the interior design is unexpectedly upscale, the seats are magnificently adjustable, and there is substance beneath the skin. Yes, they still have their work cut out for them with the awkward steering, lazy transmission, and run of the mill build quality, but Lincoln seems to have found their groove, and the Aviator remains a genuine three-row luxury entrant that deserves a solid chance.
Model: 2020 Lincoln Aviator Reserve
Paint Type: Pristine White
Base Price: $68,500
Price as Tested: $83,850
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6
Horsepower: 400 hp
Torque: 415 lb-ft
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway ) L/100km: 13.7 / 9.7
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 13.3