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Why I want Lincoln’s Aviator to soar

Robby DeGraff April 25, 2018 Featured, Hooniverse Quick Take 19 Comments

Remember the Lincoln Aviator? You know, the short-lived, classy brother to Ford’s Explorer? Probably not, as only a handful of people bought them and it disappeared after the 2005 model year. Well it’s back, making a surprise debut in the Big Apple weeks ago, and Lincoln really needs it to take off.

Lincoln showed us the Nautilus concept a few months back, an attractive and eloquent name slapped onto the back of some crossover thing (why?). Now we’re getting a preview of what will most likely be their newest entrant in the luxury sport utility club.

To be honest, Lincoln could use a tad bit of help. Their flagship Continental I think is easiest one of the best looking cars out on the market and I constantly find myself drooling profusely every single time I see one on the road. I blame the chrome belt line that incorporates the door handles into it. It’s a whole lot of gorgeous inside and out for just $45,000 (starting MSRP). There are even rumors that a pair of infamous suicide doors will make a reappearance soon. But the caveat with the Continental is that it’s not selling. To date Lincoln’s only sold 2,405 of them, trailing behind its competition. Its first year on sale, the new Continental went home to only 12,012 (probably very content) owners. This is a shame because I still seriously have high hopes for this gorgeous American luxury yacht on 20-inch wheels. I mean, look at this ad shot below for their Rhapsody Blue flavor you can get with Lincoln’s top-tier Black Label customization program. Everything about it screams class. That’s the Lincoln George Gershwin would want to buy. That’s the Lincoln I want to buy.
Months ago a few of us in the magazine office went out to lunch with one of our contributing writers who used to be a design big wig at Ford and Shelby. I was riding in the backseat of the newest full-size Navigator, that was completely redesigned inside and out recently. Everything felt perfect and noticeably classy from that plush second row captain’s chair and I was very impressed. The black Navigator’s ride so smooth and quiet, I kept mistaking myself for sitting in a penthouse suite onboard some vintage luxurious Holland America ocean liner that ends in -dam. When we parked for lunch, I sat there for a few brief seconds waiting for a white-gloved butler named Alexander or Robert to open my door. That didn’t happen. The gear selector buttons on the center console below the _ however, may appear sleek and reign in a bit of nostalgic posh but I think it’s an over-engineered disaster waiting to happen. All that nitpicking aside, the Navigator is a wonderfully comfortable vehicle that still carries some of that old-school big American swagger. It’s not quite ready to join the high-tech, high-class luxury SUV boys’s club alongside it’s German and Japanese companions but it’s close. It’s also expensive, starting at a few digits over $72,000.

When the Aviator lands, it’ll be the fourth non traditional car vehicle in Lincoln’s, excuse me, The Lincoln Motor Company’s lineup alongside the MKC, MKX, and big daddy Navigator. If the Nautilus for sure gets the okay for the open sea, that’ll make it five.
That’s where the new Aviator swoops in to save the day, and I think this is what Lincoln really needs to soar high and win. Debuting at the recent New York Auto Show, Lincoln calls it a concept but what we saw will most likely be nearly the exact model you’re bound to find in showrooms  within the next year. We don’t know a ton about the new Aviator, but from what we do, it’s sure to be a hit.

Instead of being built as a common, run of the mill crossover, the three-row Aviator gets its own unique, rear-wheel-drive SUV platform. I’ve already had to correct a few false assumptions I’ve heard others make saying it’s just going to be a jazzed-up Explorer wearing a fancy, overpriced tuxedo, because this is far from true. I appreciate that the Aviator stands out from Lincoln’s current lineup of SUV/crossover things as being the most modern looking. It doesn’t look aged, or tired, or boring. At first glance, it looks bears traditional Lincoln styling but with a dosage of sexy, high-class attitude finally. I see shared styling cues from Land Rover’s Range Rover in the rear and sides, and quite frankly I’ll accurately assume the new Aviator will be undeniably more reliable than the $85,000 Range Rover Velar test car I was photographing weeks back, that already had its check engine light on after less than 10,000 miles.

“Thing is, the Velar photographs excellently and is equally good in person. The Aviator photographs well but has a real presence to it in person that photos just don’t get across.”-Ross Ballot, Hooniverse.com

Pay close enough attention and you’ll probably see a few aviation-themed styling hints, like its wheels that look like  propellers in motion and the modest chrome hole just fore of the “A” in “Aviator” on the side, that to me, screams a tribute to the legendary P-51 Fighter plane.

Expect power to come from a twin-turbocharged engines, I’m guessing a slightly detuned version of the 450 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost. Lincoln also tells us, very vaguely, that there will also be a plug-in hybrid version. My guess is that it’ll share the Navigator’s 10-speed automatic and optional adaptive suspension. And while the Navigator can be had in either rear- or all-wheel-drive, I suspect the Aviator will be full-time all-wheel-drive.

The interior is a mix of brushed metal, wood and leather, carries similar design trends with Navigator like its climate and audio control layout, and an iPad-size screen rising out from the dash. From the looks of it, the Aviator also has the questionable PRNDL buttons on the center stack below the air vents. Early manufacturer photos also indicate the Aviator gets a colossal sunroof, various parking assists and cameras, and a knob for multiple driving modes. Even the door panels with their elaborate speaker covers and seat controls, look impeccably crafted and designed- enough gusto to give Santiago Calatrava the chills.

Right now the Navigator starts in the low $70,000s, the MKC a shy few over $33,000 and the MKX at $39,035; I’d imagine the Aviator will start in the mid $40,000s with higher trims encroaching on $60,000. To put it in comparison, in 2003, the first generation Aviator had base rear-wheel-drive trims starting at $39,485 while top “Premium” all-wheel-drive models commanded $45,125. A Navigator that same year cost anywhere from $48,485 up to $54,505.

I’m going to call it right now: the Aviator will sell like hot cakes. Jaw-dropping style inside and out with a plethora of panache, the new Aviator is bound to attract buyers away from say, its German and British luxury SUV counterparts.

This is what Lincoln needs to roar down the runway and get its brand to take take off again. The Aviator needs to fill the turbulent void the Continental tried to do and sadly has yet to accomplish. To me, Lincoln is the last true American luxury brand. Cadillac is doing a solid, impressive job, but I’m still not 100% swayed towards them.

Fly on, Aviator, fly on.

What are your thoughts? Will the Aviator live up to its high hype?

[Image © The Lincoln Motor Company and Hooniverse.com / Ross Ballot]

  • David Peterson

    I was skeptical at first as I still believe that for $75 large a V8 is mandatory. I also was reluctant to adopt the OBD II standards but now swear by their convenience. Old dogs = new tricks. I am hoping you’re right as Lincoln could use a home run to get their product into the so-called “early adopters” garages.

  • JayP

    Here’s hoping the whole lineup is a success and that the S550 successor brings a proper RWD Lincoln coupe/sedan. I wanted to love the Continental. Couldn’t.

  • Maymar

    I’m also in the “want to love the Conti but can’t” camp. They very clearly want to recapture Camelot-era glamour, but I’ve never seen a car that seems so much like it should come with a Reagan/Bush ’80 sticker from the factory.
    Mostly though, I just find it underwhelming because it feels like a really nice Fusion (down to the interior plastics). Granted, it’s better value, and roomier, but the first time I got to poke around a new Continental in person was at the auto show, where it was about 100ft from the E-class, which at the same base price, feels far more premium.
    That said, this has more presence, so if they can ramp up the quality, it could do well. More importantly, if they have a RWD unibody platform, that could make its way to a new, better Conti.

  • Fred

    My friend is a big Ford fan and likes Lincoln even more. Just the price is the issue. It’s the problem with all luxury cars that are based on a lower cost model.

  • Batshitbox

    Ah, the Aviator. Together with a Navigator, a Honda Pilot and a Bombardier snomobile you have nearly an entire B-29 crew.

    • outback_ute

      Plus I think nose art would work on these big SUVs too!

  • dukeisduke

    I thought I read somewhere lately that the Explorer was going back to a RWD platform. Maybe it will be shared again with the Aviator? A guy that I used to work with owned one of the original Aviators (he also had a ’96 Explorer XLT 2WD with the 302). He bought the Aviator used, and it was pretty nice, as I remember.

    • Scoutdude

      Yes the Aviator will share components with the Explorer and they will share a new longitudinal RWD platform.

  • Zentropy

    I think the Aviator has the best chance of success of anything in Lincoln’s current lineup. It pulls off the brand’s design language fairly well, which is saying something, considering the current design language as applied to other Lincolns is depressingly drab, indistinct, and shapeless. Its price point is much more reasonable (and competitive) than big brother Navigator’s. And the RWD platform is a smart move.

    I can’t share your feelings about the Continental, the styling of which I find at best absolutely forgettable, at worst clumsy and awkward. I recall seeing it for the first time at the Detroit show, and literally no one was looking at it. I gave it a passing glance and a “meh”. Likewise, the new Navigator is basically a pleasant environment in a plain wrapper.

    Like others here, I really wanted to like the Conti. And I’m rooting for Lincoln to return to significance, but being a Lincoln fan these days is almost akin to being a Cleveland Browns fan.

  • neight428

    I think it has a good shot. Navigators and Escalades don’t seem to get the same tarnish from being based on Expeditions or Tahoes as the sedan analogs do. Then again this world has $70k Tahoes too.

  • I think a lot will depend on timing. Navigator got people talking about Lincoln in the XL sized arena. A good launch of Aviator and re-launch of MKX as Nautilus will keep them talking. A re-name and launch of MKC could get the public to consider them as a full line luxury SUV/CUV contender if not leader.

    Recent Ford developments about the sedans leaves concern for the MKZ and Continental. I can’t think that there’s that much platform difference between CUV’s and sedans though. Perhaps the obituary for the sedan is premature. Fingers crossed.

    • Rover 1

      If they don’t have sedans, what will they base their upmarket brand’s cars on? Since VW tried sharing platforms, they’ve managed the trick of becoming the world’s largest and most profitable car manufacturer.

      They seem to have forgotten that economy of scale can reduce costs and improve profits. That was first shown a hundred or so years ago by some fellow, Henry … something… who pretty much perfected mass production for automobiles

      I wonder if the Ford Motor Company has heard of him?

  • crank_case

    Always kind of amusing how Aston/Land Rover/Jaguar styling cues didn’t appear on other Ford products until they sold them, even the fiesta ended up with squished Vantage features.

  • je zalanka

    yes, the connie is quite nice. it is not a coupe however. i would spend coin of the realm for a coupe connie.

    • Zentropy

      A Continental coupe is a ridiculous proposal at this stage in the marque’s history. Besides, sales of the last Lincoln coupe, the Mark VIII, were dismal.

      • je zalanka

        owning a twenty year old Mark VIII, (dismall though the 1998 sales of the car were,) I still have not found a younger equivalent in comfort, performance, and construction that fits my large body (6’4″). Sighh. there are a lot of nice cars out there but, first they have to fit you. $40 large in 1998 dollars equates to $61 large today. economics history is not one of my strong suits but than Wiki. price tag may have had something to do with it but was it to low(ford lost money on every one they sold)?
        zero rust after twenty colorado years and still solid performance with normal maintenance.

        • Zentropy

          No hate here on the Mk VIII– I nearly bought a Mk VII when I was in high school, and seriously considered a used Mk VIII shortly out of college. I loved the look and feel of those cars. But from a modern perspective, they are a ridiculous proposition. Heavy, with a large footprint. Big engines, but modest performance, and completely impractical with only two doors. They were basically a low, luxury pickup without a bed. Which is, why, I suppose, I ended up buying a pickup instead of that Mk. VIII.

          • je zalanka

            i agree for the most part, and the other mouth to feed here is an 03 ram diesel pickup/tow/prime mover. sadly the truck weighs 7000 pounds empty which is a lot more than the Mark 8 so for me its a matter of perspective.
            have not modded the engine but did go to 3.73 gears and truetrac differential in the rearend. i am fortunate to have a Hickok tester that allows me to see what is going on in almost all the systems on the canbuss.
            I really do not need the other two doors in which case you would end up with what, a towncar? so really not impractical for me. to each his own. good to hear from you.

            • Zentropy

              As a 20-something, I was all about coupes. As a 40-something, I don’t understand why they need to exist. Yeah, these days I’d take a Towncar over a MKIII any day. I’d likely modify it for handling, but I think four doors are better than two regardless. Five, even better. I could easily drive a station wagon for the rest of my life and not be dissatisfied.