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How the New Lincoln Aviator Could be a Match for Europe’s Best

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 8/20/2019 Motor Trend Staff

a car parked in front of a house: 2020-Lincoln-Aviator-27.jpg
My late grandfather was one of the fanciest people I've ever known. He would only use cloth napkins during meals and had at least one glass of wine at every dinner. He preferred Spanish or French reds over anything else, but as California wines emerged and competed against the best of Bordeaux for significantly less money, he paid more attention to them. He felt the same way about cars. He preferred to be chauffeured in his Mercedes but was impressed by what Detroit was coming back with. The 2020 Lincoln Aviator—with its plush interior and crisp exterior design—is the latest example of new American luxury, and gives a clear picture of where the brand is headed.

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The 2020 Aviator three-row luxury crossover will be powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 producing a healthy 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque; the Grand Touring plug-in hybrid is propelled by the same 3.0-liter V-6 mated to a 13.6-kW-hr battery to deliver an eye-opening total combined output of 494 hp and 630 lb-ft of torque. Both powertrains use a 10-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard on the hybrid, whereas the gas version gets RWD as standard and AWD as an option. For this 2020 Aviator review, we're focusing on the gas model, but be sure to come back on Thursday to read our driving impressions of the Grand Touring plug-in hybrid.

Research the Lincoln Aviator on MSN Autos

It's not only the Aviator's 22-inch wheels that catch your gaze; the use of chrome, fluid lines, and attention to detail make the Lincoln stand out on the road. The three-row SUV has a presence with its big grille, short front overhang, and wide stance. And naturally, it looks great with Napa's rolling hills and grapevines in the background.

But even in wine country, things can sometimes go wrong. In the first half of our day driving an Aviator Reserve equipped with the dynamic handling and convenience packages, we had a slight issue with its engine. About halfway into my codriver's drive, we felt that the engine was lacking boost—it seemed like the turbos weren't working. After a short break it was my turn to drive, and for the first 25 minutes everything returned to normal. When I switched the driving mode from Normal to Excite (Lincoln's name for Sport), it felt like the boost was again turned off. The check engine light came on shortly after that, and toward the end of my drive the engine felt gutless. Once we arrived at our lunch spot, we alerted the engineers.

John Davis, chief program manager for the Aviator, later told us that a vacuum hose attached to the turbos had a small circumferential rip, which caused the loss of boost. His team repaired it the same day, and out of all the pre-production units that were in Napa for the launch, ours was the only one that suffered a mechanical disfunction. Fortunately, Lincoln put me behind the wheel of another Aviator before I headed back home the next day.

a car parked on the side of a road: 2020 Lincoln Aviator 22© Motor Trend Staff 2020 Lincoln Aviator 22

In the 2020 Aviator I drove the next morning, the 3.0-liter engine felt quite powerful. When I stepped on the throttle, there was almost no lag from the turbos, and the 10-speed transmission shifted quickly and seamless. Although most people will drive in Comfort mode, Excite mode turns things a different way. The transmission holds gears a bit longer when upshifting, and downshifts are pretty noticeable, creating the rev-matching feel of a manual transmission.

The steering is light and well balanced, but it doesn't give you much feedback as to what's happening on the road. Even in Excite mode, the steering doesn't get as stiff. But most Aviator customers wouldn't mind the soft steering, as the ride in general is serene and quiet, with little wind or tire noise making it into the cabin.

Lincoln's new air suspension and adaptive suspension with road preview are optional in the new Aviator. The air suspension lowers itself when the car is parked for easier access and exit, and when the driver selects the Deep Conditions mode, the suspension automatically raises to its highest setting to provide more ground clearance. The air suspension replaces the coil springs with air springs, and it does a good job absorbing the bumps on the road. The adaptive suspension with road preview uses a front camera to read the road surface 50 feet ahead, spotting bumps, ruts, and potholes and makes changes to the suspension to minimize the impact.

Despite feeling some body roll, the interior is a really nice place to spend long road trips. This is where Lincoln differentiates itself from the Europeans and creates a new kind of luxury. The open-pore wood in the Black Label and the aluminum trim in the Reserve are elegant, and the whole interior is nicely laid out. The horizontal design makes the cabin seem more spacious, and the 30-way powered seats offer massage and additional thigh support for the driver and front passenger.

There's a sense of peacefulness that relaxes the occupants. From the chimes recorded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra that provide more subtle alerts than the common bells and whistles, to the quality of the leather, the Aviator's interior draws more customers into it.

As in previous Lincolns, the shifter has been replaced by buttons located on the center console under the air vents, freeing space and providing a clean, crisp layout. And then there's the attention to detail. From the chrome trim on the three knobs on the center console, to the design of the steering wheel and the smart way to use its buttons, Lincoln's designers thought about how customers would use and feel in the Aviator's interior.

And the plushness is not only for those seated in the front. The second row is spacious, and there's a 5.0-inch touchscreen in the center passengers can use to control the air temperature and fan speed. Captain's chairs are an option, and they are available with a nice center console between the two seats that has deep storage and cupholders. USB ports are located under the air vents in the center.

Although the second-row seats slide forward, accessing the third row could be a bit tricky when there are no captain's chairs. The opening between the seat and the C-pillar can be compact, and your ability to squeeze in could depend on your agility. Even with the second-row seats moved all the way forward, the third row feels a bit cramped. I was able to fit my 6-foot frame in the third row, but I'd only recommend it for very short city drives.

a stereo sitting on top of a car© Motor Trend Staff

As you would expect, the new Aviator is full of technology. It's the first Lincoln to come with phone as a key, allowing up to four smartphones to be configured as a key. Besides doing the regular tasks a smart key does, phone as a key lets you lower or close the windows, turn on the engine, and open or close the tailgate—all from the app. If you run out of battery and want to get inside the Aviator, you'll be able to do so using your keypad passcode; the engine can also be started using a different passcode through the touchscreen. The keypad also allows drivers to use the Aviator as a locker—you can leave your phone and key inside and lock the car with the keypad.

Lincoln Co-Pilot360, the suite of safety technologies, is standard on the Aviator and includes pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, and auto high-beams. One step above that is the optional Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus, which adds adaptive cruise control that works in traffic, evasive steering assist, reverse brake assist, and active park assist plus, which can parallel park the Aviator with only the touch of a button.

Upping the interior experience is the Revel Ultima 3D audio system, which uses 28 speakers smartly positioned throughout the cabin for a great listening experience. Whether you're streaming a compressed file, playing SiriusXM radio, or playing an audio file through a USB drive, the audio quality provides an impressive experience. The system comes with three listening modes—stereo, audience, and on-stage—and depending on the mode you choose, the speakers give all occupants a different experience.

Unlike in the past, when Lincolns were simply fancier Fords, the brand is taking a new direction to elevate its position in the luxury world and expand its reach. And just like my grandpa did with wine, Lincoln hopes more customers will ditch European brands for Detroit's plush designs.

Research the Lincoln Aviator on MSN Autos

2020 Lincoln Aviator
BASE PRICE $52,195
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD/AWD, 6/7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.0L/400-hp/415-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4,700-4,900 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 119.1 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 119.3 x 79.6 x 69.8 in
0-60 MPH 5.5-5.7 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 17-18/24-26/20-21 mpg
ON SALE IN U.S. Summer, 2019

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