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2020 Lincoln Aviator plug-in hybrid first drive: This changes everything

Roadshow logo Roadshow 8/22/2019 Antuan Goodwin
a car driving on a road© Lincoln

Earlier this week, I shared my first impressions behind the wheel of the 2020 Lincoln Aviator, but had to hold back the best part. Today, we're diving into the 2020 Aviator Grand Touring plug-in hybrid. Aside from the electrified powertrain, the Grand Touring is identical to its non-hybrid variant, boasting the same smart technologies -- like Phone as Key and Co-Pilot 360 -- and the same high level of luxury and finish.

However, with more power, more refinement and -- perhaps most importantly -- the potential for dramatically improved efficiency, Lincoln's first twin-turbocharged plug-in hybrid V6 promises to raise the bar for the brand.

2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring hits the road with plug-in power

a car parked in front of a building

© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc.

Nearly 500 horsepower

After an initial estimate from Lincoln of "over 450 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque," I was delighted to learn that the final calibration of the electrified Aviator Grand Touring will be even more powerful than anticipated.

The Grand Touring model pairs the Aviator's 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine with a 75-kilowatt (100 horsepower) electric motor. With their powers combined, output is bumped to 494 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque… wow. That's a gain of 94 peak ponies and 215 pound-feet over the non-hybrid model.

All-wheel drive is standard on the Grand Touring -- there's no rear-drive option like you'd get on the base model. The plug-in Aviator features the same 10-speed automatic transmission as the non-hybrid, but with slightly revised ratios to better match the hybrid's output.

Lincoln Motor Company© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Lincoln Motor Company

About 20 miles of pure electric range

Energy for that electric motor is stored in a 13.6-kWh battery pack hidden beneath the cargo floor. Fully charged, it'll power the Aviator Grand Touring for about 18 to 20 miles of fully electric range before the gasoline motor kicks in for hybrid operation. The Aviator's computers can automatically allocate that EV range depending on your driving style or the driver can lock the powertrain into a Pure EV drive mode until the battery is depleted.

Plugging in the Aviator Grand Touring can recharge its battery pack in about 3 to 4 hours at a 240-volt, Level 2 charging station. Plugging into a 110-volt wall outlet at home will trickle charge the battery in a little over 12 hours. The Aviator Grand Touring can also self-charge its battery up to 75-percent using excess energy from its gasoline engine when set to its Preserve EV driving mode, though that will cost just a bit of efficiency.

The battery pack doesn't eat into the Aviator's cargo space at all -- which matches the non-hybrid's 18.3 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the third row or 41.8 cubic feet with the third row folded -- but its placement does necessitate a smaller 18 gallon gas tank, versus the standard model's 20.2 gallon reservoir. Of course, the hybrid's improved fuel economy means that it will likely have a longer cruising range despite the smaller reservoir. This is just swapping one form of energy storage for another.

Quiet Flight

The battery also adds an extra 781 pounds of mass to the Aviator's curb weight, which you can feel in the SUV's handling when you're really tossing it into a series of corners. However, the Aviator Grand Touring has a comfort-driven driving character and ride and I don't think that most of its buyers will be tackling many chicanes. Driven like the three-passenger SUV that it is -- presumably loaded up with passengers, cargo and car seats -- I don't believe that most drivers would notice the extra weight.

a car driving down a street: Lincoln Motor Company© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Lincoln Motor Company

The available Adaptive Suspension with Road Preview -- which I discussed in my first drive of the standard model -- is also still at play here, scanning the road for bumps and dips and then quickly adjusting the softness (or firmness) of the dampers to compensate. The result is a smooth ride over bumps that doesn't feel too sloppy in the corners.

The handling may not be much different, but you can bet that adding as much torque as a whole 2019 Kia Soul EV to the party makes a difference in acceleration. This thing hauls when you need it to with a much stronger, smooth pull off the line. The hybrid system's electric boost also works to smooth out the V6's torque curve across the board, improving tip-in responsiveness and smoothing out the power dip during shifts. So small speed changes -- a little surge of acceleration for a pass or a squirt of power for a merge -- feel much more immediate and effortless.

Extra economy

Fuel economy for this beefy hybrid system has not yet been stated, but the Grand Touring Black Label did 24.9 mpg during my testing. For comparison, I averaged 14.9 miles per gallon in the standard Aviator Black Label with all-wheel drive over a similar route. Before discussing the implications of those numbers, it's caveat time.

a close up of a car: Lincoln Motor Company© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Lincoln Motor Company

My fuel averages tend to be a bit low due to the unique rigors of filming the video companion to these first drives and the need to mix in performance and acceleration testing. I also only put about 100 miles on either car, which isn't representative of even a full tank average. Also, in the real world, recharge and your average trip lengths have the potential to add even more "your mileage may vary" to plug-in hybrids.

Still, that's a pretty significant bump in fuel economy for the hybrid even over such a short distance and in this close-to-worst-case scenario. I expect we'll have more accurate economy estimates from Lincoln and the EPA closer to the Grand Touring's on-sale date later this summer.

More powerful, efficient and expensive

Between the big bump in torque, the potential for dramatically improved efficiency and a dash of quiet EV range, about the only reason to not step up to the plug-in hybrid Aviator Grand Touring is the price you pay for those upgrades.

Including a $1,095 destination charge, the 2020 Aviator starts at $69,895 for the Grand Touring plug-in hybrid -- a $15,200 premium over the non-hybrid AWD model. Pricing tops out with the Grand Touring Black Label which, for $88,895, rolls in every bell, whistle, technology and perk at the Aviator's disposal, from the 30-way adjustable Perfect Position front seats and 28-speaker Revel audio system to the Co-Pilot 360 Plus safety suite and Black Label concierge and premium services.

However, where the standard 2020 Aviator competes with a familiar rogues gallery that includes the Cadillac's XT6, Acura MDX and Lexus RX L, this Grand Touring model steps up into a class above. With this sort of power (and for this kind of money) the Aviator Grand Touring should be considered an alternative to Mercedes-Benz GLS580, BMW's X7 xDrive50i and their ilk. Honestly, the Lincoln doesn't feel out of place among this more upscale cohort, especially in Black Label trim.

I can't wait to get more seat time with the Aviator Grand Touring when it makes a stop in the Roadshow garage for a full rated review later this year. With the plug-in hybrid expected to start reaching dealerships in "late summer 2019," that should be right around the corner.

a car driving on a road: Lincoln Motor Company© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Lincoln Motor Company

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

This was originally published on Roadshow.

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