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Five things I learned driving the 2020 Lincoln Aviator

Five things I learned driving the 2020 Lincoln Aviator
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I am conflicted — confounded, even. On the one hand, I think Lincoln’s new Aviator is a tremendous vehicle. Not perfect, mind you, but a darned fine attempt at modernizing the North American luxury SUV. It’s truly impressive.

On the other hand, my Aviator tester — not even the topline Gran Touring hybrid model — rang in at $85,335 once all the options were factored in. My quandary, in case you haven’t already guessed, is whether the Lincoln badge is ready to stretch that far. To be sure, the car — OK, SUV — is ready. But is the brand? It’s only recently that Lincoln has started building top-quality products and price parity with more established brands may be a little premature. I’ll let you be the judge of brand value, but in the meantime, here’s the top five things you need to know about the new Aviator to help you make up your mind.

No, that wasn’t a typo. The Aviator — yes, from Lincoln — has the most attractive interior in a luxury SUV at this price. I have to say I’m as surprised as you are; never, ever, in my 35 years in this business, have I previously claimed Lincoln was the best at, well, anything. I’ll start with the décor, a a nice combination of the organic (tasteful tan leather on the dashboard and the seats) and metallic (the brushed aluminum trim bits that include the centre console radio and climate controls). It’s a very linear motif, all straight lines and perfectly horizontal orientation, but it’s also luxurious and simple. The leather steering wheel, push-button transmission selector, and the large 10-inch infotainment touchscreen just add to the allure.

That last — the infotainment — is impressive in its own right. Sync 3 is one of the simplest, yet more than powerful enough, systems in the biz. Just as importantly, the interface is colourful and attractive, especially when you’re in audio mode. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. If simplicity and ease of use are your priorities in an infotainment system, Sync 3 is for you.

First Drive: 2020 Lincoln Aviator

Then there’s the phone as key fob function. Pair your phone, walk up to the Aviator, and exterior lights will illuminate and the doors will unlock. Plunk your smartphone in the cupholder, press the start button, and Bill (Gates) is your uncle — the big Lincoln fires up. And yes, if you lose your phone, Lincoln says there’s a way to deactivate its permissions lest the Aviator also disappears along with your iPhone.

Lincoln’s naming of the Drive Modes are my only interior criticism, namely that their designations are the height of pretense. “Eco” mode is, no longer Eco, but “Conserve” and urging you towards “Efficient Driving” while inspiring you with a picture of the globe on the dashboard. I have to seriously wonder if this last is going to alienate any of Lincoln’s traditional conservative clientele whom we know, thanks to Fox News, hate anything “globalist.” Mud, Snow and Sand have become “Deep Conditions” while ice and/or gravel have become “Slippery.” Either the average driver has become way dumber than even I thought possible, or some of Lincoln’s software engineers had way too much time on their hands.

I’m fairly certain this is a personal foible, but I just can’t get comfortable with the seats Lincoln puts in its SUVs. They certainly look comfortable and my significant other, Driving’s own Nadine Filion, found them more than sufficiently cushy. But my skinny butt never found a sweet spot. There are available 30-way — yes, 30 individual adjustments — Perfect Position seats with Active Motion seats available, but if my experience was anything to go by, I wouldn’t be any more comfortable in them. It would appear Lincoln seats and I just arent compatible. Now, that may not mean much: As my compendious lineup of ex-wives and girlfriends can attest, my lack of compatibility should not be taken to mean that no one can get along with Lincoln seats. And, if you can become one with the Lincoln’s seating, the Aviator’s interior is damn near perfect.

Lincoln really has found a sweet spot with the 3.0-litre EcoBoost V6. Until recently exclusive to Lincoln — the new Explorer gets the 3.0L for 2020 — the Aviator’s 400 horsepower and 415 lb.-ft. of torque are more than adequate for even its semi-bulky 2,226 kilograms. Not only that, it’s delightfully smooth, a little less coarse than Ford’s larger 3.5L version and less noisy than the 2.7L because it seldom needs to rev as high. That’s especially true, since the 10-speed automatic keeps the revs fairly low and in the meat of the turbocharged engine’s prodigious torque band. It’s a powertrain that need not envy anything from Germany.

, essentially the same engine further invigorated by a 100-horsepower electric motor sandwiched between engine and transmission. The electrification boost the engine/motor combination to 494 horsepower and torque to 630 pound-feet. This last fairly makes the Aviator jump off the line. On the other hand, if my experience with Ford SUV hybrids systems is any indication, there’s not much of a fuel economy advantage. Unless you really need the little hybrid sticker to impress your green friends, I’d opt for the base powertrain. It’s more than you’ll ever need.

As I mentioned, the Aviator is a tad portly. It is also based on the Explorer platform, and like so many large, domestic sport-brutes, it handles a bit truckish. For some — perhaps even many — that’s no insult. One just has to look at F-150 sales to see that “handles like a truck” is not necessarily an impediment to sales success. Those caveats aside, — or even Volvo XC90 — lightness of foot, you’ll not find it here. Oh, there’s an optional air suspension package that will reduce roll during cornering and the steering has decent feedback, but expecting the Aviator to flick into corners like a BMW is a little like casting a linebacker in a ballet; athleticism and brute strength will get you through the performance, but an Aviator would look very silly in tights.

Weight aside, there is so much to like about the new Aviator — all the aforementioned attributes plus an attractive exterior and seating for seven, not to mention an extra roomy trunk. By quite some margin, it’s the best thing I’ve driven from Lincoln in quite some time. It most certainly deserving of being a finalist in the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards.

That said, I have to say — and the last time I mentioned this, I got remedial PR from the marketing mavens at Ford — that I am still not sure that Lincoln is ready for price parity with some of the more established luxury marques. It’s only just recently that Ford’s luxury arm has got its act together and news of automotive rejuvenation travels slow. Considering how good the Aviator is, I’d like to be proven wrong, but I suspect that pricing — you can outfit a Grand Touring Hybrid so it hits $100,000 — may be be a sore point. Otherwise, the Aviator is a no-excuses-needed-thank-you-very-much luxury vehicle.
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