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First Drive: 2020 Lincoln Aviator

Lincoln’s Rebirthed Luxury SUV Takes Flight…Again

Gary Witzenburg
Aug 22, 2019
Remember the Lincoln Aviator? Not this new one; the one that launched 17 years ago for 2003? Like this one, it was based on the then-new midsize, rear-drive, three-row Ford Explorer and developed by a dedicated Lincoln engineering team that strived to differentiate it inside and outside from its Ford cousin and give it true Lincoln DNA. They largely succeeded.
Then, as now, Aviator was positioned as a smaller, more maneuverable, more affordable, more garageable alternative to Lincoln's big truck-based Navigator and a strong competitor to the many pricey European and Asian entrees in this growing segment. After a media drive and a 600-mile road trip, this reviewer called that 302hp V-8-powered 2003 Aviator "a wonderfully competent and enjoyable transportation device . [that] carves through corners like a car-based BMW and absorbs pavement roughness like a big Lincoln sedan just about right in just about every way."
Photo 2/36   |   2020 Lincoln Aviator Front 3q
And then we wondered why it lasted just three model years—it was sadly killed after 2005—and why it has taken Ford Motor Company 15 long years to revive this increasingly important midsize market entry, not to mention its wonderful name.
Lincoln cleverly calls the character of this very well executed and beautifully sculpted midsize luxury SUV "Quiet Flight" and points out right up front that it offers both conventional and hybrid propulsion systems, but no turbo-four-cylinder base engine. The standard twin-turbocharged 3.0L V-6 pumps a healthy 400 horses and 415 lb-ft of torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission while delivering a respectable 18 mpg city, 26 highway, and 21 combined EPA economy with rear-wheel drive and 17/24/20 with available (standard on Black Label) "Intelligent" all-wheel drive. The Grand Touring hybrid model integrates a 75-kW electric motor into its parallel hybrid system for a combined output of 494 galloping ponies and 630 lb-ft of potentially pavement-scarring torque; all-wheel drive is standard.
Photo 3/36   |   2020 Lincoln Aviator Rear 3q
That combined power figure falls just one thoroughbred short of the 495 put out by the 2020 Corvette's rip-roaring mid-mounted V-8, so this new Aviator Grand Touring is not being positioned (like most other hybrids) as a fuel saver but instead as a higher-performance model. "With Aviator Grand Touring, we are aiming to set the bar for luxury SUVs," says Lincoln Motor Company Chief Program Engineer John Davis. "It offers a sanctuary-like cabin and signature drive feel that is uniquely Lincoln." We'll learn how efficient it is when its EPA ratings are revealed.
To deal with life on America's roads, the Aviator's advanced suspension offers available Lincoln-first "road preview" technology to constantly adjust to road conditions and mitigate potholes, which can sense when a wheel is dropping into a severe dip and lessen the blow by stiffening the shock absorber to reduce the amount of drop. Its available adaptive suspension monitors vehicle body motion, steering, acceleration, and braking to adjust its calibrations up to 100 times per second while Road Preview reads the road 50 feet ahead to proactively soften unpleasant impacts.
Photo 4/36   |   2020 Lincoln Aviator Side
Available Air Glide Suspension uses air springs with preset ride heights instead of traditional coil springs, and Dynamic Lower Entry lowers the Aviator to greet an approaching driver, also easing cargo loading. The standard system offers five drive modes—Normal, Conserve, Excite, Slippery, and Deep Conditions. The Grand Touring adds Pure EV, which maintains all-electric mode as long as there's battery power, and Preserve EV, which recharges and saves battery power for later.
Lincoln's newly available Phone as a Key feature lets you use a compatible smartphone to lock and unlock the Aviator, start and drive it, and open its liftgate without a traditional key. The phone can also recall individual preferences for adjusting seat, side mirrors, and steering column positions.
Lincoln touts the Aviator's roomy, quiet, luxury-lined cabin as a "soothing sanctuary" and offers available 28-speaker Revel Ultima 3D audio that "re-creates an authentic concert-hall experience." Unique chimes (recorded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra) provide musical warning alerts for just about everything. Available 30-way Perfect Position seats with Active Motion offer massage and additional lumbar support for the driver and front-row passenger, though we somehow couldn't adjust the driver seat quite low and far enough back for this 6-foot author's comfort. The second-row seats, which recline, adjust fore/aft, and tip and slide forward for third-row access, provided excellent leg and knee room, but that third-row is a bit tight and not that easy to get into and out of. When folded flat, though, it offers best-in-class cargo room behind the second row, Lincoln says.
Photo 5/36   |   2020 Lincoln Aviator Wheel
The large infotainment screen stands straight up at almost eye level, and its icons are large and easy to accurately poke while driving. The radio offers welcome knobs for volume and tune/scroll plus hard buttons for Source and Seek (we could use a couple more), and the HVAC control set below it is nicely arranged with a central fan knob and toggles for cabin temperatures. The central console houses an ample bin and two cupholders ahead of a deep-covered storage box with a handy phone-charging pocket inside, and there are double USB outlets (one each "A" and "C" type) for each seating row.
On the road, we found the standard 400-horse engine muscular enough for quick two-lane passing bursts and the Grand Touring's (virtually transparent) hybrid system even more pleasingly powerful. Handling and steering (especially in Excite driving mode) were surprisingly good for such a heavy (4,774 pounds standard rear-wheel drive, 5,673 pounds Grand Touring all-wheel drive) vehicle, and the brakes proved equally capable when needed. When we finished our fairly vigorous 124-mile Grand Touring testdrive, the trip computer said we averaged a respectable 25.1 mpg.
As the all-new 2020 starts at $52,000, we see no reason why it won't be a strong contender in its midsize luxury SUV class, unlike its very nice but slow-selling 2003-to-2005 predecessor. One additional important feature to consider: Aviator is first to offer Lincoln Access Rewards, a new loyalty program that earns points redeemable for your next new (FoMoCo) vehicle, dealer services, and even at Lincoln hospitality affiliates for business or vacation trips.
Photo 6/36   |   026 2020 Lincoln Aviator
2020 Lincoln Aviator
Vehicle type: Midsize Luxury SUV
Base price: $51,100
Price as tested: Black Label $81,790; Grand Touring $84,365
Engine: 3.0L Twin-Turbo V-6
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Horsepower: 400 hp @ 5,500 rpm; Grand Touring 494 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 415 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm; Grand Touring 630 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
Curb weight: 4,774 to 5,673 pounds
Towing capacity: 6,700 pounds (5,600 pounds Grand Touring)
EPA mileage ratings: Rear-wheel drive: 18/26/21 mpg; all-wheel drive: 17/24/20 mpg; Grand Touring TBA