Lincoln Navigator Concept Shows Company’s Bold New Future
Large Luxury SUV Gets Nautical-Inspired Design, Gullwing Doors
The Lincoln brand has been lost at sea for what seems like decades now. Once the glamorous chariot of presidents, movie stars, and members of high society, Lincoln’s image began to languish in the 1970s, set adrift among more modern, stylish competition from England, Germany, and eventually, Japan.
The company’s tide seemed to turn in the late 1990s with the release of the Navigator SUV. Based on the plebian Ford Expedition, the Navigator brought a bespoke interior and brash styling to the large-SUV segment, igniting imitation from Cadillac (the Escalade), GMC (the Denali lineup), and Lexus (the V-8–powered LX470). At last, Lincoln had built a vehicle whose grandiose style could stand up against the large, graceful Continental Mark II of the 1950s.
Or so we all thought. The booming economy bolstered by the tech industry fell into disrepair just a few years later, and high gas prices had us all singing the praises of crossovers, a segment largely ignored by domestic luxury brands until very recently. In spite of the updated 2015 Navigator's goodness (and awesome turbocharged powerplant), customers largely ignored Lincoln. The presidential nameplate, once again, was an old sea tar fighting for relevance in a modern world.
That could be about to change. The company’s stunning Continental sedan concept from last year’s New York International Auto Show was the first evidence the brand was looking for its mojo, and one year later, Lincoln is following up its Big Apple performance with a concept of the next Navigator. Presaging the replacement for today’s aged ‘Gator, the concept does away with the split-wing grille and blocky styling of the current SUV, favoring more expressive design that suits the company’s aspirations well.
Drawing inspiration from a distinctly nautical look book, the Lincoln Navigator concept has a stance that would suit a large-draft yacht nestled deep into the water. Its windswept greenhouse and bold prow are modern and stylish, and they give the Navigator its most extreme update since the model was released in 1998. Gone is the outgoing truck’s Expedition-based styling, replaced with modern lines not unlike the Range Rover’s. It’s a look that takes some getting used to, but it’s not unattractive in the least.
Lincoln’s show-car artistry is on full display when you open the side doors, er, door, which opens up gullwing-style to reveal two rows of plush, luxurious seating. Its patented Lincoln Perfect Position seats adjust in 30 different directions to conform to any body shape, and more marine influences are manifest in the aluminum-inlay teak accents applied to the dashboard and door panels. Teak decking also adorns the “concertina steps,” the deployable running boards that pop out whenever the giant door is open. Surprisingly, the Navigator has a two-spoke steering wheel that calls the land barges of the 1970s to mind, and although the Malaise Era is usually best left in memory, we actually like Lincoln’s brave, retromod choice for the Navigator concept’s tiller.
While the styling may evoke saltwater-tinged imagery of a bygone era, the Navigator’s powertrain is firmly rooted in 21st-century roadgoing. A new 3.5L twin-turbocharged V-6 with more than 400 hp powers the concept, and advanced terrain management systems keep all four wheels moving. Lincoln boasts go-anywhere performance for the Navigator concept, although we’ll keep our tongues in our cheeks when we look at the ‘gator’s massive wheels and low ground clearance.
More pertinent to today’s luxury SUV customer will be the Navigator’s Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and its enhanced active parking abilities. Rear-seat passengers get their entertainment from one of the four monitors affixed to the captain’s chair headrests, and Wi-Fi connectivity means each passenger can get their fix of social media, streaming video, and other wireless content. The concept can even serve as a mobile closet, as its cargo area is stuffed with the accouterment one might expect in the locker of a sailboat.
So how much of this auto-show whizbangery will make it into Lincoln showrooms? Well, don’t plan on seeing the gullwing doors or silly three-step running boards on a production version of the Navigator. But given how faithfully the Continental went from concept to production, it’s probably fair to expect the Navigator concept’s lovely styling to make the jump to ritzy neighborhoods all over the Eastern Seaboard. And those 30-way seats are already on their way to Lincoln production cars, so expect them in the Navigator, too. Also due for the next Navi is a significant weight-loss plan, bolstered by aluminum-intensive construction inspired by the Ford F-150.
If the company manages to bring a new Navigator to the marketplace with this concept’s basic shape, style, and attitude, it’ll likely have a hit on its hands. The once-overlooked Cadillac Escalade was transformed into a legitimate Range Rover rival in just one generation, and there’s no reason Lincoln can’t do the same with this model. Even without the floating doors, screen-heavy interior, and teak running boards, the production Navigator could make a splash on the luxury SUV scene if it can maintain the show vehicle’s panache.