Mountain Wheels: Lincoln’s Navigator Black Label channels Bentley for intense opulence (column)
November 12, 2018
The grand winner of the Contemporary Automotive Overload award for 2018, if not for all time, goes to the 2018 Lincoln Navigator, specifically the extra-special Black Label edition.
I'd say the $98,145 (as tested) Navigator handily encapsulates the spirit of our times — boisterous largesse, questionably tasteful and entirely over-the-top design, plus powerful but oddly inefficient turbo power making up for the lack of a V-8. If domestic carmakers tried to make a Bentley in Kentucky, this is pretty much what you'd get.
Older Navigators were plush up-renderings of the mechanically interrelated Ford Expedition, but this chromed and cubed-out piece of diamond — posing as a cubic zirconia, in a weird role reversal — is way, way off the charts. Looks are from the 1960s Brutalism school, with strange mixes of futuristic tech and bits you'd swear were from a 1965 Continental.
The potentially dubious move to a V-6 seems successful, as they've twin-turbocharged the 3.5-liter engine (and dropped the pedestrian Ford EcoBoost name) to provide 450 horsepower and 510 lb.-ft. of Yukon Denali-beating boost — earning a decent but not mind-boggling 18.6 MPG over the course of my lower-altitude drives.
Because trailering is apparently the Navigator's lifeblood (I too did not know that), the minute you clamber aboard and plant yourself in the anatomically sculpted, three-piece seat, you will repeatedly press the most prominent knob on the dash, only to find that it is the automatic trailer backing control. The starter's actually hidden up behind it; trailer brake controls are below.
More curiously, what is absolutely the world's most low-key instrument display, as laconic as McConaughey's delivery in those surreal ads, is chock-ablock with trailering controls, in addition to phases-of-the-moon speedometer and tachometer readouts that offer just mere whiffs of visual data.
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My 5,855-pound 4×4 Navigator (there is also a slightly heavier, 9-inch-longer extended wheelbase version) was ready to pull 8,300 pounds of trailer — the two-wheel-drive version can yank 8,700 pounds. I did not do so, but I am guessing that the 510 lb.-ft. of torque will make that relatively easy, even at high elevation.
That V-6 is oddly noisy despite its smaller cylinder count, but the overall ride and cabin quietness largely negates any unpleasantness. It is so ungodly huge, however, that you feel a bit like you are floating along — stops are a little precarious at speed, and speed is very easy to over-achieve with little effort. Still, I found it a more stable and easy-to-handle driving experience than the new Expedition I am driving this week, whose oversized tires get caught in highway wheel ruts and requires so much steering input and correction, it was a little scary. Navigator did not put up a fight, and cruised like the monster that it is.
Designers went particularly crazy with elements such as the dash, an outline-stitched lesson in decks and levels, with sparkly gloss wood trim, vast banks of air vents and the sublime, thoroughly retro curiosity of chromed transmission controls that look like the Rhumba switch on an old Wurlizter organ. It's really strange and kind of wonderful, once you get used to it.
Outside, the audaciousness starts with a chrome grille the size of a kitchen countertop, a multi-contoured hood very much like a prominent British luxury brand (see if you can guess, based on the picture here), plus enormous wraparound LED, jeweled and double-lens headlamps.
That's just the hood and grille — radiated powersaw blade-styled, satin-finish, 22-inch wheels, chromed mirrors, roof rails and a window trim piece that seems to be about 14 feet long, all add to the splashiness.
The ultra-leathery, perforated seats indeed offer various support zones, which seems a tad awkward at first. But fire up the auto industry's most aggressive massage function and you'll feel like softballs are being rolled across your butt and back. Holy cow. Seat controls are also mounted on the doors, like a certain German carmaker.
All of the real visual action for drivers is not on that Impressionist-styled instrument display but instead on a very long and busy head-up display, another interesting Navigator touch.
There's a free-floating center console with a carry-on luggage-sized storage space, topped with chrome-edged, piano-black surfaces and very subtle audio and A/C controls. The 20-speaker Revel Ultima sound system is indeed very pleasant and loud.
The second row gets a similar floating island, plus headrest video monitors with streaming video and audio input. The Navigator's built-in WiFi can serve up to 10 on-board devices at once.
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