Is Lincoln’s New Navigator Headed in the Right Direction?

2015 Lincoln Navigator Hero Shot

It took the better part of a decade — seven years — but at long last, Lincoln (NYSE:F) has turned its attention to the one member of its lineup which, for that duration, had received virtually no attention. The Navigator, its leading full-size SUV, has finally gotten what appears to be the mid-cycle refresh that it should have seen about three years ago.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Despite it being a large SUV, Lincoln — likely on Ford’s command — has opted to pull the 5.4-liter Triton V8, offering only the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 in its place. That’s about the most dramatic change to the vehicle for 2015. Lincoln promises 370 horsepower from the engine, and claims it will be more powerful than the outgoing V8. The exterior appearance, though clearly updated, isn’t a resounding departure from the Navigator that once was, and perhaps it’s for the better that way.

The new front fascia consists of a newly designed hood, and the back end now includes a power up-and-down tailgate. “On both ends, the vehicle wears jewel-like light-emitting diode (LED) lights, as well as high-intensity discharge (HID) adaptive headlamps with LED accents,” Lincoln said in its release.

“We knew what our customers wanted,” said Elaine Bannon, chief engineer of the 2015 Navigator, in the company’s statement. “Navigator has always had great features, and we were able to keep those things. I’m proud that we were able to give our customers so much more.”

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How much more that is exactly, we’re not entirely sure. The Navigator has been modernized, yes, but arguably not to the extent that it needs to be. Ford has been on roll with the Lincoln brand, with the new MKS sedan and MKC crossover, both of which saw extensive work being done to help Lincoln free itself of its reputation as being a Ford with more leather and to help the brand develop its own identity. The new Navigator doesn’t seem to be doing that as much.

Nonetheless, Ford is convinced that Lincoln’s loyal customers will find everything they need in the new Navigator, once one of the most popular full-size luxury SUVs. “Navigator has retained some of the most loyal following in the segment for more than a decade,” said Jim Farley, executive vice president of Ford global marketing, sales and service, and Lincoln. “Among Lincoln owners, more than 70 percent have been return customers — purchasing the vehicle for its power, for its beauty and for its capability, and this new Navigator gives them more on all three fronts.”

The new Navigator will be able to accommodate up to eight people and will reportedly return a 9,000-pound towing capacity — more than that of the Cadillac (NYSE:GM) Escalade, with 8,200. Power can be sent to all four wheels or the rear wheels exclusively. Further, Lincoln promises to swaddle its occupants with all the trimmings and trappings that premium SUVs are known to offer, so that hasn’t seen any drastic changes.

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Overall, the new Navigator doesn’t bring the level of excitement that we believe Lincoln is hoping to generate in its efforts to lure in a younger fan base. By remaining so true to the departing model, Lincoln has produced — or will be producing, rather — a level of familiarity that previous Navigator owners will appreciate.

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it” seems to apply here, and the Navigator, in comparison to some of Lincoln’s other cars from recent history, is arguably one of the least broken models in Lincoln’s stable.

Then there’s the question of whether the new Navigator will be competitive against Cadillac’s latest take on the Escalade. The lack of a V8 option poses risks from the get-go. Many are committed to having that many cylinders in such a large vehicle, and the crowd shopping for a large body-on-frame luxury SUV probably isn’t terribly concerned with fuel economy in the first place.

Further, are drivers of the Navigator going to be routinely tugging around a full 9,000 pounds of cargo behind them? Chances of that are slim, and the chances that towing capacity for this class of vehicle are a top priority for its buyers are pretty slim, as well.

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