Review: 2015 Lincoln Navigator
How big is big enough? We took the 2015 Lincoln Navigator on an extended road trip, covering 2,000 miles in the SUV. Did it hold all our luggage? Did the kids whine about not having enough space? We have the answers that may surprise you.
Under the Hood
The 2015 Lincoln Navigator comes standard with a delightful 3.5-liter 6-cylinder EcoBoost engine that produces a healthy 380 horsepower and a robust 460 lb-ft of torque. All that pulling power was sent to the rear wheels (or all four at the push of a button) via a 6-speed automatic transmission featuring SelectShift. While we didn’t take advantage of it in our time with the Navigator, SelectShift allows the driver the choice to operate the vehicle in conventional automatic mode, Full Manual mode, or Progressive Range Select mode. Progressive Range Select limits the transmission to using lower gears for hilly terrain and towing situations
When you think Navigator, think big. Contrary to rumors leaking from Lincoln’s parent company a couple of years ago about a new-from-the-ground-up vehicle, the Navigator is still built on the Ford Expedition and earns every bit of its full-size classification. The grille, bisected by a large brand logo, is distinctly Lincoln and it is big. Our test vehicle came with the sexily named Equipment Group 101A which features 22” tires and very stylish 20 spoke wheels which look as massive as they are.
Lincoln masterfully balanced the size of the Navigator with clean lines and modern, elegant touches all around the exterior to make a truly eye-catching vehicle. Body molding along the bottom of the doors and sides keep the otherwise smooth sheet metal from looking like a slab. Taillights form a solid line across the rear and wrap around the corners to dress up the liftgate and rear end. Rows of LED’s underline the headlamps to form sleek, always on daytime running lights. Other accent LED lighting graces the lower bumper cover area of the Navigator’s fascia. Lincoln boasts a total of 222 LED’s on the SUV.
Navigators come standard with hideaway running boards that deploy automatically when doors are opened. Running boards are a beloved feature among our more vertically challenged testers, but the automatic ones take a little getting used to. Approach the Navigator, no running board. Open the door, running board. Be a little distracted and forget the out of nowhere running board, bash your shin. While it is a short learning curve, it can be a painful one. To help avoid running board (and other potential ground level disasters), the Navigator senses the key fob’s approach and shines a delightful Lincoln branded puddle light they call the Welcome Mat.
The Navigator’s side mirrors were perfectly sized and placed for the vehicle. Also in the plus category, they are heated and can be folded away with the touch of a button. They are also wired in to the seat position memory so you can save your mirror preference along with your seating position. One issue with the mirrors was an amber strip along the bottom that illuminated along with turn signals. It looked like an afterthought and as if it came from the parts bin for a cheaper vehicle. Much cheaper.
The interior of the Navigator gives the same impression of size as the exterior. The lush leather front seats are plenty roomy but manage to not feel massive. While the seats were soft, they provided the right amount of support to keep our front seat testers comfortable throughout a 14 hour day of driving. The second row was just about as comfortable with no comfort complaints coming from our tween testers who accompanied us on the trip.
Like every other carmaker out there, Lincoln either overestimates the hip room or underestimates the size of the average adult. The Navigator advertises seating for eight. While eight can squeeze with the second row bench, if the trip is going to take any length of time, the six in the back better really like each other. The third row was surprisingly comfortable and useful for two adult size humanoids. Accessing the third row is a different story. The second row seats don’t fold in a logical manner that we could figure out. We were eventually able to make the third row somewhat accessible, but folding the seats out of the way to do so was not easy. Folding and contorting in a way that allowed a normal size person to get back there was frustrating.
The Navigator features two available second row configurations. One has two captains chairs flanking an armrest/console. Our test vehicle was equipped with the other option, a 40/20/40 split folding bench seat. The kids kept the center section of the bench collapsed throughout our road trip which provided a convenient flat alternative to the center console option. Additionally, the two ends of the bench seat recline leaving us thinking we would likely spring for the bench seat keeping a three row bench an option.
As convenient as the makeshift console was, folding the center of the bench down made the most convenient second row cupholders inaccessible. This required the second row riders to use two cupholders mounted in the top rear of the front seat center console. The cupholders were adequate and securely held a variety of cups and bottles, but were not easily within reach. Smaller kids would be out of luck.
Overall fit and finish inside the Navigator was good and for the most part was up to the posh standard Lincoln boasts. A few niggling details kept it from being great. The door handles, headlamp selector knob, and steering wheel buttons looked like they belonged in a lesser vehicle. They looked cheap and felt cheap leaving us wondering if the Lincoln design team was forced to run a last minute raid on the parts bin of some Ford Motor Company econoboxes. The HVAC vents were atrocious. The plastic was cheap and looked unfinished with rough edges. They were also an off shade of brown that didn’t match any of the other colors in the vehicle.
With four of us packing enough for a week (including two scooters and beach toys) we knew we would be folding the third row down to fit everything. Before doing so we tested the cargo area with the third row up and were surprised at how little room there was for a vehicle that large. We were barely able to fit a standard size rolling suitcase at the bottom, and the angle of the third row significantly reduced vertical space as the top of the seats encroached on storage room. A week worth of groceries would fit back there, but don’t plan on extras. Stowing the third row created a massive space that didn’t require us stacking any luggage. Even with an antique or two and a case of wine or two finding its way into the cargo area for the trip back there was plenty of room. If you need three rows of seating and realistic cargo storage, consider the Navigator L. Overall length of the vehicle is increased 15” and cargo space behind the third row more than doubles.
The Navigator’s infotainment system features SYNC with MyLincoln Touch which is accessed via an 8” touchscreen high in the center stack. The system allows access to controls for audio, HVAC, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, and access to a suite of subscription based apps. A feature we liked about the system is the ability to customize what Lincoln refers to as cluster screens. With the proper setting, the touchscreen becomes a 4-in-1 screen allowing occupants to view the status of four systems at a time.
We admittedly didn’t spend a great deal of time personalizing the system to the extent Lincoln told us we could, but found it logical and intuitive to use as it was set. Adding to the easy to use was the ability to dim the touchscreen. It seems manufacturers have only recently realized customers may want to turn that particular light down during night driving. The Navigator’s screen dimmed with the instrument cluster. Since the first leg of our trip was overnight, we were quite pleased to learn this. The screen was also plenty bright enough and easy to read in direct sunlight.
Analog HVAC controls for the front seat occupants are mounted below the touchscreen. They are small, sparsely spread across a gray, otherwise empty panel, and are not particularly good looking. They are however easy to use. The HVAC system has four zones: the driver, the front passenger, the second row, and the third row. Our tween testers had no trouble learning the second row controls for the system which worked well to cool the large vehicle quickly for the most part. We learned if the outside temperature was close enough to the temperature set in the vehicle, the HVAC system began to act confused. It would blow in what felt like uncooled air (heated from the engine compartment components it had to blow past) and sometimes stopped blowing anything but a trickle of air. If one of the second or third row vents is closed, the resulting sound from that vent is a dull roar.
The stack slides down to the center console at an angle just curved enough to look graceful. A small storage bin is inset into the angle and can be hidden away with a small door. A console mounted shifter takes up a fair amount of space and is next to a decent pair of cupholders. The cupholders are decent only in size and location. They are surrounded by the same ring of chrome-like plastic manufacturers seem to be so fond of. The plastic gives a nice finished look to the rim of the cupholders, and can look sporty or luxe depending on the vehicle. The problem is when the sun is high it shines directly onto the chrome causing a reflection that often manages to beam directly under the driver’s sunglasses causing a real annoyance.
The Navigator’s cupholders added their own special touch of annoying with accent lighting in the well formed by the cupholders. We are all for tasteful accent lighting, but the Navigator’s lighting could not be dimmed. This created a bright ring of light that became a real issue on dark highways late at night. We eventually found the accent lighting colors could be changed via the infotainment screen settings which we liked. There was just no dimming option we could find. The center console itself features a massive storage bin topped by an armrest with real estate the arm wrestling league would envy.
The overall driving experience in the Navigator was a fairly comfortable one. We drove through some rolling hills and over some long flat stretches and it handled them all without wallowing or that floating feeling some artificially softened rides can cause. The steering held true and firm in long sweeping curves and sharp turns. We would have traded an inch or two less wheel for an inch or two more tire. The lower profile tires are sharp looking and give a custom appearance to the Navigator, but they can also make for a harsh ride by telegraphing road conditions throughout the chassis.
The EcoBoost engine provided plenty of power and torque for days. We were never left wanting, and never felt we had too much car and not enough engine. We had a bit too much engine when we at one point found ourselves stopped with all four tires on sand. The rear tires gave no real bite and dug into the sand almost to the hubs—push button four wheel drive to the rescue. Once we selected four wheel drive, the Navigator smoothly rolled us back onto the pavement.
Our road trip included a little bit of driving through rain. Traction was never an issue. The Navigator was Jerome Bettis through standing water so hydroplaning was never even a thought. The front wipers did an excellent job with rain no matter how torrential it got, but were not good at clearing the windscreen when we used washer fluid. Even when the windscreen was not all that dirty, the glass was streaked and still wet.
Two features made operating the Navigator for the length of time we did really easy. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes at the touch of a button; and, unlike some telescoping wheels we have encountered that seem to stop just short of where we are comfortable, the Navigator’s has a range sure to please just about anyone. Throw in power adjustable pedals (standard equipment the Navigator) and adjusting your driving position starts to feel infinitely customizable.
Important Numbers for Families
- 18 – With a combined EPA estimated 18 mpg, the Navigator isn’t for a family weary of paying at the pump. We rarely got above 18.2 mpg combined and had it as low as 17.6 mpg when we were doing more city than highway driving.
- 222 – With 222 LED lights throughout the Navigator, families will have plenty of illumination options.
Family 5 Test
- Car Seats – There’s no doubt that the Lincoln Navigator has plenty of room for families, including kids in car seats. The two seats easily filled the second and third row giving families four real options for car seat positioning.
- Coffee Cups – There was plenty of room for cups in the Navigator. Despite the awkward positioning of the cupholders for second row passengers, the driver and front row passenger’s cupholders fared well with beverages of many sizes.
- Luggage – You wouldn’t think that traveling with luggage would be an issue with a Navigator but it was. Unless you are planning on stowing the third row, your family will want to pack light to fit everything in. The good news is that the cabin is spacious enough book bags and pillows easily fit between the seats.
- Golf Clubs – Bring along your friends and their clubs because you’ll be able to fit them in when the third row is stowed.
- Groceries – If you’re planning on doing a Costco run, be sure to stow the third row before you head into the store. Otherwise, there’s plenty of space for groceries.
The Bottom Line
The Navigator was a great road tripping vehicle with plenty of room for kids, snacks, and souvenirs. We enjoyed our time with it; however, we kept coming having the same discussion: three useful rows, better cargo capacity, and 300 horsepower can be had for half the price.