An All-American highway jetliner.
Ladies and gentlemen, Lincoln has found its mojo. After a listless few decades, the American brand is back on track with a focused, decisive approach to luxury. There’s no better example of this than the 2020 Lincoln Aviator. The Aviator is, full stop, one of the best products to roll out of Lincoln in years.
While this sounds like effusive praise, but as I recently completed an 800-plus-mile jaunt quickly and in extreme comfort with a Grand Touring (Lincolnese for “plug-in hybrid”) model in the range-topping Black Label trim, I think it’s fair to heap a little goodness on this three-row crossover. The company’s approach to luxury – high-end materials, old-school shapes, and over-the-top comfort features – just plain works in this segment.
That doesn’t mean there aren't any quibbles with the Aviator. But compared to where Lincoln was (anyone remember how dreadful the first Aviator was?), its latest three-row CUV is a home run.
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Clean, elegant lines and the liberal use of chrome trim worked in the 1950s, and as the Aviator proves, they work today too. This is a handsome design, from its high beltline to its sophisticated fascia to the attractive lighting effect that spreads across its wide rear taillight when unlocking.
The Aviator’s best angles are from the side and the rear three-quarter, where viewers can appreciate the beautiful interaction between the floating roof’s pleasantly sloping silhouette and the prominent, chrome-adorned beltline. This is a classic design detail meant to emphasize a vehicle’s sporty, rear-wheel-drive nature, although the Aviator uses it without the accompanying fender haunches found on more performance-focused vehicles.
The sides of this vehicle are pleasantly styled and elegant, rather than overtly sporty. That’s fine, as the subtly flared wheel arches, lower character line (that crease in the sheetmetal down low), and more prominent shoulder line (the curve of the metal below the beltline) are interesting enough without additional design flourishes. And I gotta say, I dig Lincoln’s move to badging in the side grilles. Not only does it add some pop to these otherwise pointless styling details, but it shows the brand values its newly non-alphanumeric names. Putting “AVIATOR” in big, bold font high on the sides of a vehicle and surrounding it with chrome is handsome as hell.
Also handsome as hell: the Aviator’s cabin. Lincoln’s clean, simple approach to the exterior extends to the interior as well. The interior eschews the complicated shapes or questionable design interactions of rival Cadillac’s models in favor of clean touches and design details. Rectangular climate control vents look like they could have come from a 1965 Continental and fit in neatly with the horizontal orientation of the dash. The high center console is a modern touch, though, and contributes to a cockpit-like feel. Attractive leather work and clean, dark woods clash slightly with the plastic switchgear and occasionally flimsy feeling controls, though. That’s a minor complaint in an otherwise gorgeous cabin, although I’ll note it’s not the sort of thing you’d find in an equivalent German SUV like the Audi Q7.
With 30-way seats with massaging, heating, and ventilation functions; excellent noise, vibration, and harshness control; and a spacious pair of captain’s chairs in the second row, the Aviator is deserving of its perfect comfort score. This is a brilliant vehicle to spend over 800 miles with.
Those front seats deserve the loftiest of praise, offering nearly limitless adjustability. While I complained about finding the perfect seating position while first testing the Aviator at its Napa, California launch, spending a week behind the wheel and two long days of driving proved enough time to find a comfy spot. The inclusion of a massage function is a big plus on a long drive, too.
I’ll admit I didn’t spend much time in the second row, but I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest the seven-seat Aviator to families. These thrones offer plenty of support while their positioning leaves abundant legroom behind the front seats. Cargo volume is impressive with the power-folding third row in place, although keeping those seats up leaves a limited amount of space for adult passengers. That’s true of the Audi Q7, though. Both vehicles have 29.2 inches of third-row legroom. Fold the third row down, though, and the Aviator’s cargo hold expands from 18.3 to 41.8 cubic feet, figures that best the Q7 (14.2 and 35.7 cubes) handily.
Noise, vibration, and harshness control are genuinely excellent. Thank the air suspension (standard on the Black Label), ample sound deadening, active noise control, and acoustic front and rear windows for that. At highway speeds, the cabin is extremely quiet. Along with the Revel audio system (one of the best audio setups on the market), the Aviator is a fine place for enjoying your favorite podcast.
Or, you know, you can put the Revel system’s 28 speakers to use and jam the hell out. The Aviator’s stereo can tickle your ears in a way that few vehicles can, with clear, precise highs and deep bass abound, so whatever your genre, I strongly suggest cranking up the volume.
That audio system is just a small part of an impressive array of standard equipment on the range-topping Aviator. A big, clear head-up display, wireless charging, the aforementioned 30-way seats and all their goodies, a huge panoramic sunroof, four-zone climate control, 4G LTE wifi connectivity, and a 360-degree camera system come with the Black Label trim. The few options (rear-seat entertainment, a fixed center console, and a Class IV trailer hitch) are all things you can pass on.
The reason the Aviator doesn’t earn a perfect score here is down to its infotainment and digital instrument cluster. The suite – a 10.3-inch touchscreen and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster – is inoffensive, although the infotainment’s operating system is occasionally slow to respond. I had repeated issues with Apple CarPlay connectivity, as well, with the system failing to acknowledge that my phone was plugged in. As for the digital instrument cluster, I’ll reiterate a core complaint from my first drive of both the Aviator and Aviator Grand Touring: this lovely setup is lacking in terms of customization. There’s no way to get a full-screen map, or rearrange the layout of the cluster. In a world where Audi Virtual Cockpit and MBUX offer customers more customization on this front, the Aviator’s digital cluster feels more like a gimmick meant to appear technologically progressive than to actually offer a useful tool for drivers.
It’s very easy to look at the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring’s 494 horsepower and 630 pound-feet of torque and conclude that this is a performance SUV. Please disabuse yourself of that particular fantasy. This is an exceptionally powerful SUV, but it’s unashamedly focused on luxury.
Let’s talk about straight-line punch, because that’s where the Aviator’s plug-in-hybrid powertrain makes its presence most known. The combination of a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 with a 75-kilowatt electric motor means effortless low-end punch and abundant mid-range performance. Stand on the throttle at any speed below 60 miles per hour and the Aviator surges forward with unrelenting authority. Even at higher speeds, there’s enough grunt to make freeway passing a breeze.
The interaction between the gas engine and electric motor remains problematic, though. Ford’s decision to shoehorn the electric motor between the engine and transmission is a boon to performance and towing (although it’s worth noting the standard Aviator can tow 6,700 pounds, 1,100 more than the GT), but the arrangement sacrifices drivability. The same poor interactions between gas and electric power I experienced during the Aviator’s launch in August 2019 were present during my lengthy test. Sudden throttle applications confuse the gas engine, electric motor, and 10-speed automatic, forcing the Aviator to either surge ahead or feel flat-footed when calling for acceleration. And as I mentioned in Napa, this V6 engine just doesn’t sound very nice.
Adding the plug-in-hybrid powertrain also adds a substantial amount of weight – 781 pounds – which impacts the Aviator’s handling. Working with a dual-chamber air suspension, adaptive dampers, and a camera that scans the road ahead up to 500 times per second, the nearly 5,700-pound Aviator’s ride is supremely comfortable, although it isn’t an equally capable dance partner. Its weight is ever-present through corners, constantly reminding the driver through the steering that there’s a lot of mass shifting about. Even though body motions are well controlled, the Aviator feels less willing to attack corners than the equivalent German SUVs. Then again, it’s arguably more comfortable when simply going down the road.
The Aviator Grand Touring Black Label comes with every single piece of active safety gear Ford offers as part of the Co-Pilot 360 suite. Full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist with lane centering, evasive steering assist, and front and rear automatic emergency braking are all here, and each works extremely well.
I used the active safety systems extensively during the long freeway drive and found myself feeling fresh and relaxed at the end of each stint. The lane-centering function feels natural and predictable and the adaptive cruise control reacts progressively to traffic. This isn’t just a good system, it’s one you’ll want to use to reduce the strain on long-distance highway runs.
When I tested the Aviator GT, Lincoln hadn’t announced its official fuel economy figures. That changed a few weeks ago: the combined rating is 23 miles per gallon or 56 mpge with its 13.6-kilowatt-hour battery pack’s 21 miles of range available.
Don’t discount that range as too little for everyday use. I managed to complete my wife’s 20-mile round-trip commute during rush hour on electricity only, although I was driving judiciously. That said, because the battery pack is relatively small, it can recharge at a level two charger in just three to four hours, or in eight hours at a normal wall outlet. I routinely took advantage of the distance for short jaunts, racking up 58.7 miles of all-electric travel on the 73.8 miles I drove before setting out on the long journey that was the impetus for this test. That worked out to a computer-indicated average of 66.6 mpg.
After exhausting the battery in the earliest parts of the long drive between metro Detroit and Racine, Wisconsin, I saw an average of 22.9 mpg, consuming 16.7 gallons over 383 miles. The computer indicated 29.6 mpg including the electric distance I traveled before setting out. The 372.4-mile return journey (I took a slightly different route around Chicago) saw the Aviator suck down a further 16.7 gallons (weird, I know) of fuel for a rating of 22.3 mpg and a computer-indicated figure of 26.4 mpg. Total efficiency without the electric motor’s help was 22.6 mpg, or remarkably close to the Aviator GT’s EPA-estimated fuel economy, despite me regularly employing the adaptive cruise control, maintaining an 80-mile-per-hour cruise during most of the trip, running all the electrics, and driving during unseasonably cold and windy conditions. This was anything but an economy run.
The Aviator Grand Touring is not cheap, and the Black Label trim doesn’t help matters. Look to spend at least $68,800 for the base GT, or add on a hefty $19,000 for a Grand Touring Black Label. That said, there’s virtually no increase in price due to options. The only available addons for the Black Label trim are a $1,750 Chroma Caviar Dark Gray paint job, a $500 Class IV trailer hitch, and a $1,780 rear-seat entertainment system (just buy iPads, they’re cheaper). The vehicle featured here had an as-tested price of $88,895, including a $1,095 destination charge.
The Aviator GT’s closest rival is the Land Rover Range Rover Sport P400E, which is the only other three-row, luxury focused plug-in-hybrid SUV anywhere near the Lincoln’s price. The Range Rover has a significantly higher starting price, at $79,900 for the HSE trim, although the range-topping P400e Autobiography starts at $88,990, nearly the same price as this Black Label. The Range Rover can’t match the Aviator’s roster of standard safety and luxury equipment, nor can it match its performance – the British SUV packs just 398 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque, down 97 hp and 158 lb-ft on the Lincoln.
Gallery: 2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring Black Label: Review
2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring Black Label