Competition is coming.
The Lincoln Navigator redesign in 2018 transformed it from an also-ran to a class leader seemingly overnight. Ignoring the tug of dynamic looks or modern aesthetics, the Navigator instead relies on a comfort-first approach, with conventional shapes, straight lines, and mid-century-modern style to create not only the best Lincoln in years, but a far stronger competitor in the broader market.
But only a few years after its debut, the Navigator is facing a renewed competitor from arch-rival Cadillac, which is doubling down on ultra-modern design and focusing on high-quality materials for the 2021 Escalade. With the Navigator about halfway through its current lifecycle, how does it stack up with a fresh foe around the corner?
Ratings and verdict updated in June 2021. A vehicle's ratings and verdict are relative only to its own segment and not the new-vehicle market as a whole. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.
The 2020 Navigator still shares its platform with the Ford Expedition, but Lincoln's designers hid the Blue Oval roots with comprehensively restyled front and rear ends and bits of tinsel on the sides. While the Continental preceded the latest Navigator in Lincoln's return to relevancy, the SUV set the standard with its conservative, all-American design. There's ample chrome and dramatic lighting effects, but little about the look is polarizing – it’s wholly attractive to most people. That's true across the Navigator line, not just on this range-topping Black Label.
Climb into the cabin, though, and the range-topping Black Label sets the Navigator apart. The straightforward dash lines, subtle chrome highlights, and our tester's “Yacht Club” interior theme (light blue leather, pale wood trim, white contrast stitching) is like something from the Kennedy Administration era. Minimalist restraint creates a refreshing and different cabin experience, with only a smattering of buttons on the angled panel below the piano-key gear selector.
Besides the gear keys, the other plastic buttons are acceptable and have premium-feeling actions, but with a $100,000 price on the Black Label, Lincoln could pony up for more pleasant materials. That's a small critique in an otherwise impressive vehicle – the Navigator's interior design is a leader among American brands.
The Navigator's spacious cabin, 30-way massaging front seats, second-row captain's chairs, and tomb-like sound control produce comfortable conditions for every journey. But where it scored perfect marks for comfort in the past, 2020 isn't so kind (man, this year sucks) thanks to the arrival of a new Cadillac. After our Escalade first drive, we’re confident that its four-corner air suspension and magnetic dampers are plain better than the current Navigator's adaptive dampers.
That's not to say this big, body-on-frame SUV rides poorly, but GM’s new SUVs ride incredibly well. The Lincoln falls flat on the small, rapid bumps that the air-suspended GMs largely smother. At the same time, the Navigator exhibits the usual body-on-frame behavior from large or one-sided impacts. The Lincoln does claw back points for its excellent noise control – whether it's tire roar, wind noise, or suspension impacts, little gets to the ears of occupants.
The Navigator's other comfort attributes overshadow the shortcomings. The “Perfect Position” front chairs offer unmatched range for even the ficklest passenger. Heating and cooling are nice, and the massage setting is sublime. Second-row passengers don't get the same treatment, but standard captain's chairs provide ample room and support. The third row is tighter than on the new GM products, but at 36.1 inches, the Lincoln's rearmost legroom is still better than some midsize sedans. The low bench height makes the way back feel tight for long-legged folks, though.
As for cargo space, our extended-length Navigator L is capable. Even with the third row of seats in place, there's 36.0 cubic feet of space. Fold the power-operated bench down and you'll find 73.3 cubes, and that figure swells to 120.2 cubic feet with the second-row seats down. Although spacious, that's less than the redesigned Cadillac Escalade, thanks to its new independent rear suspension. The Lincoln's cross-town rival offers cargo space in increments of 42.9, 81.5, and 126.6 cubic feet.
The Navigator's tech suite is complete without feeling excessive – bleeding-edge features are rare on this brute. But what's on hand is easy to use and enjoyable to live with. Like the rest of the Lincoln range, the Navigator relies on a reskinned version of Ford's Sync 3 operating system. The software's learning curve is shallow and the feature set adequate – Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa are standard – while the 10.0-inch touchscreen is quick and responsive.
Overall, the Navigator's broader tech roster is darn familiar at this point. The digital instrument cluster lacks the adjustability of newer systems from Cadillac and European brands, although it looks nice enough. As for the 20-speaker Revel audio system, it offers crisp, clear sound – that said, we’re eager to see the Aviator’s 28-speaker setup move to the Navigator at some point. Beyond these known quantities, we spent time with one feature that was very new: Phone As A Key. The company provided an iPhone 8 with the Lincoln Way app installed and paired with the vehicle, as well as a physical key.
By and large, the system worked flawlessly. Keep the phone in a pocket, touch the door handle to unlock the car, and then hop in and drive away – it's that easy. There was the occasional hiccup where the car would start and we'd drive off, then receive a warning that the key was missing, but this was a small and rare issue. If you run your battery down or lose your phone, just unlock the Navigator via the keypad on the door pillar and start the engine by entering a passcode on the touchscreen.
Like the tech suite, the Navigator's powertrain is familiar: a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6, a 10-speed automatic transmission, and an available four-wheel-drive system. Hardly revolutionary, the setup is up to the task of motivating the nearly 6,000-pound Navigator L Black Label. The engine generates 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque, the latter figure coming in an uninterrupted wave that peaks at 3,000 rpm. The Navigator's powertrain outguns the 420-hp Cadillac, offering effortless straight-line punch and the kind of smooth power delivery we expect of a $100,000 luxury vehicle.
The Navigator's V6 engine has one big issue, though. The sounds, both from under the hood and out the back, are coarse and uninteresting. While the Navigator does a good job muting the noise in most situations, what you hear still isn't befitting of a luxury vehicle (we could say the same of the Escalade's 6.2-liter V8, but at least it sounds nice).
The added sound, though, can't overshadow the Navigator's superior tow ratings. Two-wheel-drive examples of the can haul 8,700 pounds while Lincoln rates four-wheel drive at 8,300 pounds, regardless of whether you're in a standard body or the stretched L. The metrics beat the stretched Escalade ESV, which tows less than the Lincoln by 600 and 400 pounds, respectively.
For a 6,000-pound luxury SUV, the Navigator doesn't feel weighty or difficult in turns. The steering heft feels appropriate for the class and despite the lack of a fancy air suspension, the Navigator exhibits some cornering composure with flat and predictable behavior, even though the handling threshold is low. The brakes, meanwhile, bring all that mass to a halt with ease.
Every Navigator comes standard with full-speed adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and automatic high beams. That’s adequate in today's world, although we hope Lincoln has additional gear planned for future Navigators – the active driving assistant coming to the Ford Mustang Mach-E and F-150 would be a perfect match for a future Navigator.
The gear on the Navigator works well. Adaptive cruise manages traffic without resorting to sudden braking, and the lane-keeping system performs well. The Lincoln features powerful LED headlights as standard, while the open greenhouse provides good sight lines fore and aft – the thick B-pillars are a challenge to peeking over the shoulder, but not an unusual one.
Who'da thunk a 450-hp engine in a 6,000-pound vehicle would net poor fuel economy? Oh, everyone? The Navigator returns an EPA-estimated 16 miles per gallon city, 21 highway, and 18 combined and its diet of 93-octane fuel lowers its efficiency rating further. In practice, we struggled to hit the combined fuel economy figure, although indulging in the V6's torque may have had something to do with that.
By comparison, the Lincoln matches the more powerful, mild-hybrid Mercedes-Benz GLS 580. The Navigator edges the twin-turbocharged V8 in the BMW X7 xDrive50i by a point in the city and combined ratings, while the big 6.2-liter V8 in the Cadillac Escalade struggles, at 14 mpg city, 19 highway, and 16 combined.
Prices for the Navigator begin at $76,185 for the standard body and the appropriately named Standard trim. The Black Label, though, requires $97,135, while moving to the L body adds $3,200 to that total. Yes, $100,335 is a lot of money, but the flagship Navigator includes standard four-wheel drive (a $2,675 option on the lesser Reserve and Standard trims) and a brief options sheet.
The only cost extras are rear seatbelt airbags ($250), a second-row entertainment system ($2,000), gloss black 22-inch wheels ($995), and the choice of two premium paints, the flashy Chroma Molten Gold and our tester's Chroma Crystal Blue ($1,750). The car featured here carried an as-tested price of $103,435, thanks to the paint, some cargo-management accessories, and a $1,295 destination charge.
Our Navigator L Black Label undercuts the newer Cadillac Escalade ESV Premium Luxury Platinum (starting at $107,290 with four-wheel drive), and the Caddy's price climbs a bit higher with options Lincoln admittedly can't match, such as Super Cruise and a night-vision system.
While not direct competitors, a few overseas SUVs make for some interesting comparisons. A BMW X7 xDrive50i starts at $99,800 and a Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 comes in at $98,800, and while both vehicles outrun the Navigator, it's easy to exceed the Black Label's as-tested price with a few options. A Range Rover, available only with two rows of seats, is little competition on the pricing front – getting into a V8 model requires at least $113,500. The individualist’s choice in this contest is the aging Lexus LX 570, which starts at $91,580. Well-equipped examples go for less than $100,000, although you'll miss much of the Lincoln's modern tech.
Notably, the Lincoln Navigator is on our list of the Best SUVs for Towing.
Gallery: 2020 Lincoln Navigator Black Label: Review
2020 Lincoln Navigator L 4x4 Black Label