Lincoln has transitioned into a company that now sells only crossovers. The good news is the move seems to have given the brand some needed focus. The Aviator is a large three-row rig that bridges the gap between the Corsair and Navigator, and it’s offered in two distinctly different models — the gas-only Reserve (starting at $73,400) and the Grand Touring plug-in hybrid (starting at $85,400). The latter gets a healthy hike in power and it consumes less fuel in the process.
The Reserve uses a 3.0L turbo-V6 that twists out 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque, so it’s proud in its own right. The Grand Touring PHEV uses the same engine but adds an electric motor that delivers another 100 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. This bumps the net system output to a lively 494 hp and 630 lb-ft of torque. The difference is immediately noticeable. A big part is the fact the electrically-assisted punch peaks at just 2,250 rpm. This means there’s little lag off the line and it has a strong mid-range, which makes it feel alive — the run from rest to 100 km/h is sub-seven seconds.
The electric side gets its power from a 13.6-kilowatt-hour battery that delivers 34-kilometres of electric-only range and takes around 3.5 hours to fully replenish when plugged into a Level 2 charger. There are a number of different driving modes that influence how the Grand Touring consumes the battery’s energy. The Pure EV mode delivers an electric-only drive as long as the driver does not demand too much power. Conserve is an efficiency mode; Preserve saves the battery for later use. There are also Normal (everyday) and Excite (performance) modes.
The preferred mode proved to be Conserve. It pretty much forces the Aviator to use electricity whenever possible. In many plug-ins, the gas pedal has to be feathered very gently to prevent the engine from firing up. In this case, as long as the battery has some juice left the gas engine really only kicks in during moderately hard acceleration. When the loads are light it’s happy cruising along quietly on electrons alone.
What did become clear is the value of keeping the battery charged whenever possible. A 100-km run that started with a fully-charged battery produced an average economy of 5.9 L/100 km. To put that into perspective, on the days I did not charge the battery the fuel consumption on the same 100-km route soared to 11.1 L/100 km. That’s still a pretty good number for a large three-row crossover, but taking the time to plug it in will see the savings add up quickly.
The hybrid system works with a 10-speed automatic transmission to drive all four wheels. While the transmission shifts well, it occasionally seemed to suffer from brain cramp and started hunting for the right gear. The other nit is, as with all hybrids, the Aviator relies on regenerative braking to put otherwise waste energy back into the battery. The issue is the mix of regen braking and the mechanical brakes made the pedal feel overly mushy.
No complaints with the all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. In a twist, the Aviator rides on a rear-drive platform so when AWD is needed it sends the power forward. The setup is proactive, so it anticipates a loss of grip and transfers the torque forward before slippage occurs. When the traction changes rapidly it reacts to sudden wheel slip quickly, which imparts a reassuring feel to the drive.
The adaptive suspension follows this lead, as it does a good job of giving the Aviator a plush ride without allowing it to wallow through a corner. It will never be mistaken for a sports car, but it does manage to hold its own by delivering a calm and composed feel even when driven with purpose. The adaptive dampers work with an adaptive steering setup. Based on driver demand and vehicle speed, the system alters the amount of input required. In the end, it makes it easier to maneuver at slow speed and sharpens the response at higher speed. Given the Grand Touring tips the scales at a lumbering 2,573 kg, the combination makes it feel much less ponderous.
Inside, the Aviator is lavish in its amenities and comfort — the optional 30-way front seats allow a rider of any size to find the perfect position. You’ll also find lots of leather, high-quality, soft-touch materials and the right technology, including a full suite of safety aids. For the driver, it starts with reconfigurable instrumentation and optional head-up display. The two combine to display the information in a clean and concise manner. To the right is a 10.1-inch multimedia screen that’s easily mastered. It works with the usual smartphone apps and a solid Revel sound system. The stereo upgrade takes the base unit and doubles the number of speakers to 28. The sound reproduction is superb.
The middle row is roomy and offered with two Captain’s bucket seats or an optional three-seat bench for those that need seating for seven. Behind that is a 50/50-splt/folding third row that powers into position. While the space is cramped with 249-mm less leg space than the middle row, it is usable. Of course, there is a ton of cargo space. There’s 519-litres when the third row is up and 1,184L when folded. Dropping the middle row opens up 2,201L.
The Lincoln Aviator delivers all that’s expected of a luxurious three-row family hauler. It is flexible, accommodating, comfortable and fast while returning decent fuel economy. However, the fact the plug-in hybrid powertrain is only offered on the top Grand Touring model is disappointing. Yes, hybridizing any powertrain is expensive, but a $12,000 premium is steep – and as tested with options, this Aviator is $100,710. The double whammy is it will only qualify for a $2,500 Federal EV rebate because its electric-only range is below the 50-km threshold — at this point it is not listed as one of the eligible vehicles, which is odd given the 2021/2022 Corsair Grand Touring PHEV is on the Fed’s list.