Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2015 Lincoln Navigator

1. What’s new for 2015?

The first significant updates to one of the oldest vehicles on the road. This full-size body-on-frame SUV dumps its V-8 powertrain for a twin-turbocharged V-6 that’s better-performing and more efficient. Steering and suspension revamps elevate ride and handling to among best in class. And new front-and-rear styling touches freshen its appearance. Less successful is Lincoln’s attempt to modernize a hopelessly outdated interior.

Navigator is a gilded version of the better selling and less expensive Ford Expedition. Like its sibling, it seats up to eight and comes in regular-length form or as an “L” version with a wheelbase elongated by 12 inches and a body by 14.9, a stretch that expands the already generous cargo volume by 24 percent. While Expedition competes with the likes of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, Navigator’s intended premium-strata rivals include the Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, and Infiniti QX80.

2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

Less than the Escalade (and a lot less than the ultra-luxury Range Rover and Lexus LX570), but roughly on par with the GL and QX80. With SUV sales booming, none of these premium entries is available with dramatic discounts, but Lincoln dealers will negotiate, and some factory incentives are available.

Navigator starts at $62,915 with rear-wheel drive and at $66,490 with 4-wheel drive (4wd). The L begins at $65,280 and $68,855, respectively. (All base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Lincoln’s fee for the Navigator is $995.) Fully loaded, including the popular new Reserve option package detailed below, list prices for 4wd models reach $76,705; $79,020 for an L.

By comparison, the base Escalade begins at $73,965, with its ESV edition in top-trim Platinum guise listing for $95,870. And you’re likely to get more off manufacturer’s suggested retail with the Lincoln. Pricing service says average transaction prices are trending 4.6 percent below base price for regular-length Navigators and 3.6 percent below for L’s. That’s similar to trends for the Mercedes GL. But the Escalade – the only member of this competitive set with an all-new design for model-year 2015 – has seen sales more than double, a demand surge that’s has it trending just 2.6-2.9 percent below base, according to TrueCar.

Sales of the renewed ’15 Navigator are up a healthy 70 percent, though it still trails every aforementioned rival in total sales. Nonetheless, Lincoln was offering 0.9-8.9-percent financing to qualified Navigator buyers in the first quarter—more generous than factory offers on any competitor.

3. When will the next big change be?

Probably in the second half of 2016 when the next-generation Navigator will debut as a 2017 model.

Since it and the Expedition are based on the underpinnings of Ford’s F-150 pickup truck, these big SUVs will sustain the body-on-frame tradition and the heavier payload and trailer-pulling capacities and default rear-wheel drive that helps set them apart from lighter-duty crossovers.

But a switch in body material, to aluminum from steel, is a strong possibility as a way to cut weight and improve fuel economy, handling, even towing ratings. The 2015 F-150 successfully made the switch and, along with more contemporary styling inside and out, the next-gen Navigator should be a sea change from today’s model, which traces its basic design to model-year 2007.

4. What options or trim level is best for me?

Go Reserve or go Ford. This Lincoln has marginally more power than its Expedition sibling, but you can get everything of substance, plus a good dose of the luxury, for less money with the Ford. To rationalize a Navigator, roll another C-note or so into your monthly payment for the $7,150 Reserve package. It lends a touch of class to a cabin that needs all the help it can get to justify its upscale aspirations.

Actually, every Navigator comes fairly nicely outfitted. Leather upholstery and a navigation system are standard. The front seats are powered, heated, and cooled, with memory for the driver’s seat, power-adjustable pedals, and power-adjustable steering column. The steering wheel has a wood-and-leather rim and the cabin boasts real wood appliqués. Automatic climate control, remote engine start, a power-folding split third-row bench seat, automatically deploying power running boards, a power liftgate, and 20-inch alloy wheels are also included. Complementing the tasteful new grille are xenon headlamps and LED accents front and rear.

No question we’d choose the no-cost option of second-row captain’s chairs separated by a broad, deep console with access to four cupholders. It cuts capacity to seven passengers, but the alternative is an uncomfortably flat rear bench lacking a center armrest and limited to just two cupholders.

The Reserve package dresses things up with plusher leather on all three rows of seats (versus vinyl for the third row). It spiffs the dashboard, doors, and console with leather and Yacht-grade Ziricote wood trim. And it gives the exterior some attitude with “tuxedo black” running boards and handsome 22-inch wheels.

Its greatest contribution, however, is Lincoln Drive Control, a new feature that introduces Continuously Controlled Damping (CCD). This automatically and instantaneously adjusts the suspension in response to road-surface conditions and vehicle behavior and also to the driver’s choice of normal, sport, and comfort modes. CCD is available apart from the Reserve package as part of a $2,000 option that includes the 22-inch wheels. Either way, it’s key to getting the most from your Lincoln.

5. What engine do you recommend?

You’re sole choice is a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 from parent-company Ford’s EcoBoost engine family. It’s a nervy choice in a class dominated by three-ton behemoths with big V-8 engines. Navigator had one, too, a 5.4-liter with 310 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque. But Ford’s had surprising success with the EcoBoost V-6 in its F-150, where roughly half the buyers order it over a V-8, and it’s a winner in the ’15 Navigator, too.

With 380 horsepower and a stout 460 pound-feet of torque, it delivers more muscle over a broader range of speeds than the V-8 and maintains the 9,000-pound maximum towing rating. (The same engine in the similarly re-engineered ’15 Expedition is rated at 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque.) Navigator’s only transmission remains a six-speed automatic.

Get 4wd, even if you live in the Sunbelt; you may someday need to pull a trailered Bayliner up a slimy boat ramp or, shivers, journey north in winter. Dashboard buttons allow you to dial up 2wd or 4wd that can be left engaged on dry pavement. There’s also a setting to lock-in 4wd for semi-demanding off-road excursions, plus hill-descent control. But there’s no low-range gearing and ground clearance is a relatively modest 8.1 inches, so get a Range Rover if you want to live it up off the beaten path.

6. How is the fuel economy?

Much better than before and now near the top of the class – which isn’t saying much, given the class. EPA ratings are 16/22/18 mpg city/highway combined in 2wd form and 15/20/17 with 4wd. The ’14 model was rated 14/20/16 and 13/18/15, respectively.

By comparison, the 2015 Escalade, with an 8-speed automatic and a V-8 that makes 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, tops out at 15/21/17 mpg with 4wd. Leading the competitive set is the Mercedes GL, with 4wd standard and a rating of 19/26/22 for its diesel V-6 (240 horsepower, 455 pound-feet) and 17/21/19 with its twin-turbo gas V-6 (362 horses, 369 pound-feet). As per class norm, Lincoln requires Navigator owners to pump premium-octane gas for full performance.

7. How does it handle?

Like it isn’t the heaviest vehicle in the class, at 5,830 pounds in its lightest iteration and 6,297 at its weightiest. In fact, combined with the advantages of the contemporary new V-6, the improvements in Navigator’s dynamics are nothing short of remarkable for a vehicle so deep into an embarrassingly protracted lifecycle.

Electric power steering replaces a hydraulic-assist system for ’15 and the result is more precise reaction to steering inputs and a satisfyingly linear feel in changes of direction.

With the base suspension and 20-inch tires, handling is reasonably well balanced, hindered in tight, fast turns by enough noseplow to encourage you slow down. With the 22s and continuously controlled damping, grip in corners is notably better, turn-in sharper, and body motions more controlled. The L model’s extra mass applies a layer of syrup to all these variables; it’s kind of a bus, really. But a regular-length Navigator with the 22s and CCD vies with the Range Rover and the GL for all-around best road manners in this class.

8. Are the controls easy to use?

More frustrating than difficult, but it’s not unfair to argue that advances brought by the new engineering, fresh styling, and posher cabin materials nearly are negated by Navigator’s hidebound controls.

The dual-cove dashboard itself is a pleasant enough shape, but none of its switches, buttons, or dials feels remotely high-grade. The downmarket ambience extends to the hollow-feeling gearshift lever and the prosaic black-plastic window and steering-wheel buttons pulled from Ford’s parts bin. Particularly shocking are indecorous air-vent veins that respond to your touch by flexing and ratcheting rather than by moving smoothly.

The blend of digital and faux-analog main gauges looks cobbled up rather than cohesively presented. And the ’15 upgrades didn’t include the infotainment interface. It’s again Sync with MyLincoln Touch, the outgoing generation of Ford’s deservedly maligned audio, vehicle-system, and navigation control. Its icons are cryptic, its touchscreen responses inconsistent, and its reaction to spoken commands confounding. A simpler and more intuitive system is on its way, but not in time for these 2015 models.

9. Is it comfortable?

Again with the conflicting results. Oy. As comfortable as the ’15 Navigator is to ride in — thanks to that absorbent and controlled suspension and impressive sound deadening — it’s as perplexing to actually be in.

There’s atrociously little interior storage space. The owner’s manual crowds the glovebox. A tissue box can fill the center console, and a cigarette pack would plug the only dashboard bin. The door map pockets are two inches wide and so low as to be virtually useless. We’ve already touched on the cupholder deficit and the church-pew penalties associated with the second-row bench seat. We’ll add that the outboard sections recline but don’t slide while the center portion slides but doesn’t recline.

It’s also worth noting that bench or buckets, folding the second row to access the third is a chore. Blame poor leverage, clunky armature, and the uncooperative shape of the cheap-feeling plastic release handles.

As with any of these big body-on-frame trucks, the cargo floor is high. But cargo volume, a relatively modest 18.1 cubic feet behind the third row in the regular-length Navigator, gets generous once you begin to fold the seats, expanding to 54.4 cubic feet, then to 103.3. The L model enlarges that to 42.6 cubic feet behind the third row, to 86.3 behind the second, and to a van-like max of 128.2 cubic feet.

The upside continues when it comes to passenger room itself. It’s copious in the first two rows. Better yet, the third row can accommodate medium-sized adults in more than reasonable fashion. Credit here to Ford’s use of a space-efficient independent rear suspension. Rivals have it, too — with the notable exception of General Motors’ full-size Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC SUVs. Their solid rear axle dictates a lump in the rear floor that intrudes on third-row legroom, forcing unfortunates serving time there into a cramped, leg-crooking posture.

10. What about safety?

It’s good, with some qualifiers. Neither the Navigator nor the Expedition were crash-tested by the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The ’15 Navigator does earn the maximum five stars for overall occupant protection under the government’s 5-Star Safety Rating system. In rollover tests, the 4wd version earns four stars and the 2wd version three.

That’s not unusual for the class, and supports real-world crash statistics that shows full-size SUVs have lower fatality rates than most smaller, lighter vehicles, but also that they are more susceptible to fatal rollover crashes. Among other factors, blame a high center of gravity that can compromise stability.

The ride height and inherent strength of a big SUV’s body-on-frame construction do offer some safety upsides. And we’re pleased that blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection are standard on Navigator. Newer rivals, though, offer such driver assists as lane-keep correction, adaptive cruise control, and 360-degree surround views that are unavailable on this Lincoln.

11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

The ’15 is too new to accumulate much data but history shows dependability should be good and residual value below par. Based on owner surveys, consumer-research firm J.D. Power ranked the ’14 Navigator above average in predicted reliability. And its 2015 rankings had Lincoln a respectable seventh out of 31 automotive brands for dependability.

Come trade-in time, most every rival in the competitive set will return more of its original purchase price. Value tracker ALG says a ’15 Navigator will retain 33 percent of its value after five years. That compares with 29-37 percent for the GL (depending on model), and 35 percent for the Q80. The ’15 Escalade sets the class standard, at 37-40 percent retained value, according to ALG. Intellichoice, which projects depreciation, maintenance and other factors, agrees: it made the ’15 Escalade its Best Overall Value in the Luxury Utility segment.

12. Is it better than the competition?

It’s better…and worse. With Lincoln Drive Control, in particular, the ’15 Navigator is deeply capable and a surprisingly satisfying drive. The EcoBoost V-6 is a strong and efficient performer. And prices are exceedingly competitive within this rarified strata. But the automaker’s efforts to bring the cabin up to date are, ultimately, a failure. Luckily, there’s also the Expedition, where such are more easily forgiven and where both prices and expectations are lower.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]