Way back in October, Cadillac pulled the blanket off the fourth generation version of the quintessential baller-mobile, the Escalade. With handsome new sheetmetal, a sumptuous interior and a truck-tuned 420 horsepower cousin of the Corvette Stingray’s LT1 V8, the new ‘Sclade is effectively a nuke-tipped torpedo fired at the bow of its closest competitor (and the vehicle that hastened its creation just before the turn of the century), the Lincoln Navigator. Of course, the fact that the current-gen Navigator is practically old enough to vote (having arrived in 2007 and received only minor color and trim updates since) hasn’t exactly lessened its vulnerability to the king-size Caddy.
Thankfully, Ford has decided to treat its luxury nameplate’s sumo SUV to an extensive makeover for the 2015 model year (Presumably, a similar refresh of the Ford Expedition on which it’s based isn’t far behind.). And while many of the revisions are expected, there’s one change that casts a smaller shadow, but represents a gargantuan gamble for Lincoln.
More on that roll of the dice in a minute; first, let’s take stock of the easy-to-spot tweaks, shall we? The nose has traded the dated boxy headlights and hamster cage grille for slightly sleeker housings stuffed with LEDs and Lincoln’s latest “split-wing” grille. The grille doesn’t work quite as well as it does on the rest of the lineup, but we wouldn’t call it ugly, either. At the rear, there’s a full-width taillight panel that stretches across the tailgate and is accented by a strip of chrome; presumably, Lincoln designers did it to create a sort of visual link to the MKZ and upcoming MKC. Instead, it comes across as more than a little Dodge-like. As for what’s in between (which, as before, comes in both regular Navigator and extended-wheelbase Navigator L forms), it’s basically unchanged, save for new wheel choices (20” alloys are now standard, while the Reserve package adds a striking set of 22” rollers).
There are, however, plenty of changes inside. The leather-and-wood-clad twin-pod dashboard now houses an analog speedometer sandwiched between a pair of 4.2” LCD screens that can display just about any nugget of vehicle-related data you can name. The center stack, meanwhile, is crowned by an 8” touchscreen from which you and the front passenger can operated the various functions of the MyLincoln Touch with Sync system. Moving aft, you’ll find more acres of wood (which, incidentally, is Ziricote, usually found on yachts and, Lincoln claims, never in an automobile until now) and leather (with what we assume will be buyer’s choice of a second row bench or captain’s chairs with a console, even though we’ve only seen the latter arrangement so far). Naturally, a rear seat entertainment system with monitors mounted in the front headrests is available.
Of course, if watching a movie or playing a video game doesn’t help the rear seat occupants forget that they’re on the move, the new adaptive damping system might. This is still a big body-on-frame SUV, but with the Drive Control system and its three selectable modes (Comfort, Normal and…Sport?), it doesn’t have to ride like one.
But to drive like a big luxury SUV, you need a V8…don’t you? Or at the very least, have one as an option. Lincoln seems to think that’s no longer the case, because the only powertrain that will be installed in 2015 Navigators is the corporate 3.5L EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission and a choice of rear- or all-wheel-drive. Supposedly the EcoBoost V6 will be making a bit more power than it does in the current Ford F-150 (Lincoln is only saying the figures will be over 370 horsepower and over 430 lb.-ft of torque.), though it doesn’t sound like it will be a match for the numbers put up by the Escalade’s big V8. Despite this, Lincoln claims the Navigator’s towing capacity will actually top that of the Cadillac (9,000 lbs. versus 8,200 lbs.) which, along with about eight cubic feet more cargo room in the Navigator L than in the ’15 Escalade ESV, should draw some buyers Lincoln’s way.
But will it draw enough buyers into Lincoln showrooms to get the brand’s turnaround in gear? We think it will bump the model’s numbers up substantially, but it’s far, far more likely that a Lincoln sales renaissance will come courtesy of the small MKC crossover and the MKZ sedan. Of course, if the totally new Navigator that’s likely to follow this one (expected for model year 2017) adopts an aluminum body construction a la the new F-150, then that (and the resultant performance and efficiency improvements) would generate even more buzz. In the meantime, though, we’re anxious to see how this “replacement-for-displacement” experiment goes when sales begin this fall.