Far From A Lincoln Continental

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2020 Lincoln Aviator

When I think of Lincoln, I have to go back to my childhood when they actually meant something. 

A few years before I was born, Lincoln introduced a car that would disturb the luxury market for the decade. The 1961 Continental arrived as the car for that decade – clean lines, a taut body, big power, and effortless driving that did not require one to aim with a fin or a large fender. It was a car devoid of acres of chrome and looked as subtle as a suit worn by the President himself (of that time). 

Lincoln has always had a car that changed perceptions about luxury automobiles in this country. If I go back to 1940, the original Continental comes to mind. The 1956 Continental Mark II may have started an all new division of Ford, but it did set the course for Lincoln’s future.

Jumping ahead to the early 1980s, Lincoln was on the rise. This was due to two reasons. One, Mercedes-Benz was becoming the preferred luxury brand of automobiles in this country. Two, Cadillac was starting to lose its way. The latter was thanks to some engineering blunders that did not help the once luxury car leader. 

It also helped that Lincoln had the right products at the right time. The aerodynamic Mark VII was a stunner. This beautiful personal luxury coupe actually helped sold a ton of Town Cars to customers and livery fleet owners alike. 

Of course, the story always changes. The ebb and flow of the luxury car business saw non-American brands take over the marketplace once ruled by Cadillac and Lincoln. While the former “standard of the world” began chasing the Germans with its international interpretation of their iconic design, Lincoln stuck its guns by continuing to be an American luxury car brand.

Today, Lincoln now has an all-SUV lineup. The MKZ and Continental are no longer being produced. A sad twist to this story, in my eyes. The last Continental was one sweet sedan. Yet, no one thought that it was worth over $70,000 for its highest specification. Nor, did anyone wanted a front-drive-based flagship sedan that did not have the space of other cars it was competing against. 

The marketplace dictated that the SUV was the luxury car of today. Therefore, Lincoln followed suit. After reinvigorating the flagship Navigator into a modern Town Car, the mid-size, three-row Aviator arrived. This is the Continental you might be looking for. 

This is what I worked with – a 2020 Aviator Reserve with all-wheel-drive. It offers a brand-focused look with a grille that harkens back to the 1956 Mark II, but with a long roofline and the task to cart a family around in Lincoln luxury. 

Before I dive into this Aviator, I have to explain why I parsed out a brief history of Lincoln. That history is something I embrace through the experience with this brand. Each one was born from an expectation once set in 1938 with the Zephyr of distinction that set Lincoln apart from the crowd. I understand that not everyone can measure a modern car with one from its iconic past. Nor, should you. But, if I took this Lincoln Aviator on face value, then I am clearly missing the point.

This argument is already rooted in the fact that the Aviator is an SUV. Not a suicide-door convertible or a personal luxury coupe. 

However, current Lincoln design elements dictate a standout luxury SUV for today’s families. As I mentioned before, the front end is a Lincoln device that gives a nod back to the artistry of the 1956 Continental Mark II. The Continental star has evolved into a modern four-pointed look for today’s Lincoln, as it sits prominently up front to announce its arrival to the world. 

The most modern elements also give nods to the past. The LED headlamps and separate LED turn signals could be seen as elements once found on earlier Lincoln models. The rear end was a development of more recent models. Yet, it is different than anything else the brand produced before. 

One may notice the slight taper of the rear roofline. It appears that the roofline starts to lower down to the top of the liftgate for a sportier look. This is definitely a departure from the more upright Navigator. It shows distinction in the Aviator over other models in its segment – and within its own lineup. 

Stepping inside the Aviator and you are reminded why many of the reveal and launch articles praised the interior’s design. From an overall view, it looks like luxury. It is definitely a cut apart from the norm in the luxury vehicle field. 

Where it truly deviates from the norm are the controls. Some of which have been seen n other recent Lincoln models – the Navigator, included. The automatic transmission is actuated by a series of toggle-like switches tucked away at the top of the center console. The steering wheel switches are different – two oddly shaped toggles with two buttons – one for the cruise control, the other for the instrumentation screen. You will find the ignition button on top of the center stack – facing upward.

The screen for the instrumentation is customizable to any configuration you want. However, you do not get a lot of information to work with – just enough screens to keep you informed. My tester had the available heads-up display which is wide and very informative. On top of the center stack is the tablet-like home for the SYNC 3 infotainment screen. It works pretty well overall, including the settings for practically everything on the Aviator – including the message function on the driver’s seat. 

Speaking of the seats, my tester had the Perfect Position Seats with 30-way adjustments. I have to admit that I wished there were more adjustments, especially in the cushion beyond the dual thigh support. I did not feel completely comfortable behind the wheel and the adjustments I would have loved to have were either not available or did not improve my comfort. The massage function was nice, however. Second and third row space were adequate overall. The "captain's chairs" second row seats can be adjusted for rake and recline and were divided by its own center console. 

Third row space is strictly for children. A simple function will enable access in and out through the second row seats. Cargo capacity starts off with a nice 18.3 cubic feet space behind the third row. Using the buttons by the liftgate to lower the third row will expand cargo capacity to 41.8 cubic feet. You can fold the second row seats down to open up capacity to 77.7 cubic feet. Just be careful when you slide longer items over the center console, please?

Sound was provided by a 28-speaker Revel Ultima 3-D audio system. It is a very good system overall with solid sound separation. You do get wireless charging for your phone, as well as smartphone connectivity through a USB or USB-C connection. 

The real star of this tester is the 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6. This engine throws down 400 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. Connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission, this driveline offers superb passing power and smooth cruising. My tester also had the all-wheel-drive system, which is available on this model. 

Fuel economy-wise, I averaged 20.2 MPG. Just about average, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and about what I expected. 

The expectations of a luxury vehicle were put to the test on this Aviator. Yes, the Aviator offers a smooth ride. Road imperfections are absorbed the best they can. My main quibble is with the 22-inch tires, as they amplify road noise into the cabin on certain highway and street surfaces. Handling is fine, with nominal feedback on evasive maneuvers and cornering. 

These results are because this tester was equipped with the Dynamic Handling Package, which combines several driving assistance technologies with air-assisted dampers. The idea is to ensure a smooth ride without drama on the road. Mission accomplished, indeed! You can also make adjustments through the Lincoln Drive Modes selector.

Part of the Dynamic Handling Package is an adaptive steering system. It uses the driving assistance technologies to adjust the steering effort overall. The one thing I learned from this system is that u-turns can end up being 360-degree turns. You have to intervene with the wheel to ensure you turn is not overdone. Maybe this system is too good…

However, on-center feel is adjustable from soft in Normal to heavy in Dynamic mode. The steering system does feel a bit contrived, but you do get used to it when you abkle to find the steering feel and effort that’s right for you. 

As for the brakes, they’re fine. Pedal action was fine, and stops were adequate. I wished there was more power between the pedal and the calipers. 

One feature that took some time to figure out was the Intelligent Cruise Control. This goes beyond Adaptive Cruise, as it also includes vehicle stability within the lane and automatic adjustment to cruising speed based on the speed limit. If the speed limit goes up, you will be reset to that speed, and vice versa. You can also adjust how much over/under the speed limit you want to cruise in. It also has Traffic Jam Assist, which helps to maintain the vehicle if traffic got extremely heavy and no one is moving quick enough for you. 

Why did it take some time to figure out? When I received the vehicle, it was set to Normal cruise control. With some help, I found out that I had to go into the vehicle settings on the infotainment screen to select which cruise control to use. The more you know…

The 2020 Lincoln Aviator Reserve is one of five trim levels available. Two of which are the Grand Touring models, equipped with the 494-horsepower plug-in hybrid twin-turbocharged V6 driveline that throws down 630 pound-feet of torque. For this tester, the sticker price came out to $75,120. Pricing for the entire Aviator line starts at $51,100. 

This is where Lincoln is at right now. An all-SUV lineup that reflects the direction of the brand. That direction is to demonstrate to its customers that Lincoln is a symbol of "American luxury." That definition is how I would describe my experience with the Aviator. 

However, the Lincoln Aviator is not exactly perfect by all means. There’s a lot of good points, but I feel there’s some finishing to be done to meet the high expectations of customers. For being a three-row mid-sized SUV, the Aviator is indeed an opportunity for Lincoln to deliver more for its customers – even in the face of tough competition.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by the Ford Motor Company

All photos by Randy Stern

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