2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring Review
The 2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring, a new plug-in luxury hybrid SUV, is nowhere near ready to take on the Tesla Model X let alone the Audi e-tron or Mercedes-Benz EQC 400. But it does represent a start down a path to greener pastures for Lincoln.
Besides, its estimated 18 miles of electric driving range and anticipated EPA rating of 23 mpg in combined driving aren’t the important numbers to remember for the Aviator Grand Touring. These are: 494 and 630.
That first one describes the amount of horsepower that the Aviator Grand Touring’s twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine, 10-speed automatic transmission with an integrated 75-kW electric motor, and 13.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack collectively produce. The second one is the amount of torque.
And here’s another figure to remember. Based on expected fuel economy ratings, Lincoln says you can drive an Aviator Grand Touring more than 400 miles between stops at a gas station or charging station.
When the Aviator Grand Touring goes on sale in late summer of 2019, Lincoln will offer the SUV in standard and Black Label specification, with a starting price of less than $70,000. To get first-hand experience with this new plug-in hybrid luxury SUV, I flew to California’s Napa Valley wine country* where I drove a top-of-the-line Black Label version priced at nearly $89,000.
Aviator Grand Touring by the numbers
Lincoln’s prescribed driving route started at elevation, ensuring that the Grand Touring would easily exceed the company’s quoted 18 miles of driving range. That’s why I covered 17.9 miles of electric-only travel in spite of starting the trip with an indicated 82% battery charge and 14 miles of range.
Using nothing but electricity, the Aviator Grand Touring is a quiet vehicle, but then so is the standard Aviator. All that’s missing is the pleasant background rumble supplied by the twin-turbocharged V6 engine.
On rougher pavement, the Black Label’s massive 22-inch wheels and tires generate more road noise than you expect, and at speeds above 70 mph there is some wind noise, but otherwise, the Aviator is a silent cocoon, an isolated sanctuary from the surrounding world.
In addition to the Aviator’s standard driving modes, the Grand Touring adds Pure EV and Preserve EV choices. In Pure EV, the Aviator operates solely on electricity. In Preserve EV, the system saves the battery charge for situations when using Pure EV mode is preferable.
Driven in Normal mode, the Aviator’s V6 occasionally activates to aid acceleration when necessary. That’s how I traveled a total of 21.6 miles before the battery reached its minimum state of charge (an indicated 0%), resulting in an average of 80.6 MPGe. Most of those miles were electric-only, but 3.7 of them involved the gas engine.
Once the battery was drained of range, I reset the trip computer. Over the next 69.3 miles, operated as a traditional hybrid, the Aviator Grand Touring averaged 19.8 mpg, well short of Lincoln’s expected 23-mpg rating in combined driving. Still, that as-tested number beat a standard Aviator under similar driving conditions by almost 4 mpg.
Another benefit is the Grand Touring’s electric motor, which provides instant torque the moment you step on the accelerator pedal. While the standard powertrain is quick to respond to prompts from your right foot, there is a slight delay off the line as the automatic engine start/stop system fires up the engine and the turbochargers spool up. By comparison, the Grand Touring leaps forward on sweet, instantaneous electric torque.
When equipped with the Dynamic Handling Package, which installs an adaptive air suspension and active steering, the Aviator Grand Touring’s handling impresses in spite of some extra body motion due to the weight of the battery pack. With no shortage of power, and the Black Label’s meaty 22-inch tires, responsive active steering, and Air Glide suspension, you can whip this SUV around corners with plenty of enthusiasm and a big grin on your face.
Slip into sumptuous surroundings
Remember when it was obvious that a Lincoln was nothing more than a Ford with extra chrome? Those days are fading fast. Especially in Black Label specification, the Aviator Grand Touring shares almost nothing with the 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid — aside from its platform, vehicle architecture, and other components that are mostly unseen by consumers.
My test vehicle had the Chalet interior theme, which is supposed to remind you of a wintertime visit to a ski lodge. Materials match expectations set by the Black Label’s lofty price tag, with the exception of this theme’s glossy Silverwood trim, which isn’t the real deal.
Equipped with 30-way power-adjustable heated, ventilated, and massaging seats, the Aviator Grand Touring is exceptionally comfortable regardless of the weather. In hot, sunny conditions, the cabin kept me calm, cool, and collected.
The second-row captain’s chairs sit fairly high off of the floor, providing excellent thigh support. They slide forward and back, and when moved up a click or two you can stash an adult in the third-row seat for shorter trips.
Additionally, this plug-in hybrid SUV supplies 18.3 cubic feet of room behind the third-row seat, enough for a few pieces of carry-on luggage. Fold the third-row seat down to create a spacious 41.8 cubic-foot cargo compartment. Maximum volume with the second-row seats folded down amounts to 77.7 cubic feet.
Tech takes center stage
Lincoln offers a long list of technologies for the Aviator Grand Touring, from the company’s new Phone As A Key system and a 12.3-inch digital instrumentation cluster to the Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus suite of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and a dual-screen Lincoln Play rear-seat entertainment system.
Designed to replace the Aviator’s key fob with your smartphone, Phone As A Key appears to be simple and easy. But, during a demonstration of the technology, it was clear that if something goes awry things get complicated, and fast. No doubt, many people will find Phone As A Key useful. I’m not convinced that I fall into that camp.
Equipped with a Sync 3 infotainment system and a 10.1-inch touchscreen display, the Aviator provides access to the digital amenities luxury buyers expect, as well as a choice between two thundering Revel premium sound systems. Classy warning chimes recorded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra are standard.
Drivers can use the voice recognition technology to operate the infotainment system. It’s not as natural to use as Siri or Alexa, requiring specific voice prompts in some cases. And even then, it can misunderstand what you say, causing frustration. The Sync 3 infotainment system also sometimes takes too long to load and to respond to inputs. My bet is that buyers in this price class are going to expect better voice recognition performance.
The Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus technologies work with impressive accuracy and refinement. However, the lane centering assist system sometimes had trouble recognizing that I was still holding the steering wheel, prompting unnecessary warnings.
Should you purposely let go of the wheel, the system steers for about 30 seconds, then warns you to retake control for about 15 seconds. If you fail to respond to those increasingly urgent requests, the adaptive cruise control begins to slow the vehicle under the assumption that you’ve suffered a medical emergency. Lincoln says the Aviator will come to a full stop in the lane of travel, but it does not activate the hazard flashers or initiate a 911 Assist call like similar technology from other automakers.
A head-up display is also available for this SUV, and wearers of polarized sunglasses will be delighted to know that it remains visible with your shades on your face.
A little of this, a little of that
With just 18 miles of electric driving range and a best-case-scenario of 23 mpg in combined driving when used as a gas-electric hybrid, the 2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring isn’t likely to appeal to people considering a pure electric luxury SUV such as an Audi e-tron, Mercedes-Benz EQC400, or Tesla Model X.
It does, however, appeal to people who want to dip their toes into the EV driving pool without giving up the security and familiarity of traditional gas stations.
While Lincoln says the Aviator Grand Touring recharges in less than four hours with a 240-volt public or home charging station, using one isn’t absolutely necessary. Just plug it into a standard household outlet and it should soak up a full charge of juice between the evening and morning commutes. And since it works as a traditional hybrid most of the time, you’ll never need to worry about finding an available charging station on a longer trip.
Furthermore, with 494 horsepower, 630 pound-feet of torque, all-wheel drive, an Excite driving mode, and an available Dynamic Handling Package, the Aviator Grand Touring is fast and fun to drive in addition to serving as a soothing isolation chamber on wheels.
In other words, it’s exactly what many buyers in this segment are looking for.
* Lincoln paid for the author’s flight, lodging, and meals, and provided the vehicle for testing.