Lincoln Motor Co. will resurrect its Aviator model for a return to the red-hot SUV segment.
The three-row Lincoln Aviator will be the first vehicle based on a new global platform shared with the upcoming Ford Explorer. It features amenities and technology aimed at attracting upscale buyers. The preview vehicle shown in New York featured plug-in hybrid capability that will be available in production models.
The production Lincoln Aviator will go on sale next year, Lincoln executives said.
Lincoln originally sold the Aviator, a mid-sized SUV, during the 2003 to 2005 model years. The experiment was short-lived due to slow sales.
The new Aviator will enter a market better primed for SUV models, said Stephanie Brinley, analyst for IHS Markit.
“Differences in the market conditions, stronger differentiation, and appetite for utility vehicles may prove a different story for this Aviator,” Brinley said.
Sales of SUV, crossovers and station wagons rose to more than 7.1 million in 2017, an increase of 6 percent compared with 6.7 million sales in 2016, according to industry research firm Autodata Corp.
The category accounted for more than 41 percent of total industry sales last year, up from 38 percent in 2016.
The all-new Aviator will feature a twin-turbocharged engine, a standard 12-inch cluster display and up to 30-way adjustable front seats. Its new platform is equipped with rear-wheel drive as standard. All-wheel drive will be optional.
The next Ford Explorer, due out in 2020, will be built on the same rear-wheel drive platform.
The Lincoln SUV uses front-facing cameras to monitor road conditions. The system collects data that allows Suspension Preview Technology, debuting on the Aviator, to adjust in advance for a smooth ride.
The vehicle can be locked and unlocked, turned on and off and even started through the Lincoln Way mobile smartphone app. The physical presence of the key fob is not required.
The Aviator also debuts Lincoln Co-Pilot360, a suite of advanced safety features that are included as standard equipment. Among its capabilities are automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping and a rear-facing camera.
Lincoln will use the Aviator to advance its SYNC notification system. The program sends prompts to the driver through its information screen, providing service recommendations and fuel monitoring. It is also capable of linking with the navigation system to direct the driver to the nearest gas station or service center.
Lincoln currently sells the Navigator large SUV, three-row MKT crossover, mid-size MKX and compact MKC models in addition to smaller sedans.
Sales for the brand dipped slightly in 2017 compared with 2016 as Lincoln revamps its SUV lineup. The Nautilus will replace the MKX. The Aviator will provide a three-row alternative to the MKT.
Replacing alphanumeric models with names such as Navigator, Nautilus and Aviator gives the brand a more personable feel, said Scott Tobin, director of product development at Lincoln.
“We’re bringing nameplates back across the board,” Tobin said. “These names resonate more with people.”Alternative fuel or electrified powertrain options are likely as Ford and Lincoln look to improve fuel economy in the future.
The new SUV will launch on an all-new vehicle platform based on a unibody frame and rear-wheel drive, a new architecture developed for the Aviator and the popular Explorer to share.
“Introducing the product as a Lincoln ahead of the Ford variant can be perceived to reflect Lincoln’s status as a premium brand,” she said.
The New York International Auto Show opens to the public on Friday, March 30, and closes on Sunday, April 8.