Lincoln Motor Co. unveiled its 2020 Aviator, an all-new midsize SUV with fresh design and a powerful plug-in hybrid option, at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week.
The three-row Aviator gives Lincoln, the luxury arm of Ford Motor Co., a flashy replacement for its aged MKT crossover. The Aviator will compete in a crowded segment that includes the Audi Q7, Infiniti QX60 and Buick Enclave. It goes on sale next summer.
Lincoln equipped the Aviator with a host of new technologies. The SUV launches a suite of safety equipment called Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus. The vehicle is fully operational via smartphone without any key present. An advanced suspension automatically lowers itself to “greet” the approaching driver.
The Aviator provides a glimpse into the future of Lincoln vehicles, said Joy Falotico, president of Lincoln.
“Aviator represents the very best of our brand DNA,” Falotico said.
The core of the 2020 Aviator is a standard twin-turbocharged 3-liter V6 engine with 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. The plug-in hybrid version boasts up to 450 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque.
All models use a 10-speed automatic transmission.
“I think it will do extremely well,” said Eric Noble, president of the Car Lab automotive consulting firm. “A product like the Aviator makes luxury franchises.”
Lincoln needs a hit. Its sales in the U.S. are about a third or less of top luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus and falling. Sales for the first 10 months of the year have dipped nearly 10 percent to 82,854 compared with the same period a year earlier.
The Aviator launches a new architecture for Ford that will also underpin the next-generation Ford Explorer. It is built for rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, which enabled designers to lengthen the wheelbase and create a sloping roofline while also increasing third-row passenger space.
The 2020 Aviator uses an adaptive air suspension to cushion its ride and adjust the vehicle’s height at speed for improved fuel efficiency. It makes the lowered “greet” feature possible and is also helpful when loading cargo.
Lincoln added a front-facing camera to read the road ahead and adjust the suspension according to its condition. Smooth pavement means a lower ride, while potholes cause the Aviator to brace for bumps.
The smartphone operation, called Phone As A Key, allows the driver to remotely lock or unlock the doors, open and close the liftgate and start the ignition at the tap of a touchscreen. It also adjusts to the user’s personalized seating, comfort and entertainment preferences.
Up to four smartphones are allowed access to the vehicle. If a phone is lost or out of battery, codes on the door handle and infotainment screen can be entered to open and start the Aviator.
“They’ve executed these technologies thoughtfully, and I think they will enhance satisfaction,” Noble said. “But what will sell units is the fact that it’s good-looking, it’s the right size and it has an attractive powertrain.”
The crown jewel of the Aviator lineup is the plug-in hybrid Grand Touring trim.
The Aviator Grand Touring comes standard with all-wheel drive and nearly instantaneous torque from an electric motor supplementing the twin-turbo V6 engine. Batteries are packaged under the floor to enhance driving dynamics and preserve cargo space. The 2020 Aviator Grand Touring can be fully charged in 3-4 hours on a standard cord.
Lincoln is positioning the Aviator Grand Touring as the powerful performance model. However, it can also run purely on electric power. Lincoln will announce all-electric range and fuel economy information at a later date.
The company decided to market the Grand Touring model for its power rather than potential fuel savings because customers are confused by electric technology, said Robert Parker, director of marketing, sales and service for Lincoln.
“People really don’t know what a PHEV is,” Parker said. “But clearly one of the benefits of electrification is you can put the power down with so much precision.”
Base and mid-level trims of the 2020 Aviator are also well-equipped.
Lots of standards
As promised when Lincoln unveiled its Aviator Concept at the New York International Auto Show in March, the 2020 Aviator comes standard with a 12.3-inch LCD instrument cluster ahead of the driver. The interior features multiple charging points, 4G Wi-Fi connectivity for up to 10 devices and an available 28-speaker sound system from Revel Audio.
Standard safety equipment includes blind-spot detection, lane-keep assist and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.
The optional Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus package adds several advanced features:
- Traffic Jam Assist combines lane centering technology with stop-and-go adaptive cruise control. It can read road signage to adjust to posted speed limits.
- Evasive steering assist adds boost to the steering wheel to help the driver avoid a collision with less effort.
- Active park assist takes over the acceleration, braking and steering to squeeze into a spot.
The result is a full luxury experience that Lincoln thinks will resonate in the marketplace, even if overall U.S. auto sales in 2019 are flat, as some expect, Parker said.
“I think luxury will grow,” he said.
Parker also predicted that more buyers will opt for the high- and mid-level trims rather than the lowest Aviator models in the lineup. He said a good measure of success for a luxury brand is whether customers are buying higher trims with higher transaction prices – something he expects the Aviator to accomplish for Lincoln.
“Millennial buyers are really starting to buy luxury. If that trend continues I see that as being a big factor for us,” he said.
Noble said the 2020 Aviator appears positioned above similar offerings from domestic brands and aims squarely at German luxury vehicles.
“This has the potential to transact at prices that in luxury SUVs we only see from Audi and Mercedes-Benz,” he said.