Lincoln Aviator Concept First Look: SUV is Back on New Rear-Drive Platform


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Lincoln brings back the Aviator name on a new three-row SUV that may owe its name to the past but which telegraphs the future of Lincoln with a plug-in hybrid powertrain and riding on a new rear-wheel-drive platform.

Ford’s luxury brand last offered the Aviator from the 2003 to 2005 model years as a body-on-frame SUV. Since it was discontinued, Lincoln has had a hole in its utility lineup between the five-passenger Nautilus (formerly the MKX) and the large Navigator SUV.

This time around the Aviator is not body-on-frame but rides on the automaker’s all-new and much anticipated rear-wheel-drive platform that the next-generation Explorer will share but the two will look nothing alike. The platform was designed for all-wheel drive and is flexible enough to accommodate front-wheel drive. This is the first vehicle on the platform. Not all Lincolns will be rear drive in the future though, said Scott Tobin, Lincoln director of product development.

The Aviator concept unveiled at the New York auto show previews the production model that will go on sale next year. Officials are not narrowing timing down further, nor are they saying whether it will be a 2019 or 2020 model year.

The look is tapered with a fastfall roofline and sculpted sides to mimic a bird in flight, said Design Director David Woodhouse. The grille design has been refined and is more upright. The concept rides on 22-inch wheels. Woodhouse wanted a sanctuary feel and a contrast to the “visual attack from the competition” with vehicles he describes as full of masculinity and aggression. He sees the Aviator as the design that best personifies the evolution of the brand that is slowly working to rebuild itself.

Inside there is a new steering wheel, 30-way adjustable driver’s seat with an improved massage, a 12-inch standard cluster display. The dual cockpit look has been replaced with a single flowing cockpit that appears more spacious, including a large flow-through storage area under the center stack. Wireless phone charging is located in the front armrest, near a bin to store phones and other devices. There are multiple power outlets are located throughout the cabin and standard Wi-Fi.

Putting it on a rear-wheel-drive platform with a long wheelbase allows for larger second and third rows, said Tobin. The Aviator is 10 inches longer than the Nautilus and 10 inches shorter than the Navigator.

The Aviator will be offered with a twin-turbocharged engine—officials are not saying if it is the 2.7-liter V-6—with a plug-in hybrid option making it Lincoln’s first PHEV. The Ford brand has two plug-ins: the Fusion and the C-Max but they do not pair with turbocharged gasoline engines. No figures are being released but Tobin is pleased with the performance the Aviator can achieve, especially in sport mode, as well as its efficiency in an eco mode.

In the past Lincoln has offered hybrids for the same sticker price as conventional gasoline engines. Officials have not determined the pricing strategy for the more expensive plug-in hybrid technology but Robert Parker, director of marketing, sales and service, said it is unlikely to be a single price.

The combination of extra power and the ability to run in electric mode complement the image the automaker is trying to create with the Lincoln brand, said Joy Falotico, the new president of Lincoln Motor Company, after an executive shuffle after North American president Raj Nair was terminated and replaced by former Lincoln chief Kumar Galhotra.

The continuously controlled damping system adds a camera so the vehicle can spot potholes and other surface irregularities to prepare the suspension for the impact, a system called Suspension Preview Technology, and a first for Lincoln.

The emphasis on tech starts with the key fob—there doesn’t have to be one.  Owners can use their smartphone as a key. It can lock and unlock, open the trunk and start and drive the vehicle without a key fob. Phone as a Key can be used to find the Aviator in a parking lot. Should the phone battery go dead, a backup passcode can be entered on the standard exterior keypad to gain access, then clients can start and proceed to drive the vehicle via the center touchscreen.

Aviator will be equipped with Lincoln Co-Pilot360, an advanced suite of standard driver-assist technologies including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, lane keeping system, reverse camera and auto high-beams. Reverse Brake Assist will stop if an obstacle is detected while backing up.

Ford says the Aviator competes in the medium luxury SUV segment that accounts for one in four premium SUV sales—more than 585,000 last year. It is a family vehicle targeted at millennials aged 35 to 44.

Lincoln, like the Ford brand, is skewing to utility vehicles for the bulk of its portfolio. The Ford brand will have 86 percent of its portfolio in trucks and SUVs by 2020. Lincoln has not had a pickup since the Blackwood which was sold for a single model year in 2002.

Both brands will also increase electrification with all core vehicles to be offered with a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or both. Lincoln could help distinguish itself by offering a degree of electrification in all its future vehicles.

Ford’s only luxury brand also wants to set itself apart by offering more services, from concierge services to finding a nearby gas station when the tank is low to pick-up when the vehicle needs to go in for service to make the lives of its buyers easier.

Lincoln is launching a luxury subscription pilot service in parts of California where drivers can lease a used 2017 Lincoln vehicle on a monthly basis, expanding the program that was making 2015 Lincolns available to subscribers. The monthly payment includes a mileage package, insurance, warranty, maintenance and roadside assistance.

Other services include Lincoln Personal Driver in San Diego, Miami, and soon Dallas, which provides someone to drive you in your own vehicle or use your vehicle to run errands for you.

Click-to-Purchase is an online program to buy or lease a vehicle at a negotiated price that is good for 48 hours. The program will be available throughout the U.S. by the end of the year.