One year ago, I drove a Lincoln Navigator Black Label. Imposing, smooth, opulent. Part of me thought that Lincoln—of all companies—had built a better luxury vehicle than the Mercedes S-Class. For $30,000 less you could have just as much comfort, more space, and far more approachable technology. But it was rough around the edges, not the all-around stunner that the Mercedes was and is. A couple of years later, though, I'm wondering if Lincoln might just have bested Mercedes, with an even cheaper product.
When the Aviator bowed, I already knew it had a shot at really delivering on what Lincoln promised. Three major issues hold back the Navigator: its body-on-frame construction makes it less of a high-speed, buttoned-down luxury cruiser; the driver-assist tech is a generation behind other luxury flagships; and some details feel a little too close to what you'd find on a Ford. The Aviator, with its unibody architecture, Co-Pilot 360 semi-autonomous driver's aids, and relentless attention to detail, seems to solve all of that.
If the Navigator's biggest problem is that it tries to match, not beat, other luxury flagships, the Aviator's boundless ambition sets a great precedent for the brand. Look at the styling. To my eye, this is the first SUV since 2013 to match the current Range Rover's elegance and athleticism, with even more intricate detailing. The Aviator beat the rest of the luxury crossover field in offering smartphone-as-key capability (Tesla offers it on the Model 3 and promises it on other models "soon"). Its adaptive suspension uses cameras to adjust to the road ahead, tech usually reserved for S-Class-level vehicles. Even the Aviator's door chime is better than the competition's, composed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to be delicate, not grating.
These new achievements join an already broad slate of Lincoln core competencies. The "perfect position" seats, though finicky and overly adjustable, are sublime once you find the perfect position. The audio system is best-in-class, handily beating anything BMW, Mercedes, or even Volvo will sell you. (Ultra-high end Meridian gear in top-spec Range Rovers still has the Lincoln beat, but that's damned good company to keep.) The ride is sublime and the cabin is whisper quiet.
Oh, that cabin. It is unquestionably one of the best on sale. It's got the stunning wow-factor of a Volvo or Mercedes, but it's far more usable than either. Physical controls are laid out clearly, with an easy and simple touchscreen handling more complicated tasks. The software is a half-step behind the best in the business, but Lincoln is proving that you can make a gorgeous cockpit that's usable and attractive.
Those keeping track of luxury car best practices will recognize that Lincoln has nailed just about every one. The key stuff—the seats, the ride, the interior—was solved in the first generation of new Lincoln products. But as the reborn company matures, the Aviator represents the company paying attention to the details. No longer content to be very good, Lincoln is shooting for best-in-the-business.