Lincoln debuted its new mid-sized Aviator SUV at the New York International Auto Show this week, and it features a bit more high-tech bells-and-whistles than Ford’s luxury brand is typically known for. It can be turned on and driven using a virtual key on a smartphone. It will feature Ford’s new driver-assist system with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection. And most notably, the Aviator will be Lincoln’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle.
The decision to electrify the Lincoln Aviator is part of Ford’s $11 billion investment in zero emission vehicles. Earlier this year, the Blue Oval announced plans to roll out 40 hybrid and fully electric cars within five years, the first of which would arrive in 2020. Separately, Lincoln plans to introduce hybrid versions of all its US models by 2022, according to Automotive News. The automaker is following a path blazed by European premium brands like Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, BMW, and Jaguar Land Rover, all of which have announced plans for more hybrid and electric vehicles.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about the Aviator because Lincoln is keeping a lot of the specs under wraps until the production version of the car is unveiled at the auto show. But at a pre-show preview in Manhattan’s West Village earlier this week, Lincoln executives suggested the Aviator could eventually make its way onto the automaker’s soon-to-be-launched monthly subscription service.
Lincoln has been piloting its subscription plan with 17 different pre-owned models in San Francisco and Los Angeles and plans to roll it out to more cities in the near term, said Robert Parker, director of marketing, sales and service. The monthly fee includes insurance, maintenance, pickup, and delivery. “That is an opportunity for us to introduce Lincoln to consumers,” Parker said. “They can drive for as short as a week and as long as a month.”
Lincoln is the latest luxury brand to experiment with non-traditional ownership models. Porsche launched a $2,000-a-month monthly service last year, followed by Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. Lexus is also rumoured to be considering its own subscription plan. It’s an attempt by automakers to buttress against trends in the industry toward ride-sharing and car-sharing services.
Lincoln may not carry the same cache as Tesla or Porsche, but the automaker has been on a roll with the Continental and the Navigator. The midsize luxury SUV class is also red hot and the Aviator has the potential to be a strong American contender.
Through Ford’s SYNC infotainment system, the Aviator will offer “prompts” when fuel runs low and can automatically connect to the vehicle’s navigation system to find the closest gas station. Ford recently added Waze and Amazon’s Alexa to SYNC, so those services will be available to Aviator owners as well.
The Aviator will also be the debut of Lincoln’s new “Phone as Key” technology for those who bristle at having to use those easy-to-lose, outdated key fobs. Owners can lock and unlock the vehicle, open the trunk, and start the car and drive it, all with just a smartphone (and the automaker’s “Lincoln Way” app). They can send a temporary code to others, like a teen driver or a valet, for short-term needs. No worries about someone running off with your ride, though: the code will eventually time-out.
The plug-in hybrid version of the Aviator still comes with a twin-turbocharged engine, which Lincoln says is intended to ease range anxiety. The timing is certainly crucial. Like Ford, Lincoln is during a refresh and eager to show that a sales dip isn’t a death sentence.
Like parent company Ford, Lincoln believes the future is all about SUVs. So, it’s reviving the Aviator name (previously used for a rebadged Ford Explorer) for the first of two new utility vehicles it plans to launch through 2020. The new Lincoln Aviator debuts in preproduction form at this week’s 2018 New York Auto Show and goes on sale next year.
Lincoln’s line-up is already chockfull of SUVs, but none of them are anywhere near as good-looking as this new Aviator. Its cab rearward proportions, crisp lines, and sloping roofline give it a sportier appearance than the Nautilus and MKC crossovers, but with a body that’s more reasonably sized than the massive Navigator. Lincoln design boss David Woodhouse explained that his team aimed for a less aggressive look than some other SUVs.
“We want to be about seduction, not attack,” he said.
Under the skin, the Aviator rides on an all-new platform that accommodates standard rear-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive. While the Aviator is the first vehicle based on this platform, expect other Ford or Lincoln models to make use of it in the future. Lincoln claims the rear-wheel drive base helped make the designers’ jobs easier and will also make for sportier handling. Lincoln isn’t ready to divulge full powertrain details yet, but it did say the Aviator will be offered with a stand-alone gasoline engine or with a plug-in hybrid powertrain based around a twin-turbocharged gasoline engine.
The Aviator offers three rows of seating, with a sliding second row and the “Perfect Position” seats from the Continental and Navigator upfront. These elaborate chairs feature 30-way power adjustment and massage. The driver gets a standard 12-inch digital instrument cluster, along with the expected central touchscreen display. Like the exterior, the design of the dashboard is appealingly crisp and clean.
Lincoln is the latest automaker to experiment with abolishing the key fob. Aviator owners will be able to use their smartphones as keys, allowing them to lock and unlock the doors, start the engine, and pre-set the climate control without having to carry a separate fob. The system also includes a valet key feature that disables certain vehicle functions. If the driver’s phone dies, they can get into the Aviator using a key pad on the driver’s door pillar. Lincoln was also quick to note that the Aviator features wireless phone charging.
The Aviator also gets Lincoln parent Ford’s new Co-Pilot360 suite of driver-assist features. It includes autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane keep assist, a rear-view camera, and automatic high beams as standard. Lincoln will also offer reverse brake assist, which automatically applies the brakes if the vehicle detects an obstacle while backing up.
The Aviator debuting in New York is what Lincoln calls a preproduction “teaser” model, so there are still many blanks left to fill in. Full details on Lincoln’s latest SUV will be released closer to the production-spec version’s launch next year.