2018 Lincoln Navigator First Drive

This is Lincoln’s flagship. It’s the most luxurious, comfortable and expensive vehicle the brand sells. It’s quite obviously the biggest and heck, like every Lincoln flagship of yesteryear, it even features body-on-frame construction. Crucially, though, this all-new 2018 Lincoln Navigator is also very good. It’s distinctive, capable, and competent in ways that will stand up well in the upper echelon of the SUV hierarchy. And we’ll get this out of the way now: it’s far superior to its primary competitor, the Cadillac Escalade.

2018 Lincoln Navigator

And yet, the Navigator’s flagship status is a comeback story. It wasn’t too long ago that it was a black sheep confined to the distant back row of Lincoln family promotional photos along with the Town Car and a fichus added for decoration. It was never given one of the new-fangled MK names, and its V8-powered, truck-based status made it a thirsty dinosaur at a time of rising gas prices and an increasing number of crossovers. Livery services bought them in black-painted droves, but it was otherwise forgotten even as a substantive refresh for 2015 arguably made it a better, more practical bet than its Caddy nemesis.

That rear suspension also pays dividends in the ride and handling department. In conjunction with electric power steering that provides consistent, appropriate and reassuring weighting, the Navigator doesn’t feel like an ancient cumbersome truck like most of its competitors do. For something that weighs about 5,800 pounds (its aluminum body shaves about 200 pounds from the previous model), the 2018 Navigator was able to maintain a reasonable clip through the mountain roads south of Orange Country, Calif., where we got our first drive behind its leather-wrapped wheel.

The white-and-brown “Chalet” is unremarkable, but “Yacht Club” and “Destination” environments make you want to dress up like Don Draper just to be seen in them. We spent our time in the environment dubbed “Yacht Club.” Featuring a classy and distinctive pale blue showcased in the Navigator Concept, it evokes the Mid-Century Modern era that Lincoln and Mr. Draper thrived in without being hopelessly retro. The subtly classy Lincoln emblem added to the passenger-side dash is particularly cool, as is the white teak trim that adds a touch of modernity (as do the standard 10-inch central Sync 3 display and strikingly minimalist all-digital gauge display).

The Black Labels look and feel special, making the nearly $100,000 price tag for a Navigator seem far more justified than the rather laughable, similarly priced Escalade. However, the same can be said for lesser, cheaper versions. Perhaps the Navigator lacks the refinement of a Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class or a Range Rover – there’s still a bit too much noise along with the aforementioned ride – but given its space, performance, style and enormous features list, this is a Lincoln flagship that can finally compete with the big boys.

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