There is one big electronic upgrade everyone wants to know about.
When the headlines came out that Lincoln’s new plug-in hybrid crossover would have nearly 500 effective horsepower, everyone thought it was a mistake. Were they insane? How fast will that thing go from 0-100kph? We spent a week behind the wheel of a 2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring to find out just how legitimate a contender this thing is.
Launched in mid-2019 as a 2020 model, the Aviator (reviewed here) shares a platform with the also brand-new Ford Explorer. While headlines were circling about the high horsepower Lincoln PHEV, the Explorer’s headlines were circling about product quality issues at launch time. Unfortunately, with just over 500km on the odometer, our press car proved that the Aviator Grand Touring was not immune to issues as well, but more on that later.
The Aviator Grand Touring’s styling is akin to that of the rest of the new face of the brand, with aerospace-inspired lines and bold presence. It looks fantastic, even in the Ceramic Pearl Metallic Tricoat, a colour that was is relatively unflattering to the design. Dark colours really bring out the chrome and design cues on most new Lincolns, but this colour misses the mark, detracting from an otherwise beautiful design.
The interior design is elegant, with gorgeous wood trim and chrome everywhere, elevating the cabin to above what one would expect from an American brand. While the interior is fantastic to look at, interacting with it leaves quite a bit to be desired. Everything you can think of is powered or button operated, including the doors. There is a button in the armrest that is perfectly placed so that you can grab the handle with your hand and push the button with your thumb as you exit to pop the door open. In case of emergency, there’s a manual release for this mechanism, but it is on the driver’s door only. Our press vehicle’s front passenger door button fell off two days into our week-long engagement, forcing an act of chivalry to let my wife out of the car.
While taking photos of the car, a passerby pulled in with his own Aviator to discuss vehicle colours. His was a much more flattering metallic grey. He complained that as a left-handed person, he typically holds his phone, or whatever else he is taking with him in his left hand, and opens the door with his right hand, and cannot stand the button placement. That is two strikes for unnecessary innovation for the sake of it. Strike three is the button for rear door child locks. It’s a neat idea to control it from the drivers door like window locks, but a poor idea to mix it in with the mirror adjustment buttons. I found myself constantly performing that same act of chivalry for rear passengers too.
Putting aside the electronic ‘conveniences the Aviator comes with, there is one big electronic upgrade everyone wants to know about. Wedged between the engine and the torque converter is a 75-kW hybrid motor. While most other hybrid systems find a way to eschew the torque converter or minimize its interaction with the electric motor, Lincoln engineers decided it should stay. Under full electric power or full hybrid mode, the Aviator is actually quite nice to drive. Unfortunately, there are quite a number of driving conditions that prove absolutely unacceptable for a vehicle that can get priced up nearly into six digits.
While we are on the topic, the base MSRP of the Aviator Grand Touring is $81,000. Our hefty 5,673 lb (2573 kg) test aircraft was equipped with the 302A package, which adds remote start, active park assist, 21-inch wheels, a class IV trailer hitch, and the Aviator Luxury Package for $12,200. $850 paint, $150 floor liners and the full rear console adding $735 brought our as tested price to $94,935 before fees, taxes and incentives.
At that price, you get an all wheel drive crossover that can pump out a combined effective 494 horsepower at 5,500 RPM and an astounding 630 lb-ft. at a lowly 2,250 RPM. While these numbers sound massive, the heft of the Aviator translates all of that to a 0-100 km/h time of 5.5 seconds. That is pretty quick for a vehicle of this size, but when looking over at the high-performance units coming out of Germany, it doesn’t stand out all that much.
Acceleration time is not everything in this game, and that becomes evident in a few driving situations. Most electric vehicles leave the electric motor engaged when off-throttle, using the motor to regenerate power and slow the vehicle down, in some cases bringing the vehicle to a full stop without ever touching the brake. The Aviator Grand Touring disengages the torque converter like a conventional vehicle under several conditions, and re-engages with a noticeable thunk.
At every single stop sign through a neighbourhood, the Aviator bucks and reels back and forth, making it impossible to smoothly pilot around at low speeds. On the highway, if coasting in EV mode and suddenly needing to accelerate – say, to pass a car – a similar issue occurs. First the electric motor accelerates a bit and then the gasoline engine kicks in. This sudden surge of power causes the transmission to realize it needs to downshift, which requires the torque converter to disengage and re-engage to protect itself from the onslaught of torque. This results in a noticeable gap where the vehicle coasts for three to five seconds, and loses considerable road speed instead of accelerating.
All of the driving dynamics do produce a silver lining, however. When in Hybrid mode, with a range between 21 and 30km on a full charge, the Aviator rates at an electric equivalent 4.2L/100km. Under standard hybrid conditions, Environment Canada rates the Aviator at 10.9L/100km city, 9.6L/100km highway, and a combined 10.3L/100km. The gas-only Aviator, with its measly 400 horsepower, rates at 11.9L/100km combined. Most, if not all buyers of this vehicle will never come anywhere close to recouping the fuel savings from opting for the PHEV model unless they are constantly making short commutes and charging at each stop.
The dynamics of the 2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring are hit and miss, and really depend on your driving preferences. The air suspension equipped on higher-end models provides for fantastic highway manners, bumps and jogs disappear, and the steering is tighter than one would expect. Body movement, likely due to the air suspension, is at the other end of the spectrum. The front end of the Aviator moves up and down easily six to eight inches between deceleration and acceleration. Buyer beware if your typical passengers get motion sickness.
The Aviator is not the only vehicle in this class that has flaws, the Cadillac XT6 (reviewed here) has its own soft suspension issues and annoyingly powered options. The BMW X7 M50i (reviewed here) can get pricey very fast and has even more buttons and switches than the Aviator.
High power output and EV-only driving are the highlights of the 2020 Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring. Sadly, there are so many detractors as well that Lincoln needs another year or two of production to resolve the issues and make this a must-have vehicle. If you love the styling, are looking for a thrill with three rows and find yourself doing any sort of city driving, there is an easy solution. Skip the electric motor option and put the money saved into a Jetski that you tow behind regular gasoline Aviator, which is an excellent choice.