Temptation comes in various forms, especially behind the wheel. With plug-in hybrid SUVs, there are two competing urges. Sometimes, it takes a shout out on the highway to put it in sport mode and take full advantage of the hybrid powertrain. In the case of the Lincoln Aviator, there was an urge to ignore the engine entirely, instead relying on electrons rather than hydrocarbons for propulsion. To Lincoln’s credit, the Aviator made this an easy choice.
While revamping its SUV lineup, Lincoln has worked hard for a bigger grille and classic styling, which both the aviators possess. It sports the classic SUV contour, but the sloping windshield and tapering top, paired with the Aviator nameplate on the front quarter panel, give it a mild Art Deco vibe. The mid-size, three-row Aviator plugs into Lincoln’s lineup between the full-size Navigator and the compact Nautilus.
Unfortunately, the Aviator’s casual interior design doesn’t show the same level of elegance. All the materials seem high-quality—there are traces of leather and wood trim—but it’s busy. A massive center console makes a spacious front row feel a little cramped. But the seats are excellent, and both can sink into the aviator’s 30-way (!) adjustable seats in the front row. The second row captain’s chairs are spacious and comfortable, but the third row is difficult to get into and is best suited for children.
Lincoln has abandoned the customary gear shift lever, or dial, in favor of four buttons mounted near the top of the console, just below the 10-inch, tablet-style infotainment display.
That display runs Sync 4 with a Lincoln-specific skin. The Sync 4 is a massive upgrade from its predecessors, but the touchscreen is mounted on the top of the console between the driver and passenger seats, and it faces the rear of the car rather than being angled toward the driver. Without a dial, there can be a long reach when you can’t accomplish what you want with steering wheel controls.
Like the Nautilus, the Aviator sports a 12-inch digital instrument cluster. It looks pretty, but driving the car for a week gave me the impression that Lincoln knows the big, digital instrument cluster is a thing-The company simply doesn’t understand how to make the best use of them. Our test vehicle also came with a great heads-up display that’s easily visible even with polarized sunglasses on. However, you’ll need to add the $7,850 Grand Touring I package to get it.
To power the Aviator, Lincoln has powered a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 with a 100 hp (74.6 kW) electric motor powered by a 13.6 kWh battery. That combination gives you 494 hp (356 kW) and 630 lb-ft (850 Nm) of torque (and 0 to 60 bar of 5.0 seconds). On pure electric power, the Lincoln claims a range of 21 miles (33.8 km), which is around what we’ve experienced in our daily use. With five drive modes, you can choose the driving experience you want. Sport mode was not very beneficial – the SUV can go very quickly, but it is faster than the Sporty.
Even though there is a Pure EV mode, the Aviator does its best work in Conserve Mode, which forces the SUV to power mainline whenever possible, before switching to gasoline. The gas engine will kick in when called for rapid acceleration; Otherwise, the aviator is more than happy to run quietly on battery power as long as it’s outside. We have also made it a habit to plug the aviator in whenever we go to the garage. The included 120-volt charger will fully recharge the battery overnight. With the 240 V setup, the charging time is reduced by two-thirds. In a nice touch, the Aviator tells you how long it will take to fully charge each time you stop the car (about three hours on a Level 2 charger and a little over nine on 120V).
With some hybrid SUVs like the Volvo XC90 Recharge and the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, you need a very gentle right foot, otherwise the engine is powering. The Aviator does a better job in this regard – you don’t need a feathered touch on the gas pedal to take advantage of the hybrid. This is what really makes the Aviator shine. The EPA estimate for the Lincoln comes in at 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km) for gas only and 56 mpg (4.2 L/100 km) using hybrid power. Charging it daily and driving it normally, we achieved over 65 mpg (3.62 L/100 km) in a week of mixed driving, including interstate, suburban and urban driving – mostly in Conserve mode.
The Aviator starts at $68,900, but the add-on lowers the price to just under $85,000, though you can still get a ~$6,500 federal tax credit for buying one. There aren’t many direct comparisons in the luxury space for a three-row hybrid SUV, but a fully equipped aviator is a few grand north of the Volvo XC90 recharge. It would be easy to recommend an Aviator at a low price, but if you own a luxury, three-row SUV that gets excellent gas mileage, the options are limited.
Listing image by Eric Bangman